Interview on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos Secretary Condoleezza Rice
December 7, 2008
QUESTION: Hello again. We begin today in one of her final interviews as Secretary of State with Condoleezza Rice. Madame Secretary, welcome back to This Week.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Good to be with you, George.
QUESTION: So you are not coasting in your final days.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: Just back from India and Pakistan, of course, after those horrific attacks in Mumbai. And it was reported in the Pakistani press that you were quite tough with the Pakistanis. I want to show you something that was written in Dawn, the Pakistani newspaper. It says that Rice told Pakistan there is irrefutable evidence of involvement of elements in the country in the Mumbai attacks and that it needs to act urgently and effectively to avert a strong international response. Sources said she pushed the Pakistani leaders to take care of perpetrators; otherwise, the U.S. will act.
What exactly did you ask the Pakistanis to do, and will the U.S. take unilateral action if they don’t?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I did say to the Pakistanis that the argument that these are non-state actors is not acceptable. In fact, non-state actors acting from your territory are still your responsibility. Obviously, there are issues of arrests of people who might have been involved, first, of course, to involve themselves very transparently in the investigation. There may have been support elements, not of the Pakistani Government but within Pakistan, that were helping these terrorists.
QUESTION: There’s one report that said that you asked for them to turn over and arrest the former head of Pakistani intelligence.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t want to get too detailed about this. This is counterterrorism work, and, obviously, I don’t want to tip their hand or ours. But this is a time when Pakistan must act. They must act in concert with India, with the United States. Great Britain is helping.
The thing to remember, George, is that this is a civilian Pakistani government, democratically elected, good basis of legitimacy. They want to do the right thing. I was absolutely convinced that President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, the other officials with whom I spoke, understand that this is also Pakistan’s fight, because Pakistan is trying to root out terrorism and terrorists within Pakistan.
So I did feel that there was a good, strong commitment there. But now, we have to see follow-through.
QUESTION: So we need to see arrests. And to be clear, if those arrests aren’t made, if the perpetrators aren’t brought to justice, do you believe that India has a right to take action?
SECRETARY RICE: I said to India that the issue here is an effective response. And I understand the frustration and the anger in India. In fact, it felt a little bit to me like the United States post-9/11. I certainly understand that. But in this case, there are actions that India could take that could make the situation worse, and we don’t need --
QUESTION: A military strike --
SECRETARY RICE: We don’t need a crisis in South Asia. What we need is the two parties, Pakistan and India – by the way, who have developed far better relations than they had when we faced this kind of crisis in 2001-2002. And the good thing is that I do believe that there is a desire on both sides. India and Pakistan, despite their long history, they are really not each other’s primary threat and enemy at this point.
QUESTION: And that’s the message the United States is trying to send. But I could imagine an Indian official saying, wait a second, the United States has been sending drones over Pakistani territory, striking at Pakistan for months; why shouldn’t India be allowed to do the same?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, the regional dynamics here are important to keep in mind. We don’t need something that will set off unintended consequences and a more difficult situation. And I do believe that India’s leaders understand that. This is not 2001-2002, when there was virtually no communication between the two countries. The leaders of India and Pakistan, encouraged by the United States, have gone a long way to improving their relations. In fact, the Pakistani Foreign Minister was in India just about the time of the attacks. So I think that this is something that can be worked through. But it requires strong action, and it requires strong actions now, and it requires concrete action.
QUESTION: While you were in India and Pakistan, a new report came out Friday, a commission that was set up by Congress to look at the connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. And it had an absolutely chilling conclusion. I want to show it for our viewers. It was called The World at Risk Report, and it said, “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013. Americans’ margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.”
Do you agree with that conclusion?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is something that President Bush drew attention to some years ago when he talked about the worst circumstances being the connection of the world’s most dangerous people, terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction. But we’ve worked very hard at it. We’ve worked to secure stockpiles and materials in places like Russia.
QUESTION: But this commission says the threat is getting worse.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I can’t judge. I don’t think any of us can judge what might happen by 2013. But I can tell you that many steps that have been taken are working in the other direction. They wrapping up of the A.Q. Khan network, knowing that the A.Q. Khan --
QUESTION: In Pakistan.
