Interview on CBS News Radio with Dan Raviv and Charles WolfsonSecretary Condoleezza Rice
December 9, 2008
QUESTION: Welcome to the Marshall Room at the State Department. I’m Dan Raviv of CBS News here for a radio interview with the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Thanks so much for joining us, Madame Secretary.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s a pleasure to be with you.
QUESTION: And I’m here with our State Department reporter Charles Wolfson. Good morning, Charlie.
QUESTION: Good morning, Dan.
QUESTION: We were reading in the news that the woman who’s likely to be your successor, Senator Hillary Clinton, visited here yesterday and also got together with you at some point. Can you tell us about that?
SECRETARY RICE: That’s correct. Senator Clinton was here in the building. We started her transition briefings, and then we had a very nice dinner together last night at my home and went over a lot of things. I’ve known her for quite a long time, and really going back to when she first brought her freshman daughter to Stanford when I was Provost. And so we’ve long had a friendly relationship, and we had a really nice talk last night.
QUESTION: How is she going to do as Secretary?
SECRETARY RICE: She’ll be great. She is somebody of great intelligence. She’s somebody who really loves this country, who speaks really forcefully and well for American interests and values. She’ll be great.
QUESTION: I get the sense that this transition from the Bush Administration to an Obama Administration is going smoothly. It’s certainly very cordial. You went through this eight years ago when you and then-Governor Bush were coming in.
SECRETARY RICE: Right, yes.
QUESTION: Do you sense that as well?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it’s very smooth and it’s quite cordial. And it is an important transition because it’s the first time on the national security side in a long time that the United States has been involved in two wars, but also it’s a post-9/11 transition. And there is so much that is different about the international security environment, but also about the way that we respond to it, that it’s important to have the transition be smooth. And people are working very well together, there’s a lot of respect, and that there’s a real desire to see our new President succeed.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, before the transition actually takes place, there’s news that you have to deal with, most especially about Pakistan. Can we ask you for an update on what’s new in their follow-up to the events in Mumbai?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly we focused very closely, very heavily, when I was in the region on the need for Pakistan to act. These non-state actors clearly used Pakistani territory, and Pakistan therefore had a responsibility to act. I also made clear that we understood that this was a civilian government in Pakistan, a new civilian government that wants to do the right thing. And in fact, I believe they’ve begun to do some of the right things.
We are still gathering reports. We’re not yet able to confirm a lot of what we are reading about arrests and about action against the camps, but these are serious steps, and we are pleased at what appears to be a serious set of steps. And I want to emphasize, Pakistan is doing this in its own interest as well, because Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism. And of course, President Zardari lost his great wife, Benazir Bhutto, to the terrorists.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, the U.S. has not confirmed some of these reports about arrests or going into camps?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have not yet confirmed them. We have been told about some of them. I do believe something very important is going on here, but I don’t want to have to speak to the details at this point.
QUESTION: Is there a chance that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were trying to change what Pakistan does on a military level? And this, of course, could affect, could weaken, what the U.S. and NATO are trying to accomplish in Afghanistan – stir up tension between Pakistan and India so Pakistani forces would move toward that frontier and not so much near Afghanistan.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, their first goal was probably to stir up trouble between Pakistan and India, largely because they have been – these terrorists are undoubtedly unnerved by the increasingly good relations between Pakistan and India, really going back before the civilian government but certainly since President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani came into power. In fact, the Pakistani Foreign Minister was actually in India for a strategic dialogue during – when this attack took place. And so clearly, those who want to disrupt good relations between India and Pakistan were at root.
It has the side benefit, of course, of making certain that Pakistan remains focused on the old conflict with India and Pakistan, which I believe can be resolved effectively between the parties, rather than on the real threat to Pakistan and Pakistan’s neighbors, which is the terrorist threat.
QUESTION: Do your analysts think that this terrorist strike was, in part, to take pressure off al-Qaida?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know. We know that bad people tend to travel in the same circles. Nobody is making a claim here that al-Qaida is responsible for these attacks or that perhaps they were even involved in them in any way, but ties between these kinds of groups are pretty common. And I don’t know that it was to take pressure off al-Qaida, but clearly, if Pakistan cannot focus on what is the real threat to Pakistan, which is the terrorist threat, and remains focused on a state-to-state threat that is beginning to subside, then it benefits the terrorists. And I believe that the Pakistani Government understands that, the Pakistani military understands that. And this is a very important moment for Pakistan to respond, and that’s why we’re gratified that clearly some response has been made.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, moving a little more broadly, recently, you spoke to a group of interns here at the State Department, and you referred to the – in referring to the Soviet Union and its collapse, you said, quote, “Things change fast.” You took note that things change fast, and advised them to think about what things might change fast for them going forward.
