Interview With ReutersSecretary Condoleezza Rice
New York City
September 26, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: All right. Why don’t we go right to whatever is on your mind.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for meeting with us. I realize that your day was very compressed today. I want to start off with some questions on the financial crisis. There has been some criticism about blame on the United States, in particular, Germany’s Finance Minister believing that the U.S. has lost its financial superpower status. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has been quoted as saying, “There is an uprising against an economic model, a capitalist system that is the worst enemy of humanity.”
Do you think that the blame is unfair, and how does that impact your ability to do diplomacy?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, it hasn’t affected my ability to do diplomacy in the least because I think people understand that this is a financial crisis that is clear, but the United States is moving to address the root causes of it through Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke’s work. The discussions continue with Congress, and I’m quite certain that they will find a way forward. And this is a financial crisis, but the United States has very strong economic fundamentals, including the most productive workforce in the world, the most innovative workforce in the world. I come from the Silicon Valley. I know that a very, very high percentage of the world’s patents come, actually, just from that area, let alone the rest of the United States.
And so, frankly, I wouldn’t accept the economic judgment of Evo Morales. I think he’s got his own problems with Bolivia right now. But I think this will – the United States will emerge and emerge as strong as ever, probably stronger, because this is a financial crisis that needed to be worked through.
QUESTION: And do you think that the huge sums of money that is going to be required to clean up the financial crisis will constrain U.S. power in the short or medium term? And how will aid be affected?
SECRETARY RICE: I am quite certain that as Secretary Paulson and the President look at the financial resources needed here, that they’re looking first and foremost at the fact that this – we need to do this. There will be plenty of time to work through both the details of how the financing will work, but the United States is a country with enormous resources, and that’s what we’re seeing.
QUESTION: So you don’t foresee any aid programs being cut because of budget --
SECRETARY RICE: I don’t think there’s been any discussion of that at this point.
QUESTION: To go to a country that does not have an enormous amount of resources, North Korea, is the Administration giving any consideration to stopping the HFO and HFO equivalent shipments to North Korea? They’re not meeting their commitment; they’re rolling back on them. Are you thinking about stopping the HFO?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’ll certainly look at what appropriate steps we may wish to take. I’ve been consulting with the other members of the Six Parties since I’ve been here, but I think we all are sending strong messages to the North Koreans that they should stop any reversals that they are carrying out and that the path ahead is very clear: It’s a verification protocol that needs to be agreed, and then we can move ahead. We haven’t considered any specific steps at this point because we actually are continuing – all of us, all of the parties, are continuing their contacts with the North Koreans to send this concerted message. And so we’ll see where we are in a little while.
QUESTION: When you say you haven’t considered any specific steps in this, you haven’t considered turning off the HFO?
SECRETARY RICE: We just haven’t considered what specific steps we might take. We may need to take steps, but that’s not the stage at which we are right now.
QUESTION: And do you – have you given consideration to a sort of step-by-step verification process; in other words, I mean, to use a football metaphor, to sort of go for, you know, three yards in a cloud of dust rather than throwing a long bomb?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we consider the verification measures that are being proposed to be in line with what needs to be done to actually verify what is on the declaration and other – and to answer certain concerns that we have about the North Korean program in all of its facets – HEU, plutonium, and proliferation activities. And there are just some essentials to any verification regime, and that’s what this represents.
But the parties – the other members of the Six Parties recognized – I believe when we were in Singapore, you heard them recognize that there are certain international standards that have to be met in a verification protocol. And that’s really what this represents.
QUESTION: From your point of view, no consideration to scaling back what you need, what you want under a verification --
SECRETARY RICE: We have to have a verification protocol that is going to give us confidence that we are able to verify the declaration and that we’re able to answer certain unresolved questions. And that’s what we’re focused on -- is being able to do that.
QUESTION: What do you know about Kim Jong-il’s health?
SECRETARY RICE: What I read in various reports. But I don’t think that any of us have transparency into what is going on there. I’ve read the reports, too. But our policy has to be to take the North Korean regime at face value and what it’s doing at face value. And I’m sure that in time, whatever is going on there will become clearer.
QUESTION: But do you think that the change in attitude of the North Koreans has something to do with his health? I mean, the two seem to correspond. Chris Hill said the other day that the two have happened at the – seem to have –
SECRETARY RICE: They do --
QUESTION: -- the reports have happened at the same time as the behavior has changed.