SECRETARY RICE: In Pakistan, right. A kind of rogue scientist who was a nuclear entrepreneur, selling materials across the world. The fact that we are in the process of trying to secure an end to the plutonium-producing program in North Korea, which could be, of course, a source of proliferation of that kind. The work that we’ve done with Russia and Kazakhstan and Ukraine passed after the Soviet Union collapsed. The fact that the – Russia and the United States, President – then-President Putin and President Bush signed and have promoted a global nuclear terrorism pact which brings a lot of countries into the business of sharing intelligence, information, and even operational capability against these threats. The work that we’ve done to put sensors at international ports so that you can pick up detection of this kind of material.
QUESTION: A lot done, but Vice President-elect Biden said this week at that press conference, “We’re not doing all we can or should do to keep these lethal weapons away from terrorists.”
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the structures are there, and we have much better intelligence capability on these matters, too. Again, this is a really hard problem, and it’s one President Bush pointed to.
QUESTION: Is it the greatest threat America faces now?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s certainly a major threat. I do believe that the worst thing that could happen is that a nuclear capability were to fall into the hands of terrorists. It’s why we’ve worked so hard on this problem. It’s why we’ve had alliances with countries like Russia where there’s a full understanding of this threat as well. And this global nuclear terrorism pact that the United States and Russia promoted is, I believe, the very best way to make sure that you’ve got the cooperation of countries in trying to diminish what is undeniably a very, very difficult problem and a very grave threat.
QUESTION: In the 9/11 Commission report, President Clinton was quoted as telling President Bush during that transition that al-Qaida was greatest threat he would face, and that President Clinton’s greatest regret was not getting Usama bin Ladin. What do you believe is the greatest threat facing the country as President-elect Obama takes over, and what’s your greatest regret?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I still am concerned that every day the terrorists plot against us. I mean, we have to be right 100 percent of the time; they have to be right once. And I think it’s hard maybe to understand that if you were in a position of authority on September 11th, then every day since has been September 12th. And that undoubtedly, an attack on the homeland, continues to be the greatest threat. And we have to make sure that we keep in place the mechanisms to integrate our intelligence from law enforcement and from the intelligence community, that we’re able to track these terrorists as they plot and plan, that we’re able to track their money, as we are doing through the financing of terrorism work that we do. And so there’s a lot in place, but I think it remains my greatest concern.
QUESTION: How much does it matter that Usama bin Ladin hasn’t been caught or captured?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, everyone wants to see the day that Usama bin Ladin is brought to justice. But this is not a one-man organization, and I think we are more capable at dealing with al-Qaida, tracking and tracing them, cutting down their financial networks. And most importantly, we’ve captured or killed an awful lot of their leadership; that really very coherent institution organization that perpetrated 9/11, I think is really not intact any longer, although they remain very dangerous.
QUESTION: President Bush said this week that his greatest regret was the failure of the intelligence in Iraq. Would you – is that at the top of your list as well?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s high on my list because we and intelligence agencies around the world thought we were dealing with something that turns out to have been a different kind of threat. But I have other things that I would have hoped would have gone differently. I’ll tell you, I am still really appalled at the inability of the international community to deal with tyrants. We saw it in Burma – we’re seeing it in Burma. We are now seeing it, I think, in a very, very sad way in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe should have gone a long time ago and we can’t seem to mobilize the international will do it.
QUESTION: Is there anything you can do between now and January 20th to make that happen?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am going to continue to try to press in the international community. I even talked with my British colleague David Miliband just this morning about trying to see what we can do to get a renewed push to have this solved. They had a sham election. They then had a sham power-sharing set of talks. Now, you have a cholera outbreak. You have this cholera outbreak that could really endanger southern Africa, not just Zimbabwe. It seems to me that when the international community makes a very big deal about the responsibility to protect, as we did a couple of years ago, and yet you have the Darfurs and the Zimbabwes, it is a failure of the international community.
QUESTION: President-elect Obama appointed his national security team this week, and he seemed to hint at one of the failings of the Bush White House when he – during that press conference. Listen to this:
“One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group think and everybody agrees with everything and there’s no discussion and there are no dissenting views.”
Is it fair – is that a fair criticism of the Bush White House, particularly in the run-up to the war on Iraq, and could you have done a better job in airing dissenting views on the WMD?
SECRETARY RICE: We talked a lot about dissenting views. The idea that somehow within the Bush White House there weren’t dissenting views during this period of time is simply not true. But the intelligence didn’t permit, frankly, much in the way of alternatives for the weapons of mass destruction.
Now, the --
QUESTION: Although the dissents inside the National Intelligence Report from the State Department and others did point out --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, but you know, if you read --
QUESTION: -- there were real questions about the intelligence.
