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Interview With Zain Verjee of CNN

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Tripoli, Libya
September 6, 2008

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Secretary Rice.

SECRETARY RICE: Nice to be here.

QUESTION: Give us the color. What was it like?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s been very interesting. First of all, I never thought I’d be in Libya. I never really dreamed that I would be in Libya. And it’s – I don’t know what I thought I was going to see. It’s obviously a very beautiful place. The discussions with the foreign minster were very good and very deep, and the sessions with the leader were very much like a normal diplomatic exchange.

QUESTION: Well, what did you talk about?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we talked about Africa. We talked about the future of the continent. We talked about the importance of how the U.S. plays its role there. He had some concerns about AFRICOM that he expressed to me. And it was interesting because --

QUESTION: Well, what did he say?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, he said that many people think that there’s a militarization intended in AFRICOM. And I was able to say no, we don’t intend military bases. So it was that level of discussion. We talked some about the Middle East, quite a bit about Sudan, a good deal about other parts of the world, especially the Maghreb here and the concerns about counterterrorism. But it – despite the – all of the cameras that were there at the beginning, and a little bit of pushing and shoving in the photo op --

QUESTION: Everyone wanted a glimpse of Rice and Qadhafi.

SECRETARY RICE: I know, I know. But it was actually a fairly normal diplomatic dialogue.

QUESTION: What were your impressions of him personally?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I thought he was serious. He said at one point that it has taken too long, that the lessons of history had to be learned. I found him someone who has thought deeply about a lot of these issues, and who had some views about the United States and how we play our role in the world. And it was actually very interesting. 

QUESTION: Were you surprised by anything he said?

SECRETARY RICE: No. I’ve read a lot about him. I’ve read his thoughts on various things. I think I was – actually, I was a little surprised about the discussion in Africa because he was concerned to make sure that the United States was presenting the right face in Africa. So that was interesting.

But this is a relationship that’s really in many ways in its infancy, because we do have a lot of history to overcome. The people lost in terrorism will never be brought back, and I fully understand the deep feelings that people and families and the American people have. But we are pleased that we now have a way to compensate those families, and we’re pleased that we can now work on major issues of terrorism with Libya. 

QUESTION: Did you feel the weight of the moment? We’ve talked so much about the history. It’s been 55 years. But when you were sitting there speaking to Qadhafi, what crossed your mind?

SECRETARY RICE: Do you know when I felt it? I felt it when the airplane touched down. There was something about the United States of America plane touching down in Tripoli. That’s when it struck me that 55 years was a long time. But then I was really concentrating on the issues before us when I was in the meeting. And so except at the beginning when, as I said, there was a great frenzy, and you realized that the frenzy was because it is an historic moment, it didn’t occur to me so much during the time of the talk.

QUESTION: And it evokes some of the more famous historical comments that have been made about Qadhafi, too. President Reagan called him a mad dog of the Middle East. Many Americans watching what you did today are wondering why on earth is Condoleezza Rice speaking to a terrorist? How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, as I said, nothing will ever bring back the people who were the victims of terrorism. And everyone understands that we had to find a way. The reason that I’m here now and not several years earlier is that we had to find a way to properly compensate the victims of terrorism. I think we have done that. 

It’s also important to recognize the strategic shift, the historic decision that Libya took to give up its weapons of mass destruction, to renounce terrorism. They are going to be, I think, and have been, counterterrorism partners. America doesn’t have any permanent enemies, but it doesn’t mean that this is a relationship that is by any means fully developed. That will take time.

QUESTION: But even the very first thing that they needed to do, specifically putting money into the new fund that’s been created, it’s not there yet. 


QUESTION: And you wanted that to happen before you got here.

SECRETARY RICE: No, I want it to happen as soon as possible. And we agreed that it’s going to happen as soon as possible. 

QUESTION: Are you disappointed that it’s not --


QUESTION: -- it’s not in there?

SECRETARY RICE: No, because the agreement is in place, and I am certain that everyone understands the importance of getting it funded and being able to implement the agreement. And until the agreement is implemented, the United States doesn’t have to undertake the obligations that we have undertaken. So the step forward was the establishment of the agreement, the understanding that it had to be fully implemented, and that was reaffirmed today. 

QUESTION: Can you trust Qadhafi?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I will trust actions. And we will see what actions there are. But we’ve seen the end of the weapons of mass destruction program verifiably, completely verifiably. I know the people – they worked for me – who verified that agreement. We have seen the work together on counterterrorism. I think we will see more. But I would be the last to say that this is a relationship that is fully formed. I hope over the years it will be fully formed.