SECRETARY RICE: They do correspond in time. And – but, frankly, I don’t know if that’s coincidence or causality, and I just don’t think we know.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you a bit about Iran.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: The Germans said today that you were looking this weekend to come up with a UN resolution this weekend which would express unity among the P-5+1 in handling Iran’s nuclear program. Could you tell us a little bit about what you want to be in that resolution and --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, it’s – it would actually be a very simple resolution. Let me just make a couple things clear. No one came here expecting to pass a new Security Council resolution on Iran. The political directors had only begun their work on the Friday before we arrived. And so, as you know, as we have always done with these things, it takes some time to work through elements and so forth. So there was never any expectation that we would pass a Security Council resolution.
Because we then decided – the Russians said and, actually, we agreed – that a P-5+1 ministers meeting was therefore not really prepared, we wanted to be absolutely certain that that was not misinterpreted, particularly by the Iranians. And I was meeting with Sergey Lavrov and we were talking about how we might send the signal that we remain united behind the two-track approach that we’ve been pursuing in the P-5+1 and the idea of a very simple resolution that would reaffirm the resolutions that we have taken, and reaffirm that we are committed to the two-track approach, would perhaps send the right signal. And so that’s what we’re expecting this resolution to do.
QUESTION: So this is more of a symbolic gesture rather than a new resolution with teeth, with sanctions, with new measures?
SECRETARY RICE: Sue, nobody expected to be in a position at this point to propose a resolution, certainly not during the middle of the General Assembly. And what we – but since we didn’t meet, I think appropriately, given that the political directors have a lot of work to do, this resolution – I wouldn’t say symbolic. I would say that it sends a very strong message.
Because as you might imagine, given what has transpired in Georgia and given some of the questions about whether the United States and Russia could continue to work together, there were those who read the absence of a P-5+1 meeting as more than what it was. And I think it’s also especially important that the Iranians recognize that the P-5+1 process is intact. The political directors are going to continue their work to review elements. And as to timing, we’ll cross that bridge later.
QUESTION: And you’re not worried that this seems toothless; you know, all you can do is agree to reaffirm what you did before?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, we agreed in about ten minutes to reaffirm our unity, so I think that should say how strong the unity is.
QUESTION: Did you say this --
SECRETARY RICE: And that’s the purpose here. The issue isn’t “teeth.” The teeth are in the resolutions that are being affirmed. And so –
QUESTION: But --
SECRETARY RICE: And the teeth are in the fact that, for instance, 1803, the European Union has taken further measures to push forward beyond 1803. We’ve taken further measures. So the teeth are in the resolutions already passed.
QUESTION: And --
SECRETARY RICE: For now. But there will be – there is a process that is looking at what next steps we will take.
QUESTION: In terms of the next steps, are you looking to restrict imports of Iranian refined products? That has been – refined petroleum products. That has been something that has been floating around. And also insurance.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I know what – the things that are floating around. We’re considering a variety of ideas, but I don’t want to get into specifics as the diplomacy is going on.
QUESTION: But would insurance be a useful tool, do you think?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m not going to get into specifics as the diplomacy is being carried out.
QUESTION: Do you think you’ll have something by the end of the year, though, the end of the Administration?
SECRETARY RICE: We’ll see. But we are committed to the process, committed to two tracks. The Iranians are not taking up the negotiation track; that’s very clear. And so I think our course is along the second, to make sure that the second track is also robust. But we’ve got the political directors continuing to discuss that set of issues.
QUESTION: Could we turn a moment to the Middle East, which will be discussed later today?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you still think it’s possible that an agreement might be reached in your term of office?
SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s possible. It was never going to be easy, but – and obviously, the political situation right now is quite complex, particularly in Israel. But I would note that as complex as it is, on the day after she was asked to form a government, Tzipi Livni sat with Abu Ala to continue their negotiations. The President met with Abu Mazen yesterday, with President Abbas yesterday. I’m going to meet with him later on today, and the Quartet will meet. And I think you’ll find that the pace negotiation is continuing, and the parties are making some progress. But these are hard issues. And obviously, if it had been easy to solve, it would have been solved a long time ago.
