Interview With Erin Burnett of CNBCSecretary Condoleezza Rice
September 5, 2008
QUESTION: Okay. So you met with leader Qadhafi. And obviously, it was interesting walking in the room. You had the incense and the white pomp and circumstance, and then there was the brawl that the press was involved in. But when all was said and done, what was your impression of him?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it was interesting. I didn’t know what to expect. Once we were into the discussion, it was, frankly, a pretty normal diplomatic exchange about Africa and about the U.S. role there and about the Middle East and problems in the Maghreb and his vision for how Africa ought to emerge – many of the things that I already read that he was interested in, but he went into more detail. So quite frankly, the exchange was pretty normal.
QUESTION: Now, I have to do this just because everyone’s talking about it and it’s in all the headlines and people are using words from it. But he appears to be interested in – he likes to muddy the waters, he likes to make a big splash, and he was excited you were coming. And expressed it in a rather bizarre way on Al Jazeera. He said, “She’s coming, I’m so excited, that ‘darling black African woman, mistress of the Arab slaves.’” And I’ll be honest; I’m not exactly sure what that means.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: It seems rude, but do you cringe? Do you get angry? Do you laugh? I mean, what do you think when you hear those things?
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, he told me that he was certain that I had African ancestry – I clearly do – and that he was just very proud that there was an African American woman in the White House, and I think he (inaudible) in the State Department. It’s fine. It didn’t interfere with our discussion in any way.
QUESTION: So he seems – he’s sane? He’s someone you can deal with?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, he’s someone who has made important strategic choices for his country that have made us, I think, safer in giving up weapons of mass destruction, in renouncing terrorism. Look, this isn’t going to be an easy relationship. It has a lot of history to overcome. We’ve tried to overcome some of that by getting an agreement that will compensate the victims of terror. One reason that I was not here two years ago or even a year ago was because we wanted to have that agreement in place. So he’s made important decisions, and it’s a good thing that the United States and Libya are trying to build a constructive relationship because there are a lot of problems that Libya is very critical to resolving.
QUESTION: And some of the skeptics would say that this is – Libya got a lot of focus because it could be an example for other countries that have a lot of oil. Libya has a lot of oil, more oil than any other country in Africa. It’s got the light, sweet stuff, three-quarters of it we haven’t even found out it’s there. Oil matters to our country. Was oil a defining part of the reason you’re here?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the defining part really had to do with the decision on weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. But no one should be ashamed of the fact that we are looking for alternative and diverse sources of oil. And by the way, since oil is a commodity, that won’t just help the American economy, that will help with the international economy as a whole.
And so I see nothing wrong with trying to help Libya develop its reserves, its significant reserves, both proven and unproven. I think it is very worthwhile to see what can be done to help them develop their substantial natural gas reserves. So of course, the economic and commercial aspects of this are important. But what really led to this breakthrough was Libya’s decision to get out of the weapons of mass destruction business.
QUESTION: Now, in terms of commodities when we talk about Africa, Africa is really the continent that’s the kind of commodities. And you’ve got copper and you’ve got oil and natural gas; you name it, it’s here. And every single day you start to watch the headlines, you see Russia’s won this contract, Russia’s bidding to have all of Qadhafi’s oil, or China has a half a million business people living in this continent right now striking deals. Do you feel a sense of urgency that America is losing the battle to own or have access to the commodities of Africa?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I don’t feel that the United States is “losing” the battle. First of all, others will participate. There’s no doubt about that. But when you look, for instance, at the technologies that can be brought to bear by American companies, Western companies, they far exceed what can be done by any of the other competitors at this point. And as I said, what we’re looking for is diverse supply, diverse routes for oil, alternatives to oil like natural gas.
And so, of course, the continent is important in that regard. But you know, the United States has also been very dedicated to the people of the continent, not just to their commodities. It is this president that – and on a bipartisan basis, that has put up extraordinary billions of dollars, now closing in on $50 billion, for AIDS relief, a malaria program to half the deaths from malaria. So yeah, I think --
QUESTION: So you really think we have different standards than China when it comes to doing business here?
