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Interview With Michel Ghandour of Al-Hurra

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York City
September 25, 2008

QUESTION: You have always been focused on women’s empowerment. And what have you achieved during your mandate in that regard, and what is your plan to resume your women’s empowerment activities when you leave your position?

SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible) the network of women leaders that just met. I think they will continue to meet and they will be an institutional base for women and for women’s concerns. We’ve had Security Council resolutions, including most recently a resolution on sexual violence against women in war, making it really an act that would be a war crime. We have tried to bring focus to issues of women’s justice. We’ve at the State Department had women from around the world from the legal systems from around the world, working with our women judges, and Sandra Day O’Connor was the one who keynoted that. We have a women’s empowerment initiative called the “One Woman Initiative” in which we’re going to try to empower just one woman at a time to be involved in social justice and women’s empowerment economically. And we’ve worked hard to make sure that the UN is actually representative, that women are getting roles as special representatives and in high-ranking UN posts. It’s a very powerful group of women leaders, and I look forward to continuing as perhaps an alumna of the group working with them.

QUESTION: Very good. Madame Secretary, we’ll talk a little bit about the Middle East, the region. But first, economically, how do you think – will the economic situation or crisis affect the American power and aids around the world?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that the Middle East is a place that’s changing and changing very rapidly. When I go to places and I see the new leadership in places, I often see women as a part of that leadership. I see women voting in Kuwait. I see so much going on there.

Now, the Middle East is a place that has long needed to close the freedom gap. And I think what American policy has most been identified with here is not to try and impose upon the Middle East a particular model of democracy, but to speak clearly that the Middle East should not be exceptional in the promotion of democracy. Obviously, the work that we’ve done with the Palestinians and the Israelis to try to help them to solve their long conflict is also an important part of that.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, why do you think there’s no agreement yet with the Iraqis regarding the American presence in Iraq, and what role do you think Iran is playing in this regard?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know what role Iran is playing, but it’s not for Iran to determine. It’s for the Iraqi Government and the representatives of the Iraqi people to determine. And it’s a negotiation that’s continuing that I think has actually got a good spirit of cooperation. People do understand that without an agreement – American forces can only operate on a legal basis, and so we need a legal basis. But we’re working very well with the Iraqis on this. They’re not easy issues, and so it takes time. But we are working very well and we’re working toward agreement.

QUESTION: When do you think that you will achieve the agreement?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t want to put a date on it, but our negotiating team was back in Washington to receive instructions. They’ve returned to Baghdad, and they’re probably meeting as we speak.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Sudan, the French President has said that Paris would support freezing a possible war crimes indictment of Sudan’s President only if Khartoum radically changes its policies in Darfur. At the same time, the Arab League will press the UN Security Council to freeze the possible war crime indictment. What’s your position in this regard?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the United States is not party to the ICC, of course, but we do believe in the importance of justice. And there have been some terrible acts committed in Sudan. We are focused right now on telling the Sudanese Government that it’s time to deliver on its promises. It’s been time years ago for Sudan to deliver on its promises.

I met yesterday with the Vice President of Sudan. We talked about how quickly security – the peacekeeping forces could get in. We’re prepared to provide logistical support to get them in. The UN is working quickly to give them a place to base. And so we expect Sudan to live up to its obligations very quickly here.

It is also true that there are humanitarian issues that we’ve raised. And so we’ll keep pressing, but we think justice is important. It’s also important that Sudan accelerate its efforts to somehow repair much of the damage to its credibility that exists.

QUESTION: Arab foreign ministers have asked for an urgent UN Security Council session on the ministerial level to discuss Israeli settlement activity. Will you accept this request?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m – we’re going to talk about the entire Middle East process in the – the Middle East peace process in the Quartet. And we will have an Iftaar with Arab leaders after that – the Quartet will. I think that’s the appropriate forum to discuss these issues. I don’t –

QUESTION: That means there is no Security Council meeting –

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just at this point don’t see the value in doing so. But the Security Council can take these issues up at any time. It’s a very – also a very tight calendar for everybody here. But let’s take it up in the Quartet, which is the appropriate and internationally recognized forum for these issues. I’ve been discussing it with my Arab colleagues and, you know, we remain open to a discussion, and I just think we need to start in the Quartet.

QUESTION: Palestinians and Israelis are pessimistic about reaching an agreement before the end of the year. Is there still any chance for such an agreement?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, they’re not pessimistic about their negotiations. Their negotiations, I think, are going well. They are working very hard. They’re dealing with all the hardest issues. We still believe that this can take place before the end of the year. Now, of course, it’s difficult. There are obviously political issues in Israel as they go through a transition there. But I thought it was a very good sign that despite all that she’s undoubtedly doing to form a coalition, Foreign Minister Livni met with Abu Alaa just the day after she was asked to form a government. And so there continues to be a lot of activity and, I think, interested commitment in this process.

QUESTION: One final question, Madame Secretary. What are you trying to do to solve the problem – the Western Sahara problem between Algeria and Morocco?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have – or the UN has a new envoy, Chris Ross, Ambassador Chris Ross, in whom we have a lot of confidence – an American. He knows the region. He’s well respected in the region. When I was in Morocco and Algeria, I encouraged the parties to really get this done now. There are proposals on the table. We don’t need to go back to square one. Obviously, this is going to involve some kind of autonomy. And so we really do urge the parties to sit down and get this done.

QUESTION: I don’t know if I can ask one more? That’s it.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Madame Secretary. Appreciate your time.

SECRETARY RICE: A pleasure. And thank you for the crispness of your questions.

Released on September 25, 2008

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