What things changed fast for you here in the State Department or as Secretary of State? What did you have to deal with that you weren’t necessarily thinking about in that way?
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, things do change very fast. And here at the Department, I’ve watched and become – been a part of extraordinary changes like the opening to Libya. I can tell you I never thought in my life I would be sitting in a room with Colonel Muammar Qadhafi talking about everything from U.S. policy in Africa to the Middle East. It’s a pretty extraordinary shift.
QUESTION: You visited him in September?
SECRETARY RICE: I visited him in September after – because we’ve now established diplomatic relations with Libya. That would have seemed quite far-fetched, maybe not by the time I came here in 2005, but certainly when we came here in 2001.
I also have had to work here in the Department, and the Department has worked hard, to change the view of what diplomats do. We are now in the field in places like Iraq and Kabul and even in places like Haiti or Liberia. We are in the field in ways that we’re trying to help people improve their lives. It means that we’ve had to work much more closely with our military colleagues even in places like Iraq, in Anbar, or in Baghdad, integrated together into Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
We have put new resources behind getting our diplomats out of European capitals, frankly, and into places like the various parts of India that are not the capital, in places outside the capital in Brazil, through sometimes even single diplomats out in these American Presence Posts just carrying American policy.
So I’ve watched the role of the diplomat change dramatically. I’ve watched as President Bush has put new resources – he requested 1,100 new Foreign Service officers and over 300 new USAID officers. We have a Civilian Response Corps which is going to bring Americans who have special skills to work, like the Reserve or the National Guard, to help Iraqis or Afghans or Liberians or Sudanese build decent governments. So probably the most surprising thing to me has been the changing role of this Department.
QUESTION: Now, that sounds like a part – a big part of what President Bush has advocated, which is promoting democracy around the world, that that should help fight terrorism, that should help establish peace. But also, with that comes promoting America’s image. How has that gone? Because there’s a general perception that what some people, say Karen Hughes, who you know so well, an old friend of the President, tried to do didn’t work.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s shortsighted to worry about changing some negative perceptions about the United States in a matter of a couple of years. It’s just shortsighted. Sometimes people don’t like our policies. In some places in the Middle East, our steadfast support for Israel is not popular. But if you marry that with the President’s advocacy for a Palestinian state, people understand that the United States is really trying to bring peace. Sometimes, it’s not popular to tell the truth about the roots of terrorism and what needs to be done to make certain that terrorists can’t attack again.
But I’m always a little puzzled to find the two most populous countries in the world -- China and India – even if you want to take the test of popularity, which by the way, I don’t think is the issue, but even if you wanted to take the test of popularity, the United States is very well regarded. And so yes, there are some places where our policies are not popular, where the fact that we’ve had to do hard things and tell people that we’re going to do hard things, that perhaps the United States is not popular.
But the United States should never seek popularity. It should seek respect. It should seek a reputation for standing for the right values. And sometimes – and by the way, it’s often been the case, not just with the Bush Administration – that will lead people to criticize us.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, speaking of seeking, a year ago, a little more, you went to Annapolis with President Bush and you sought to reenergize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, hoping to get an agreement by the end of this year, which obviously didn’t come to pass. What did you accomplish in looking back over the eight years? Do you wish you had started such a push sooner?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m so gratified that we are leaving a much better situation on Israeli-Palestinian issues than we found. In 2001, the Camp David effort had collapsed, the second intifada had broken out, hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians were dying in multiple suicide bombings against Passover Seders and along the pier in Tel Aviv. We forget – suicide bombers in Tel Aviv.
The Palestinians were governed – or ruled – by Yasser Arafat, who was dealing with Iran, stealing the Palestinian people blind, and rejecting peace. Ariel Sharon had come to power not to make peace with Palestinians, but to defeat the intifada. And so you had massive Israeli military operations in the West Bank. I will never forget the – when a mortar shell blew a hole in the Church of the Nativity.
Well, now, you have a decent Palestinian Government that is trying to build security institutions and decent economic institutions and governance for their people under Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas. You have, in that same courtyard where the Church of the Nativity hole was blown in it, you had an investment conference in Bethlehem earlier this year with 1,500 people out in the open air. And you have Palestinians taking security responsibility in Jenin and Nablus and even in Hebron, one of the toughest cities in the West Bank.
