Interview With Greta Van Susteren of Fox NewsSecretary Condoleezza Rice
October 8, 2008
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, very nice to see you.
SECRETARY RICE: Nice to see you, too, Greta.
QUESTION: All right. Now, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about North Korea because we were there. If I step over the line, of course, you go right ahead and tell me, you know, that that’s over the line and a question I shouldn’t ask.
Let me ask you the first question. Do we know if Kim Jong-il is dead or alive?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, by all accounts, he’s appeared now, so we hear. But North Korea is such an opaque society. It’s so closed. Obviously, something happened to him at some point along here. But we’re just assuming that the North Korean Government is being run by the authorities of the North Korean Government, and we’re responding accordingly.
QUESTION: Now, you say that he appeared. Is there any proof that that wasn’t a body double?
SECRETARY RICE: No. But I assume that the appearance was the appearance. And so we don’t have any evidence that he is not, in fact, running North Korea.
QUESTION: What is the status of our negotiations over their nuclear program?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have just been working with Six Parties, the other parties, to come up with a verification protocol so that we can, in fact, verify North Korean progress with denuclearization across the whole range of their programs. And Assistant Secretary Chris Hill was just in Pyongyang last week. He has come back with some further work in the negotiations. We are now doing a little bit of work with the other members of the Six Parties. And when we have a verification protocol that lets us know that we can, in fact, get to the bottom of what has happened with North Korean nuclear programs and what will happen going forward, then we’ll be ready to exercise our obligations. But we’ve not yet gotten to that point.
QUESTION: I would imagine that it’s sort of difficult to negotiate the – with at least some question about with whom we’re negotiating. I mean, if we don’t know if Kim Jong-il is alive, and we assume so, we don’t know if he’s in charge or who is in charge. It seems like it would be – it’s extraordinary, sort of. How do you negotiate? How do you work with that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the system is working. And I don’t want to leave the impression that we think that the system is not working and that in fact, it’s not working under Kim Jong-il. We have no reason to believe that the North Koreans are not negotiating on the behalf of the authorities as we’ve negotiated with them in the past.
The bigger problem with North Korea is that it’s a very closed society. It’s a place that we’ve had a lot of problems in the past with the North Koreans not fully living up to their obligations. And that’s why we’re going to be sure that this verification protocol is what we need to verify the declaration that they made, and to verify that we’re on the road truly to denuclearization. So it is in the old category of trust but verify when you’re dealing with a state like North Korea.
QUESTION: If there’s a country that would keep a Secretary of State up at night – and I’m not suggesting you can’t sleep at night. You don’t – frankly, I don’t know when you get any sleep with your travels, which is another whole story, but is North Korea the one – is that the country that should concern us the most?
SECRETARY RICE: What I try is to help the President assure – is that we have adequate resources. And that means, of course, our military capability, but also our relationships around the world, to be in the very best position to deal with whatever arises. And I think in Northeast Asia, because of the Six-Party framework, because of our really excellent relations, in fact, deep relations with Japan and South Korea, our good relationship with China, the cooperation we’ve had with Russia, that we are in a position to deal with the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: But it seems like it has deteriorated somewhat. I mean, last summer was much more hopeful, at least, you know, from the outside, from our position, reading newspapers, looking at it. And I understand that on the outside, it’s a lot different than the inside. But it looks like it has taken – you know, that it has slipped. You know, they’re restarting their plant. I mean, it looks grim.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I wouldn’t say grim. I would just say with this process, it’s had its ups and downs. We are talking about a major breakthrough. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be a major breakthrough with North Korea really doing things that make the programs – that are irreversible to their programs. And so it’s going to have its ups and downs. The one thing that you have to learn in this business is to not react to every up and to every down. You have to keep an even keel. We’re working through the issues. We know what North Korea needs to do. We know what we will do if North Korea carries out its obligations, and so that’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Has the nuclear weapons program been restarted there? I mean, I hear lots of sort of saber-rattling and – but it hasn’t been started yet.