SECRETARY RICE: I do think that what we’re doing is that we’re trying to help Africans become self-sufficient, to use their resources to the betterment of their people. That’s the whole way that we think about the Millennium Challenge Corporation, for instance, which rewards good governance. So yes, we’re interested in the resources, but we’ve also been interested in the well-being of the people.
QUESTION: Has something changed about Africa, or is this another go-around of what used to be the colonial situation and now is another race, whether it be for commodities or something else? Or do you think that as part of your efforts that something has fundamentally changed and that we can say there is a new Africa? And it is?
SECRETARY RICE: I really think there is a new and hopeful Africa. Not everywhere. I mean, there are the Zimbabwes of Africa. There are the problems of conflict in Darfur or Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But if you look at the leadership in Ghana or the leadership in Botswana, or you look at the growth of democratic institutions in a place like Mozambique, this is a different Africa. And it’s an Africa where they are trying to fight corruption against the odds, they are trying to do better for their people in terms of healthcare and education. Not everywhere, by any means. But I do think there is a good set of leaders in Africa who have the best interests of their people at heart. And when you look at a place like Kenya, that was able peacefully to resolve a very difficult constitutional crisis, this is a continent that has potential and hope. And it’s why President Bush has always looked at this continent “as a continent of partners, not a continent of clients.”
QUESTION: And in terms of Libya, is your goal to create a playbook, as in could Kim Jong-il or could the leadership in Iran – obviously which is much more than Ahmadinejad – but could those countries, could Syria, do what Qadhafi did?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what Libya shows is – and let’s face it, there are few relationships in the world that were worse than the U.S.-Libyan relationship. And what this shows is the United States doesn’t have permanent enemies; that when countries make difficult strategic choices, the United States responds. And of course, I hope that others will see that lesson and learn from it. It’s why it’s important to reach out to Libya.
Now, the work isn’t done. There are issues of human rights. There are still issues of internal development here. There are issues of the business environment. These all have to be dealt with. But it’s a good start to have had Libya make these strategic decisions and to be able to move forward.
QUESTION: When you say that no one is a permanent enemy, and we think about what Qadhafi used to be, could someone like Osama bin Ladin rehabilitate himself?
SECRETARY RICE: There’s no evidence that al-Qaida has anything like a governing philosophy, and no evidence that they want to do anything but destroy. We have to remember that that’s a movement that is, in its incarnation, global, trying to break – trying to break governments, in effect, not trying to govern, not trying to make people’s lives better. Their trade is death and destruction. That’s it.
And we do have a different view, even now. With terrorism, President Bush made very clear that no terrorist act, no matter what the cause, can be justified. That’s very important to remember, too. So states have to renounce terrorism. States shouldn’t be dealing with terrorism. But certainly, it’s – I really can’t conceive of al-Qaida making a shift. Al-Qaida is --
QUESTION: Right. But you can see a little though, if they did? I mean, I understand the semantics of it.
And finally, Russia. Obviously, commodities have been part of this, too. And the real question I have is who has the power in the U.S.-Russia situation? Is it Russia because they have the commodities, or is it the United States because, well, they own a lot of our debt, we could default on that debt, and that gives us a certain power? And are we trying to appease them right now?
SECRETARY RICE: No, no. We all have sources of leverage. That’s the way international politics works. But what the United States is doing is, first of all, telling Russia to live up to the obligations it undertook to President Sarkozy. That’s first. If you say that you’re going to abide by a ceasefire, keep your word. And the Europeans themselves are issuing that statement.
Secondly, we’re going to help Georgia: a billion dollar program for Georgia, a $750 million standby facility from the IMF. The Vice President was just there. We’re going to help this young democracy sustain itself; and therefore, Russia will not have achieved the objective that it had of getting – of destroying Georgian democracy.
And so what will Russia actually have achieved? Russia will have demonstrated that it can use overwhelming military force against a small neighbor. But it will have done so at the expense of the view of Russia as a responsible state that is ready to integrate into the international economic, political, diplomatic structures. It’s come at a cost to Russia. And if you look now at the condemnation of Russia around the world for recognizing South Ossetia and Georgia*, it’s not that people are isolating Russia. Russia is isolating itself.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you so much, Secretary Rice. Appreciate your time.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much.
* Should have said Abkhazia, instead of Georgia
Released on September 8, 2008