SECRETARY RICE: George, if you read those – go back sometimes and read that it was not a dissent on whether or not he had chemical weapons, it was not a dissent on whether or not he had reconstituted his biological weapons capability.
QUESTION: Certain dissents on nuclear --
SECRETARY RICE: On the nuclear side, one had to look to the intelligence community to resolve and present to the President a unified view that was their best estimate of what was there. But we have – what the President has done as a result of that intelligence failure, as well as the intelligence problems of September 11th, is to restructure dramatically the intelligence agencies, with a Director of National Intelligence now that really does bring those views. I’ve read these reports now. They very much more clearly put forward alternative views. They very much more clearly take the information and say what else could this say.
The fact is that before 2003 and the decision to take Saddam Hussein down, there had been a worldwide assessment and assumption that he had these weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: At least biological and chemical.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, and actually, he was somebody who had used them.
QUESTION: Karl Rove said this week that had the intelligence been accurate, the United States would not have invaded Iraq. Do you agree with that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that there were a lot of reasons to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Yes, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of this man was a real danger, but he had also invaded his neighbors twice, he had tried to destroy Kuwait, he had drawn us into war three times, he was a murderous tyrant to his own people, and he sat in the center of the Middle East, this troubled region --
QUESTION: But given all that, Karl said absent the weapons of mass destruction, it would have been much more likely you would have pursued creative ways to contain him.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we did pursue creative ways to contain him. One has to remember that we tried everything from enhanced sanctions, an effort that Colin Powell led when he first became Secretary of State. We tried to get him out by other means on the eve of the war. But in fact, this seemed the course for somebody who combined weapons of mass destruction, which we believed he had, and his murderous tendencies.
QUESTION: So you think we would have gone anyway?
SECRETARY RICE: George, one – you don’t have that luxury. You don’t. You know, it’s fine to sit and try and play mind games and to try to recreate and what might we have done here or there. But that’s not the world that we were living in in 2003. We were living in a post-9/11 environment in which it was very clear that you shouldn’t let threats multiply and collect without acting against them. We were living in an environment in which Saddam Hussein had been required time and time and time again to come clean about what he was doing. I remember Hans Blix saying, you know, this is – mustard gas is not marmalade, you ought to be able to say what you did with it.
And so it’s fine to go back and say to yourself, “Would we have done this differently?” You don’t have that luxury.
QUESTION: Have you had the chance to talk to Senator Clinton yet?
SECRETARY RICE: I have. And --
SECRETARY RICE: She’s terrific. Well, I’ve known her for a long time, ever since she brought her freshman daughter to Stanford when I was provost of Stanford. I think she’s going to be terrific.
QUESTION: What about this model, bringing back really an old model for Secretary of State, a politician at the top of her game? You know, we saw back in the 19th century Clay, Webster, Calhoun, all these Secretaries of State. At this time, is that political background a plus or a minus?
SECRETARY RICE: President-elect Obama has made his choice, and he’s made a terrific choice. Hillary Clinton is somebody of intelligence, and she’ll do a great job. She also has what’s most important to being Secretary of State, and that is that you love this country and you represent it from a basis of faith in its values. And I know that she will do that. I’ve watched her – I watched her do it at the conference in Beijing on women. I know that she was someone who felt strongly about the Balkans and the need to stop that terrible killing there. So from that point of view, she’s going to be great.
QUESTION: Your trip this week wasn’t all work. You got the chance – I want to show everybody here, you got the chance to play piano for the Queen.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
(A video clip was shown.)
QUESTION: Now, the Queen said you were even better than she expected. She didn’t know you could play the piano so well. You have, in about a month, a little more free time.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: What are you going to be doing besides practicing the piano?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m going to go back to Hoover and Stanford University, back west of the Mississippi where I belong. But as Secretary of State, I’ve had the chance to represent this great country. I’ve also had a chance to reflect on its strengths and its challenges. And I’ve long been interested in issues of education, and I mean K-12 education, because I really do believe that if we don’t prepare our people for the concerns, the jobs in the 21st century, then we’re going to turn inward, we’re going to protect. And if the United States turns inward and protects, the whole world will, and that will be a bad thing.
And I also believe, George, that the United States, this great multiethnic democracy, which I really do believe people around the world look to for inspiration, this great multiethnic democracy only works if our great national myth that upward mobility is possible for every person, it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going, if that’s true. And I worry that the state of public education is such that that’s increasingly not true for every kid. So I’ll go back and work on those issues and play the piano in my free time.
QUESTION: Well, good luck with that, and thanks for your time today.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.
Released on December 7, 2008