SECRETARY RICE: They’ve moved some equipment around. They’ve asked for certain seals to be broken. But we don’t believe that there has been a substantial change in the status of their nuclear weapons programs.
QUESTION: All right, now to Pakistan. They have a new president which, of course, you know. Is Pakistan now getting to be more of a hot spot for us? Because there certainly are reports that there have been American troops going over into Pakistan, special ops. Is that becoming more of a hot spot for us?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have a new situation in Pakistan. And it’s a position that – a situation that we actually advocated for, which is that there would be a civilian government, the end of military rule in Pakistan, which came into being in 1999, so it’s been 10 years – nearly 10 years of military rule.
Now they’ve had elections. They have an elected President, President Zardari, with whom the President met recently and with whom I met recently in New York. And we’re working with that government. Now, Pakistan has a lot of very bad challenges. It has economic woes. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are working with Pakistan to try to address those and we’re very active in that. Pakistan has also a very serious terrorism problem, very serious. And it’s not just a problem from our point of view, that is, what happens across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border or the presence of al-Qaida there that could be a threat to U.S. interests. But it’s also obviously a threat to Pakistan, because there have been bombings in Pakistan; there was, of course, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
And so we have a common goal with Pakistan to deal with the extremism and with the terrorism, but it’s a state that’s going through a lot of challenges and we’re trying to help them. But the new situation results from something that the United States has very much wanted to see, which is the establishment of a democratic government in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Which is interesting, except that – you know, if you – like if I had information on *most of* these countries – I mean, it’s very hard to get, like, information unless you actually travel there and talk to the people. And we attempted to do but, of course, there are lots of obstacles for us in the media. But if you look at Pakistan, they have a new president who has been president for about 12 days, and maybe even not that long, and suddenly there’s a bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad killing more than 50 people. And it is assumed that he was the target. That’s what he actually told us --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- is that he – that he thought he was the target. Then you have the situation where the Secretary of Defense, our Secretary of Defense, says that western Pakistan is our greatest threat to homeland security. So it doesn’t look like, you know, that it’s a particularly even – promptly* -- it looks increasingly more dangerous when you hear those things than that things are moving along in a positive direction.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as I said, the positive here is that you have a democratic government in Pakistan. Now, the government before that, President Musharraf, who was an ally in the war on terror, they had challenges, too.
But I do believe that from a democratic government’s foundation, it’s possible that you could have a situation in which the Pakistani Government is better able now to address the challenges that it’s got, particularly on the extremism side, because it has a legitimacy of democracy behind it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work hard with them on capacity. It doesn’t mean that this isn’t a very dangerous circumstance. It is a very dangerous circumstance. Pakistan obviously is a place where there are great dangers; just witness the Marriott Hotel.
But what you have to do is work through this with them; not to become alarmed about it, but to work through this with them. And at least you have a democratically elected president that has the legitimacy of that – of that election.
QUESTION: I suppose, sort of on the bright side – I’ll look for the silver lining – is that now, the democratic government in Pakistan where there was a hot spot having India and Pakistan both nuclear countries, side by side and warring with each other, I suppose now things are going to be much nicer, or at least potentially much safer, at least, vis-à-vis India and Pakistan.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, one of the really untold stories, Greta, of the last several years, is that actually, relations between India and Pakistan have been improving for some time. They were improving under President Musharraf. And one of the first places that my Indian colleague, the Foreign Minister Mukerjee, went was Pakistan, right after the Pakistani Government was sworn in.
And so this is a relationship – and frankly, in 2001, in December of 2001, I remember Christmas night being on the telephone with Colin Powell, who was the Secretary of State at the time, Jack Straw, who was then the Foreign Secretary for Great Britain, David Manning, former Ambassador here who was Prime Minister Blair’s foreign policy advisor, and it looked like Pakistan and India were going to war. And I remember it well, because my family was downstairs waiting for me to come to Christmas dinner. And we were on the phone just trying to figure out who might go into the subcontinent, into South Asia, to talk to them, to keep them from coming to blows.