QUESTION: Qadhafi’s son, Saif, for many years, he, as a potential successor to him, has said firstly that the families were just greedy and wanted money, money and money. But to your point just now, he also said that Libya just played with words because, at the end of the day, Libya just wanted to get the sanctions lifted. And that’s a pretty significant statement coming from someone at that level.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is an agreement in place that will compensate the victims of terrorism. That is an important step. There is also no weapons of mass destruction program here in Libya. That’s verified. There is also a renunciation of terror and terrorism, and there is good cooperation on counterterrorism.

Now, I can’t say that this relationship will always go smoothly, but it is a good start. And if indeed there is to be an example that countries can change their way, and that the United States can respond when countries change their way, then we have to take those first steps. And that’s really all we’ve done. We’ve taken those first steps. 

QUESTION: Because of the actions Libya has taken, you’re fairly confident that Qadhafi isn’t stringing the U.S. on?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I know the actions that have been taken, and those are already significant achievements for international peace and security. 

QUESTION: Well, how do you see specifically the efforts that Libya has made with counterterrorism? You said they’ve been very helpful. Tell us specifically --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m not going to go into --

QUESTION: Without compromising – as much as possible.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I’m not going to go into it. But look, we all know that this is a difficult area, the Maghreb. We know that there’s a significant al-Qaida presence here in the Maghreb. And we know that there have been repeated – there’s been repeated violence in the Maghreb. And so to be able to work on these issues, to be able to have potential for sharing of information and the like, that’s going to be very important. 

QUESTION: Have they given you actionable intelligence that has led to foiling any --

SECRETARY RICE: I’m not going to get into any further details, but to say that we’ve established good counterterrorism work. 

QUESTION: How much is the agreement and the warming of ties with Libya about oil?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s really about the strategic decision that Libya took to --

QUESTION: But Libya has strategic oil reserves.

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, we do need – we absolutely need reliable sources of oil and gas from diverse sources. And the international economy needs it. And let’s remember, oil is a commodity, and so when there are increases in the capacity of Libya to produce, it will not just be good for the United States and its needs for oil, it will be good for the international economy and its needs for oil. And so, of course, we look forward to commercial activity here, to investment in Libya’s substantial potential in energy.

But it’s broader than that. It is about terrorism and fighting terrorism. It is having gotten rid of the weapons of mass destruction. It is about trying to help see this be a more open society through the exchange of students.  You know, the thing when I was talking to people, I realized that the people who are in my age group – not yours, my age group –

QUESTION: I have gray hair. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Many of them were educated in the United States. And there’s a whole generation for which that isn’t true. And since we believe that access to American education, access to the United States, is one of the most important things we can do, it is very good that there will be more Libyans doing (inaudible).

QUESTION: Just a couple of last quick questions, political questions, if I may. Fancy that. 

There have been a lot of questions raised about Governor Sarah Palin. If you were prepping her for a foreign policy debate with Joe Biden, what would you advise her?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me be the last do to that. 

QUESTION: You should be the first to do that. 

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, no. Let me just say this. I thought that Sarah Palin gave a terrific speech, and not to get into the politics of it. You know, she’s governor of a state here in the United States, and she came across extremely well.

QUESTION: Does she have enough experience to handle the kinds of things that you need to handle?

SECRETARY RICE: These are decisions that Senator McCain has made. I have great confidence in him. I’m not going to get involved in this political campaign. As Secretary of State, I don’t do that. But I thought her speech was wonderful. 

QUESTION: But the – a lot of Republicans are also saying that she just lacks the experience. I mean, you can dispatch Vice President Cheney to deal with Ukraine and Georgia, but Sarah Palin just won’t be able to handle it. 

SECRETARY RICE: There are different kinds of experiences in life that help one to deal with matters of foreign policy. 

QUESTION: Okay, final question. Are you holidaying anytime soon (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: August has been a little busy. In fact, some of us say maybe we’ll outlaw the month of August in a new life. (Laughter.) No, I’m fine. It’s a busy time. We’ve said many times we’ve got to sprint to the finish. And I was often asked, well, what will you concentrate on in the next several months. And I think the last few weeks have just demonstrated that, for the United States, you can’t pick your places to concentrate; the United States has to be able to deal with multiple issues. And that’s what I’m here to do.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. 


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, as always, thank you.


Released on September 6, 2008

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