QUESTION: Okay. If you don’t get a fully fledged peace agreement in this Administration, what will you be handing over to the next administration, do you think? Will this be something on paper, a set of principles --?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think --
QUESTION: -- or a new roadmap or --
SECRETARY RICE: I don’t think we’re there yet because we’re still working toward a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year. And the – I would make the following point. This time last year, there was no peace process. And just a few months before that, we were having discussions of how the parties could never – could not discuss the core issues. And so this has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. And they do have a robust process, the most robust process, perhaps, that they’ve ever had. And so that is extremely useful, but I’m not ready yet to determine what outcomes we will have to leave.
QUESTION: Right. But you mentioned that there had been progress. I mean, what, in concrete terms, progress has there really been?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know that the discussion are confidential, I think rightly so, because the only – one of the few truly successful Palestinian-Israeli negotiations was Oslo, which nobody even knew they were doing. So I think they are wise to keep their deliberations confidential. But the discussions are comprehensive, and they are looking at all the hard issues. And I think it’s a process that’s moving it forward.
QUESTION: Okay. Hamas – whatever you may think of them – have more or less observed a ceasefire in Gaza in terms of rockets into Israel. Would you think that it might be for, perhaps, a future administration to try to, if only indirectly, reach out to them a bit more than has been possible up to now?
SECRETARY RICE: I think the proper course is reaching out to the Palestinian leadership, which by the way President Abbas, as President of the Palestinian Authority, is the legitimate president of all the Palestinian people and he is the negotiator as head of the PLO. And so reaching out to the people who actually have chosen peace seems the appropriate course.
Hamas has not been willing to even acknowledge that there ought to be a state of Israel. It makes it very difficult to see how it would be useful to have them a part of the process in any way.
QUESTION: Turning to Russia --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: President Medvedev today announced plans to upgrade their nuclear deterrent and said – including a space defense system and new nuclear submarines. So, I’m just wondering, do you see this as an aggressive action?
SECRETARY RICE: Let me put it this way: The balance of power in terms of nuclear deterrence is not going to be affected by those measures. And I think probably the Russians understand that the United States has an extremely capable, robust, broad, and indeed varied nuclear deterrent. And I’m quite certain that that is not lost on the General Staff.
QUESTION: But what does this mean then for arms control talks going forward? When do you plan to start renegotiating on START?
SECRETARY RICE: We have a treaty, the Moscow Treaty, which limits deployed warheads and which gives both parties the – which both parties have pledged to reduce their deployed warheads to 1,700 to 2,200, and that continues to be enforced and the numbers continue to come down.
And we are also discussing what follow-on there should be to the START treaty, particularly in terms of the verification measures and the like. But let’s remember that this is not like the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, where the goal was to reassure everybody that we had no intention of annihilating each other although we didn’t agree on anything else. And that is not the nature of the relationship with Russia today.
And so I would just note that the United States will continue to maintain and, to the degree necessary, modernize its strategic nuclear deterrent. And that is plenty of insurance against any modernization that Russia might undertake.
QUESTION: Do you – I think the LA Times said that John Rood had planned to go to Moscow to work on renegotiating START and did not go in the aftermath of Georgia. I’m just wondering what the plans are for --
SECRETARY RICE: John and his new counterpart have been in touch. One of the – one thing that’s happening is that Sergei Kislyak, who was his counterpart, has now become the Ambassador to the United States. But John is in contact with his counterpart, and I’m sure at an appropriate time they’ll get together.
QUESTION: And Jack Matlock said earlier this week that as long as you’re taking steps toward NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine that you can just forget about strategic cooperation with the Russians.
SECRETARY RICE: I think strategic cooperation on North Korea, on Iran, on the Middle East, on global nuclear terrorism, on proliferation matters, on the Proliferation Security Initiative – do I need to go on? – is probably more robust than anything that certainly would have been the case in the ‘80s.
And I would just also note that NATO has always stood for an open door to European democracies that meet its membership standards and wish to be members. And we’re going to continue to adhere to that principle. There really can’t be a line in Europe where Russia or anybody else has a veto over the future of these states.
QUESTION: What are your options if the Russians, though, don’t comply with the September 8th agreement on Georgia and they don’t pull out of the special zones outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia? What are you considering? What will you do?