We had another near-conflict in June of 2002. Relations have improved a lot. They’ve opened lines of communication in Kashmir. They’ve opened trade. They’ve opened bus traffic. It’s still dangerous. There are still a lot of clashes along the line of control which separates Pakistanis and India in the disputed region of Kashmir. But it is a lot better situation than it was in 2001 and 2002.
QUESTION: Which is why earlier, I said that it’s so difficult when you’re on in the inside than when you’re on the outside.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, you know, the story about Christmas Eve – I mean, I don’t recall *ever seeing that*, but how – you know, it’s fascinating on the inside, isn’t it?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, it is fascinating on the inside.
QUESTION: Going to miss it?
SECRETARY RICE: I’ll be glad to be on the outside for a while. (Laughter.) Look, I’ve been really lucky. I have had a chance to represent the United States of America, and I love this country. I think this country is the most extraordinary political entity ever, in which human beings of all kinds of backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds and nationality have come together here, where we’re not united in any way by blood; we’re united by an ideal. That’s pretty dramatic.
And I’ve had a chance to represent what the United States stands for. And we’re admired for what we stand for. They don’t always like our policies. But people admire America. They admire our creativity. They admire our innovation. They admire the fact that we get along, all these very different kinds of people, when in so much of the world, difference is a license to kill. And it’s just been a great joy to have a chance to represent this country.
QUESTION: And last question, you got a book you’re going to read when you first leave?
SECRETARY RICE: I have a book I want to write. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, I know that. But you haven’t thought, as soon as I get – as soon as I leave, I’m going to read --
SECRETARY RICE: No, I actually haven’t thought that.
QUESTION: No time?
SECRETARY RICE: No time to think about it. I have thought, as soon as I leave, there are a couple of music pieces I want to learn to play. So maybe that’s my surrogate for what I want to read.
QUESTION: Well, we look forward to hearing that. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.
QUESTION: All right.
SECRETARY RICE: This is the Jefferson.
QUESTION: This is unbelievable because I learned that this building was built in 1961, I think, and it looks like it was built in --
SECRETARY RICE: It looks like the 19th century, doesn’t it? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. It looks very --
SECRETARY RICE: But, you know, there’s a wonderful story about it. Because my great friend and predecessor George Shultz, who, if you know him, he has an incredibly kind of wry, but very assertive sense of humor sometimes. And he said when he became Secretary of the State Department, on this floor and the floor below looked like a bus station.
And so George undertook to give the United States rooms that would be really appropriate. And I think that these rooms are fantastic. I love entertaining in them. We have the most wonderful group of curators and volunteers and docents who volunteer their time to – the docents and the volunteers to come and show people -- tour guides -- because we have a lot of the artifacts of the Founding Fathers. And it’s just a great joy to bring people here.
QUESTION: I imagine also that, you know, for diplomacy, that it’s important that we’re not bringing foreign ministers and other people from other countries into some bus station, for lack of a better description.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: But that, you know, we’re bringing – we show them something spectacular that represents the United States.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what you want to show them, I think is – first of all, these rooms by comparison, to some that you see abroad are pretty modest, which is befitting, really, a republic like we are, not an empire. And you can tell the modesty of the Founding Fathers, I think, by the design of these rooms.
But the other thing is that you do want to show off American culture. And some of the furniture, some of the early American furniture makers and the steel – the pewter work that was done in the United States -- it’s nice to be able to show those kinds of things off.
QUESTION: And this is one of the prized pieces.
SECRETARY RICE: This is a prize.
QUESTION: What is – I’ve been told (inaudible), but could you tell me again whose --
SECRETARY RICE: Thomas Jefferson’s, Thomas Jefferson’s desk. And the extraordinary thing about Thomas Jefferson, of course, when you think that I am the successor of Thomas Jefferson, 66th – 65th successor of Thomas Jefferson -- and of course, the first Secretary of State was a slave owner. So he might have been a little surprised to find out that not only was his 66th successor a black American, but his 65th as well, Colin Powell, so --
QUESTION: And using this desk and having --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, having his desk.
