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Remarks with Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi Fihri

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Foreign Ministry
Rabat, Morocco
September 7, 2008

FOREIGN MINISTER FIHRI (Via interpreter)First of all, on behalf of everyone, I would like to apologize to you for this delay. I would like to thank you for your presence for this meeting, and I would also like to say in all clarity that His Majesty's government is very pleased with the presence of Ms. Condoleezza Rice in the region, in the Maghreb, and in the Kingdom of Morocco, more particularly.

As everyone knows of His Majesty's visit to Washington in 2002, we have actually made very good progress in the bilateral relations that bind us to the United States. And I would like to extend my thanks to my colleague, Ms. Secretary of State, for all the efforts and all the encouragements that we have received from her, and also concerning the reforms that we have started in Morocco, and which were launched by His Majesty, the King, in different fields, actually: political, economic, and also in investment side, cultural side, and also educational.

I would like to remind you of the success that crowned, actually, the free trade agreement negotiations between the two countries. I would also like to remind everyone here of the grants given by the United States to Morocco in the (inaudible) of the Millennium Challenge account as an encouragement for the democratization of the country, and also for all the reform that has been launched in a new Morocco, under the leadership of His Majesty, the King.

I would like also to say from the outset what -- the importance of all the contacts and all the negotiations and talks that we had since yesterday with Ms. Secretary of State. First of all, during the dinner that we -- I was honored to offer. Also, the Prime Minister was present, the Speaker of the -- and also Ms. Zuleikha Nasri, and many other members of His Majesty's government. And during that meeting, we talked about all of the reforms, and also the ambitions, the problems that are posed, that Morocco -- this changing Morocco moving forward, is facing, and also the Morocco reforms.

Today, we had some very important, interesting talks, very positive talks, concerning what is taking place in the Maghreb Arab region about the relations with our brother country, Algeria, and concerning all the evolutions and developments taking place in the Middle East and also about the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, and also concerning some issues that concern stability and security in the region, and also what we can do together to face the common threats that are actually -- and also against international terrorism. 

You have the floor, Madame.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. I can think of no better way to end my trip across the Maghreb than to come here, to Morocco, a long-standing friend, of decades, with the United States.

We have had a wonderful set of discussions, and I want to thank you for the wonderful Iftar last night. It was an opportunity to hear about the reforms that have been launched by the government of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI. I heard from ministers as varied as the economics minister, the trade minister, the minister who is in charge of social matters, and also from the youth and sports minister, who I remember quite well in her victory in 1984 in the Los Angeles Olympics in the, I think, the 800 meters. It was a very great pleasure for me to spend the time with the ministers.

This has been an opportunity, the visit to Libya, where we established, really, the way forward for constructive relations, to Tunis, to Algiers, and now here, in Morocco, to talk about the ways that the United States can help this region, the Maghreb region, with the many challenges that it has, but also with the many opportunities that it has. 

It is quite clear that there are problems of terrorism and a need for counter-terrorism cooperation among the partners here, among the states here, and with the United States. There is, of course, the issue of the Western Sahara, and the United States looks forward to supporting the UN effort there to find a mutually agreed agreement.

We have had an opportunity to talk about reform, about the progress of economic reform, democratic reforms, and also to look at ways in which we might help the countries of this important region to have a more unified approach to the challenges that face them. And in that regard, I look forward in New York, on the margins of the UNGA, to meeting with the ministers of the Arab Maghreb Union.

I have also been very pleased to have your wise advice and counsel on matters concerning the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Annapolis process, to which we are all committed, and to talk about larger issues in Africa and beyond. 

So, as is befitting good friends, we have had a very extensive and broad discussion. But it starts from the basis of a very strong, long-standing relationship, one that has been cemented, I think, over the last few years with the free trade agreement and with the Millennium Challenge Account compact. 

And I look forward to seeing you in New York. But thank you again for the wonderful hospitality that I have enjoyed here.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Bob Woodward’s new book says that U.S. officials routinely listened to private conversations of Iraqi officials. If that is true, how can you rebuild trust with the Iraqi government?

And, furthermore, the excerpts that were published today also suggest that you don't like to bring bad news to the President, and that you were wary of an Iraq review in 2006, because you were afraid that it would give election ammunition to Democrats. How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I can say that we have an open political and diplomatic relationship with the Iraqis that is cooperative. And I, myself, worked constantly with Prime Minister Maliki, and we share information, and it's a very open and transparent relationship, as is befitting friends that have been through as much as we have been through with the Iraqis.