SECRETARY RICE: We’ll certainly continue to review our options. But I think the fact of the matter is that Russia’s lack of success in meeting its strategic objectives here has been quite a lesson to Russia about the use of force in this way. You know, Georgia is getting more international support – political, economic – than it probably would have ever seen but for Russia’s aggression. We are seeing Russia have to defend its economic prospects. We are seeing continued calls that – Russia’s integration into these diplomatic, security, and economic institutions of the international system continuing to be called in question. I mean, the WTO membership isn’t going anywhere. The U.S.-Russia 123 agreement isn’t going anywhere. The OECD isn’t going anywhere.
Russia is pretty isolated, and their decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia really isolated them, where they could not get even organizations that they have been very influential in, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to support them. And so sometimes when someone has dug a hole, it’s just best to leave them in it.
QUESTION: What sanctions might you be considering, such as against their oil industry or Russian companies in Georgia?
SECRETARY RICE: You mean who might do business in --
SECRETARY RICE: We’re looking at questions of what the posture of the United States would be should Russian companies or – choose to try to do business in, or certainly involve themselves in extractive activities in what is a zone of conflict and is indeed a part of the international territory of – internally recognized boundaries of Georgia. But we’re looking. We haven’t made any determinations.
QUESTION: When you say extractive there, you mean oil? That’s what you’re talking --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, extractive can be more than oil.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and also minerals.
STAFF: We’ve got five more minutes.
QUESTION: Turning to Pakistan, you’ve come to us fresh from the Friends of Pakistan meeting and you’ve spent time with leaders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan this week. We also heard a very stirring speech from President Zardari, who invoked Minister Bhutto yesterday.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: What sense do you get that there really is a new day in Pakistan in terms of taking on multiple challenges, and how do you plan to help Pakistan in that regard?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first point about the new day is it’s a democratically elected government, and that’s – a new day in and of itself. And the President of Pakistan seems quite committed and resolute about resolving the multiple challenges.
We’re doing several things. First of all, we are working with them on what is obviously a significant economic challenge. You probably know that we’re working with the international financial institutions and with the Pakistanis to – the IMF, the Asia Development Bank, others, to – the World Bank – because they will need significant support, and those are the institutions that are most appropriate to do it.
We are – I said to President Zardari yesterday that the United States is prepared to look at the significant aid programs that we have to see if we can bring them more into conformity with some of the direction and initiatives that he himself is developing. He has ideas about ownership for people in the Tribally Administered Areas, and we want to look to see if we can help him in that regard.
We’re also looking to work with him as a good partner on issues concerning extremism and terrorists. I think he was very eloquent in saying how much for him the issue of extremism and terrorism is a very personal one. And so we’re working on all of those issues. But I thought that the Friends of Pakistan was a good sign, a good signal that Pakistan really does have a lot of friends, and that they’re trying to mobilize to help.
QUESTION: He also brought up during his speech the question of Pakistan’s sovereignty, and of course, this – that speech came against the backdrop of the headlines of an exchange of fire for a U.S. helicopter, and again, against the backdrop of the perennial question: Did – is the – are the Pakistanis doing enough against extremism? Are you concerned that they – are they doing enough? Are they shooting in the wrong direction these days? What --
SECRETARY RICE: He spoke to this yesterday when he talked about trying to delineate the border. But as to the question of are they doing enough, I’ve been one who has said that they needed to do more. I believe in this – what I’ve heard from this President, what President Bush heard from President Zardari, they recognize perhaps more than anybody else that they need to do more.
Because the terrible events with the Marriott, which of course is a culmination of several other attacks inside Pakistan proper, if you will, not in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, not in the – but in Islamabad and the cities, they know that the – this is their war; the extremists are coming after them. And so that means that we have a common interest in doing as much as possible to defeat them.
I also think there’s a new spirit between President Zardari and President Karzai. They both speak very warmly of one another. They have some ideas for how to bring some political reconciliation of various tribals on both sides of the border, because I think you know that these family groupings, tribal groupings, sometimes know no borders, and how to use this to bring greater stability along what is a very, very difficult and has largely been an ungoverned space for a long time. So I think that’s another element.
Now, things are not going to change overnight because 17 days ago or 18 days ago Pakistan got a president. But I think it does give a good foundation for Pakistan to really start addressing some of these questions more forcefully.
QUESTION: Can we sneak one in one the India Civil Nuclear Agreement?