QUESTION: Having --
SECRETARY RICE: I haven’t had the nerve to actually write on it.
QUESTION: Right. Well, what sort of – I love the – I mean, when you take a look back here, I mean, the fine detail on --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?
QUESTION: It is.
SECRETARY RICE: A fantastic piece. The other thing is, I’m told, that it was in the White House for a while and then brought back over here. So that’s also very special.
QUESTION: And it’s actually – the way that even this – I’m not going to touch it, but you can – this slides in and out. I mean --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the thing is actually quite interesting, the way it’s built. It’s almost – I mean, it’s genius the way it’s built.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, and Jefferson, of course, loved fine things. One thing that I love about Thomas Jefferson also was he was a violinist, you know?
QUESTION: Oh, yes, and of course, played the piano.
SECRETARY RICE: A very good violinist, yes.
QUESTION: And we’re not going to talk about my piano career. (Laughter.) Three years in the same book, good (inaudible). Now, this is another piece of furniture that --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: This has huge historic significance.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right, that’s right. You see the Treaty of Paris was signed on this desk in Paris, September 3rd, 1783 by John Adams (inaudible) John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay and by the British Commissioner David Hartley. The treaty ended the American Revolution and established American independence.
QUESTION: When diplomats come up here, do you show them this –
SECRETARY RICE: I do, I do.
QUESTION: I mean, are there particular countries that might not be – have quite the sort of appreciation as we do?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I tend to tease the British about it quite a bit. I tell them all the time that, you know, but for the fact that I think George III refused to give George Washington a commission, we might actually been part of the Commonwealth. So I love to tease the British about it. But this is really, really very special.
And the big room that we walked through is the Benjamin Franklin Room. And of course, Benjamin Franklin – extraordinary figure, never a president, of course, but I think in many ways, for many people, the favorite Founding Father, so --
QUESTION: And that’s the room where you do your press conferences?
SECRETARY RICE: It is, and it’s also where I do a lot of dinners, and a lot of historic dinners. For instance, the dinner, prior to the Annapolis peace conference on Middle East peace, back in – at the end of 2007, we had the dinner in that room. And it would have probably been – it would have been the first time that under their own flag, the Saudi Foreign Minister, the Palestinians, and the Israelis all in the same room with the Egyptians and others. So that was very exciting.
QUESTION: So that the viewers understand, this is where you do State Department business. You have an office on another floor. This is not where you hang out?
SECRETARY RICE: No, this is not. This is not.
QUESTION: This is not the way you, sort of, the – as Secretary of State --
SECRETARY RICE: No, no. I have --
QUESTION: -- hangs out, really?
SECRETARY RICE: I have a very nice office, but it doesn’t look quite like this. But this is really – these are the formal rooms of the Department where we do receptions and dinners and special ceremonies.
QUESTION: This is the business area?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I didn’t want people to think that this was sacred.
SECRETARY RICE: No, this is definitely not. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No? I figured as much. I figured as much. Great. Well, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Here we are in the task force room.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: All right. Madame Secretary, before I find out what the Operations Center is, what does State Department do?
SECRETARY RICE: Your State Department does all kinds of things, Greta. You think – tend to think of the State Department just as the diplomatic corps and foreign policy. But in fact, the State Department really is the place that represents the interests of American citizens abroad as well. So that’s why when you carry a passport, if you look at your passport, it will say the Secretary of State requests that this citizen be admitted and that – basically, that you take care of our citizens.
The Department of State also represents the interests of citizens abroad. Very often, if they’re an American citizen who has some trouble in a country, the best thing that citizen can do is to be sure to call the embassy or the consul, and to make sure that you’re being taken care of and protected within that country. Very often, if there is a crisis abroad, for instance, when we had the Lebanon war in 2006, the Department of State, working with the military and others, we worked to make sure that Americans could get out of harm’s way. We issue travel warnings so that Americans know where it’s safe to go. And so we do all kinds of things for Americans.