As to the matter of the events of the summer and fall of 2006, I'm going to be very clear. I don't think anyone believed that things were going well in Iraq in the summer of 2006 or the fall of 2006. This was after, of course, a somewhat hopeful period, even after the bombing in Samarra there was a somewhat hopeful period when the Iraqi government was formed, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, that we might get to a better state. But by the summer and fall, it was pretty clear that that wasn't coming into being. And the President demanded one thing, which was to know what the true situation was, and to be able to do something about it.

Now, I think I'm quoted elsewhere in the book as having told the President, Iraq is -- the society is rending -- I haven't seen the book, but in the excerpts -- that Iraq is rending, that what we were doing was not working. I think the answer was not self-evident, and some of us even had questions and said them to the President in very clear ways, that if we were going to commit more American forces, we had to have a different strategy, because it wasn't clear what more American forces were going to do. That doesn't sound to me like an unwillingness to talk to the President in a very straightforward way about the difficult situation there. In fact, that is the relationship that we have had since I've first known him.

Now, what is remarkable after all of that, that we are where we are. Because the surge has worked better than anybody would have dreamed, and the fact that we are sitting here today talking about an Iraq that is more stable, that is taking over security responsibility, that is meeting, increasingly the needs of its citizens, that is rebuilding its relationships with the region and, particularly, with the Arab world, you can quarrel however you'd like with the process, but you cannot quarrel with the outcome. The United States of America, through the leadership of this President, has put Iraq into a sustainable position where we can achieve the goals that we have had there. 

Now, as to the matter of politics, I will tell you that I was concerned that in the hothouse environment of the fall, we needed to have a review that was not going to turn political with headlines every day about what we were thinking or what we were not thinking, we were going back to first principles. We were looking at really hard choices, as I said, choices that were not self-evident, about what to do.

But the issue was not the elections, and it certainly was not Republican prospects in the Congress, because I think there are some who would say that if we wanted to improve those prospects, we would have said: We are reviewing Iraq strategy, and Steve Hadley has noted, that the President, in order to shield the process from the electoral issues, waited until the day after the elections to announce a change in the Secretary of Defense. I think there are an awful lot of people who think that that would have helped our electoral prospects, not hurt it.

So, yes, you don't want to have to debate difficult choices before you have made them in a political environment, therefore politicizing decisions before you've even taken them. But, given where we were in the fall of 2006, I don't think it would have hurt us, electorally. It was not my calculation, it was not my concern. My concern was to have us have an open process.

Let me just repeat though, the outcome speaks for itself.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) relations between Morocco and the United States have witnessed tremendous and positive evolution over the past years in all things -- strategic, political, economic (inaudible) reforms initiated by Morocco and encouraged (inaudible) by United States (inaudible). How do you assess the evolution of our bilateral relations?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I assess them much as my colleague, the Foreign Minister, has. I think the relations are very strong. They have always been strong. Morocco and the United States have been friends for decades. But they are on a firmer foundation now in terms of economic relationships, through the FTA. They are on a firmer and deeper relationship basis now through the MCC.

But let me just say that when a country is an MCC country, it means that that country has made good choices about good governance, about investing in its people, about political openness and greater reform, about empowering the role of women, about fighting corruption. And it is not to say that all the work is done, but I think that everyone has been impressed by the reforms that have been launched under His Majesty, King Mohammed VI. 

And so, while I think we can say that the relationship between Morocco and the United States has been strong in the past, I think it is deeper, and the foundation is stronger now, to take it to a new level. And, from that new level, we are also able to work hard on the regional and global challenges that we all face.

QUESTION: If I can add on this –

FOREIGN MINISTER FIHRI (Via interpreter): The Kingdom of Morocco sees its future within the framework of the United Maghreb. We hope to overcome the challenges and difficulties that we have been experiencing for some time now, and we hope that once the Moroccan-Algerian relationship will be normalized, we will hope to achieve the regional integration, and this is why we hope that the efforts that will be deployed by -- in the international community to help us cooperate better, and to ensure our stability better, and security better, and to achieve the economic, united Maghreb, and socially-opened Maghreb. And this is why we extend our warmest welcome to Honorable Secretary General for the visit she is paying us here, and for this future meeting that she will be holding between herself and her colleagues from the Maghreb, and her invitation.