SECRETARY RICE: Sure.
QUESTION: It seems like you got a fairly significant boost yesterday when Chairman Berman introduced the legislation identical to the Senate version.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So two questions. One, what do you think of the odds? How much do you think that improves the odds you can actually get this done during the current session?
Two, Chairman Berman today said, and I’ll read it to you, that he agreed to the request because you had made a personal commitment to him that, “In a change of policy, the United States will make its highest priority at the November meeting of the NSG the achievement of a decision to prohibit the export of enrichment and reprocessing equipment.”
SECRETARY RICE: Just – I think it’s just – I think the wording actually is to seek strict limits on. And it’s – it is true that at the --
QUESTION: He says prohibit.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, at the NSG, the United States has pursued this policy in the past, but we have pursued several other initiatives at the same time. And what I said to Chairman Berman, given that the Administration is coming to an end, this is something that we hope is doable. I couldn’t make any promises about delivery, but we would seek to do this.
You know that the President has spoken about the need to do something about enrichment and reprocessing. And I think a global approach to this issue of the technologies is an appropriate one. But this has been our policy. But I think what Chairman Berman is speaking to is that we had also paired it with several other initiatives, and we’ll seek this one as the highest priority now.
QUESTION: Do you think you can actually get a deal on that?
SECRETARY RICE: We’ll work on it. It’s – I certainly – I know there is a lot of support in the NSG for it, but the NSG is 45 countries and we’ll just have to go on working.
QUESTION: And what do you think about the fact that you now have one bill in both houses?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s certainly helpful. It’s certainly helpful. But the time is short in Congress, and we’re working very closely with the leaders. I have spoken to Senator Reid. I’ve spoken with Chairman – to Speaker Pelosi, obviously Chairman Berman and others. So we’re working very hard. But time is short.
QUESTION: Are there some holdouts in the Senate that you need to work on?
QUESTION: Can I ask you just one more question in terms of --
SECRETARY RICE: It’s a vehicle for --
QUESTION: -- what you’re doing --
SECRETARY RICE: -- it’s difficult to – we don’t have that much business left really --
QUESTION: Can I just ask you one more question?
MR. MCCORMACK: Truly the last one.
QUESTION: Yeah. It’s, you know, how you – I know people ask you this many times, but how do you sort of see your legacy? Are you going to write this all down in a tell-all memoir of what really happened in the buildup to the Iraq war? (Laughter.)
And then on a more serious note, you know, hindsight is sort of a fabulous thing. But if you had your time again, would you have focused more of your attention on getting bin Laden rather than doing – going into Iraq?
SECRETARY RICE: Sue, we focus our attention on getting bin Laden all the time. This is not an issue of Iraq, Afghanistan, or anything else. This is an issue of constant focus on trying to bring to justice those who would harm us.
It’s not, however, just a one-man issue. And we’ve also focused a lot of attention on taking down the field generals of al-Qaida and, when they put up new field generals, taking them down, too, whether it’s Khaled Sheikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah or Faraj al-Libi. You know, the names of those who probably perpetrated 9/11, the planners, the operational ones, are either in custody or they are dead. And there’s a reason for that, and it’s because we’ve had a very, very strong focus on that network.
Now, I think if you’ve ever – and I believe you have because you’ve been with me – flown over the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, you know that it’s possible that someone who doesn’t want to be found will not be found. But I think he and Zawahiri will be found one day. But when they are, it will be because of the extraordinary intelligence and military capability that we have put together, that we work constantly with our partners. And when it happens, it’ll be because this search has been intense and finally pays off. I’d just have you go back and look at the fact that there have been terrorists that it took 20 years to get, but we got them.
QUESTION: Carlos the Jackal?
SECRETARY RICE: The Unabomber.
QUESTION: And what about your tell-all memoir? Are you going to tell us what really happened in those meetings?
SECRETARY RICE: Tell-all? What’s a tell-all? (Laughter.) I will write, I think, a book about American foreign policy after this crack in time that was September 11th, which I think dramatically shifted the ground on which the United States and everybody else saw security issues. But right now, I don’t have much time to think about that because there are still quite a few accounts out there that deserve my attention and need my attention, and I have to go worry about a couple of them now. So thanks a lot.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks for all your time.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
Asian Development Bank
Released on September 26, 2008