QUESTION: What if I’m -- let me know -- overseas on November 4th and I needed to vote? Is that something that you would--
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Election Commission will handle that, but of course, we would help facilitate anything that might be needed in that regard. So anything that you’re doing abroad, the State Department’s really responsible for you.
QUESTION: One other quick question in terms of the Secretary of State and all those responsibilities. How often do you get called in the middle of the night?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have a lot of people who are able to take those first calls. The Operations Center is the place, actually, that would call me in the middle of the night if something happened. And usually, what will happen is they’ll call first the assistant secretary for the region. So let’s say something happens in Latin America, it would be Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon; they would call him and probably he would be the one to call me, having made a judgment that it’s something that I need to know.
But if it’s – usually, the thing that will most likely trigger a call to me is that it involves Americans somehow, American citizens. If there’s been an earthquake or a plane crash and we think Americans might have been involved, then that’s something that will get my attention right away. So we really do think of ourselves as protecting Americans abroad.
QUESTION: Do you get as many as one a month in the middle of the night?
SECRETARY RICE: Probably something like that, sometimes a lot more than that depending on the time.
QUESTION: I was just curious. I mean, I won’t pry any further, but I was just curious the number of times --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the other thing that I do is I call in when I go to bed and I call when I get up. And I get up at 4:30 in the morning, so the Operations Center gets a call from me at 4:30 every morning and says, you know, so is there anything I need to know?
QUESTION: And I know you get up and exercise, which I’m not going to talk about. I hate you for that.
SECRETARY RICE: I do. I do. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I hate you for exercising every morning. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: I do, every morning, yes.
QUESTION: You make me feel terrible. Anyway, so this is the Operations Center?
SECRETARY RICE: If there is an election someplace that’s very important like Iraq or Afghanistan or an election we’re watching very closely, then they will stand up a task force here and they will be watching that through the night and letting us know what’s happening.
They also just are following events around the world all the time, 24 hours, seven days a week, making sure that the responsible officers, whether it’s me or one of the assistant secretaries, knows what’s going on. And then they also are the kind of communications hub. So let’s say that I want to make a phone call to the President of Georgia, then the Operations Center will make the connections with the office of the President of Georgia and make sure that I can talk to that person. So they do a lot of work.
QUESTION: Well, how do you – but you have a secure phone, right? A secure line when you make those calls?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, for – sometimes for phones to – a call to a foreign country, no, it’s – and it’s not secure. But if I need a secure call, then they can also connect me with Secretary Gates, the Defense Department, or Mr. Hadley at the NSC. So that’s what they’ll do.
QUESTION: So if you’re going to make a phone call to Secretary Gates, would you make it through the Operations Center? You wouldn’t just make it from your office to his office?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it depends. It depends. Very often, we’re in different places; maybe I’m in Kazakhstan and he’s in Kosovo, which is what really actually happened over the last couple of days. So then it would need to go through the Operations Center. We have direct links that we can call if we’re in the office or if we’re at home.
QUESTION: So this is really – for lack of a better word, this is a 911 center?
SECRETARY RICE: That is, it is.
QUESTION: It’s a 911 center.
SECRETARY RICE: And it’s staffed by wonderful young Foreign Service and Civil Service Officers. There are sometimes people here who are detailed from other agencies and --
QUESTION: Multiple languages?
SECRETARY RICE: They all – well, since they’re Foreign Service, they all have multiple languages and can also operate that way, so it’s really a very important place for us, the kind of nerve center of the Department.
But again, in the – what the State Department does for Americans, if there is trouble someplace in the world, we will stand up a task force here to make sure that Americans are taken care of, and we will have a call center where Americans can call in and let us know where they are and whether they need assistance.
QUESTION: It’s fascinating. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.