And this is a great encouragement of the American administration, because the Maghreb deserves this attention because of all the reasons that were referred to: strategic, security reasons, but also progress, development, and democracy reasons. Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I (inaudible) you could give me a sense on how you think the Bush administration’s legacy on counter-proliferation will sustain itself. You have success with Libya (inaudible), the India deal you have touted as kind of extending the non-proliferation regime globally. At the same time there are real fears now that North Korea is backsliding, the Iran issue seems to be, kind of, stalemated and there are still real fears that the India deal will cause proliferation problems and that’s why some people in Congress are still fighting it. So I just – kind of on the broad issue where do you think the administration stands (inaudible)? Just briefly, I guess Castro’s (inaudible) called for the embargo lifted this week and I was just wondering if there was any development (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Just on the Cuba issue. The President made a very forward-leaning speech on Cuba that -- a couple of years ago, actually -- that made clear that the United States would be responsive to a Cuban regime that was prepared to release political prisoners, have a process to get to free and fair elections, and that the United States would be open to that regime. But we have seen nothing that suggests that that has come about.

What we cannot do is to have the transfer of power from one dictatorial regime to another. That is not acceptable in a Western hemisphere that is democratic, and it is not acceptable for the Cuban people. And so, I don't think that, in the context that we see now, that a lifting of the embargo would be wise.

Now, in terms of the non-proliferation issues, and counter-proliferation, I would just cite the extraordinary number of events that have taken place on this President's watch. First of all, we did take down the AQ Khan network. And the AQ Khan network, because it was a kind of black market, non-governmental network, was very, very dangerous. We not only took it down, we learned a lot from it, and we used what we exploited from it to help countries make better decisions about their weapons of mass destruction in the future.

In that regard, the President's administration has established the proliferation security initiative, where I think it's now some 80-plus countries cooperate with -- by the way, without benefit of an office or a secretariat -- operate and cooperate on intelligence sharing, on looking at suspicious cargo, on tracking down leads, so that there is a kind of blanket over the proliferation business.

Third, you mentioned Libya. Yes, it is a major breakthrough that Libya made the strategic choice to give up its weapons of mass destruction, to renounce terrorism. But it also allows the United States to have a Maghreb policy that does not have a hole in it, which means no relationship with Libya. And I think that will help to manage a number of the problems, going forward.

Fourth, you mentioned North Korea. Yes, this process has had its ups and downs. But we do have a way forward, including a commitment from the North Koreans as of September 2005, and subsequent commitments to end its nuclear weapons program completely and verifiably. 

And we have, perhaps more importantly, an agreement that is not just with the United States, but with China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea. And that means that the management of the North Korean problem is in the hands of those who have the right sets of incentives and disincentives to get to the proper outcome.

And with Iran, we have put together an international coalition of states that, through three, now, Security Council resolutions, have made clear to the Iranians that they have to abandon their ambitions for technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons, and accept the generous offer of the international community that they can have a civil nuclear program, but it has to come in the form that does not give them access to the fuel cycles.

So, I think this is a very strong framework. These problems took a long time to emerge; they're not going to be resolved overnight. They won't be resolved by any single administration. But this non-proliferation, counter-proliferation problem is in a very much better and very different place than when we came. 

And in that regard, let me end with India, because the non-proliferation treaty is valued by all members of it, most especially the United States. It is a landmark treaty. But the fact is that India, a state that has a very good record on proliferation, has operated outside of it. 

And what we now have is a way for India to pursue civil nuclear technology for all the reasons that states need to do that, given the energy crunch, given the environmental issues associated with hydrocarbons. It has a way to do that, that expands the reach of the IAEA, concerning Indian civil nuclear activities, that begins to expand the reach of the non-proliferation regime, and that does so without violating important principles that are there in the NPT, itself.

And so, I think the record of this administration is very strong. We have also, of course, continued our work, despite difficulties from time to time, with Russia, on securing nuclear materials, on finishing the work, or continuing the work, of the Nunn-Lugar program. So, we have done a lot, and we still have some work to do. But I think we have left this situation, or this issue, in far better shape than we found it.

QUESTION (Via interpreter): President Bush confirmed in a recent message sent to His Majesty, the King, that the Moroccan proposal for the Sahara autonomy is an ideal proposal. Does Washington maintain this position, and would Washington maintain it after the next November elections? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible) to speak to what we are going to try to do ahead. We are looking for a mutually agreed solution to this problem. It is time that it be resolved. We believe it is extremely important for Algeria and Morocco to have good relations, to be able to trade, to share information, particularly given some of the challenges that the two face here, in the Maghreb.

And, by the way, that is something that I heard in both capitals, and I heard in Tunisia, and in Libya, as well. 

There will be a new round for the solution of the Western Sahara problem. I talked with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon just before I left. We are going to support that round, that mediation. There are good ideas on the table, and there are ways to move forward. We don't need to start over. 

And so, I hope that we can very much move forward and get this resolved.

PARTICIPANT: Thank you very much.



Released on September 7, 2008

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