And you have the first really serious negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis since 2000, ones that they told the Quartet, the international representatives of – to support the peace process, that they have attained a level of trust and have gone further than even at Camp David. And so that, plus the Arab support that was demonstrated by Saudi Arabia being there under its own flag in Annapolis, I think we’re leaving a better situation than we found.
QUESTION: But with all that progress that you just mentioned, had you started sooner, might you have been able to complete the deal?
SECRETARY RICE: I’ve thought about it, Charlie. It wasn’t possible, certainly, in 2001. In 2003, the President drew the parties to Aqaba, Jordan, where they made important declarations that still serve us well. But shortly after that, Mahmoud Abbas quit because he wouldn’t – couldn’t deal with Yasser Arafat. In 2001 – 5, you had the Gaza withdrawal, and getting Israeli troops out was the important concern.
QUESTION: But Madame Secretary, that might have been a time in which the U.S. should have jumped in with creative diplomacy, a new opening maybe in Gaza.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we did. We did. And the Israelis left Gaza within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, the Palestinians were not really able, because of the weakness of their governance structures, to establish themselves in Gaza.
But 2006 was the Lebanon war. Finally, in 2007, we were able to really put this in place. But – well, you can always say, “Was it possible earlier?” The fact is, we are leaving a foundation that I believe the next administration will be able to take up and lead, and that’s what’s important.
QUESTION: And just a few words, please, on the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Do you believe it’s at the core of the wider conflict between even radical Islam and Western values and the U.S.?
SECRETARY RICE: It’s a factor, but sometimes I think that it’s used more of – as an excuse by those who don’t want to make changes in their own governments. The real factor is that the absence of freedom, the absence of legitimate political channels in so much of the Arab world spawns a – spawns radicalism because the politics retreats to radical mosques and madrasas.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there’s so much to get to. Iran and North Korea, two problems which have kept you quite busy over the years. Can you talk about how they went from being members of the “axis of evil” to negotiating with them in small ways or larger ways, depending on which case it is?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they are still problem states, but what we have now in both cases are coalitions of states that represent an international consensus about how this problem ought to be solved; in the case of Iran, the European-3 plus Russia, China and the United States, four Security Council resolutions, increasing and deepening isolation for Iran. Iran hasn’t made a strategic choice to change its policies yet and to abandon enrichment and reprocessing, but it’s paying a very high cost for not having done so. And perhaps in the context of Iranian elections next year, they’ll make a different choice.
North Korea – all the regional states united in a course of action. The North Koreans are disabling their plutonium program. We are very – at this very moment trying to negotiate a very tough verification protocol, and the other states are unified. I think that moving them from an American problem to something that the international community agrees on how to solve it is a very important step.
QUESTION: And the chance of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons without U.S. or Israeli military action is high?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I fully believe that the diplomatic course has a lot of life left in it. But it’s going to have to be a serious diplomatic course, and the sanctions are going to have to continue to ramp up. And as I said, the Iranians are paying a cost, and I suspect with lower oil prices you’re going to see that cost amplified in Iran.
QUESTION: Let’s go to other topics. And I – one almost can’t understand how you don’t start with Iraq and Afghanistan when talking to you about the last eight years. What’s the state of the democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan? And do you think Iraq is able to hold its own now, or when will it be? And also, Afghanistan. Is President Karzai strong enough to hold?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, Iraq has made enormous progress. It’s still fragile, but the security situation has – the improved security situation has allowed politics to break out in Iraq in a major way. They’re going to have provincial elections. I read every day about Sunnis organizing themselves now into political parties to make their voices known. That’s very different from 2005 when they essentially boycotted the elections, or were forced to in some cases, because of the security situation.
It is a real remarkable change. It’s probably the one I’m most hopeful about. You’ve taken a country through tremendous sacrifice, and I want to be clear, a sacrifice much greater than I thought would have been needed. But it’s a country at the center of the Arab world that’s always been, in geostrategic terms, the most important country in terms of a bulwark against Iran. The only problem was it was governed – or ruled – by a murderous dictator who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and his neighbors, who had drawn us into war three times, who had millions of people killed in wars, who occupied Kuwait, and who was an implacable enemy of the United States. And now, that same geographic space is occupied by a, yes, fragile, but multiethnic, multiconfessional democracy that will not use weapons of mass destruction or seek them, that is making good headway with their neighbors, including the Egyptian Foreign Minister who hadn’t been there in 30 years, and is now a friend of the United States. I think that’s a tremendous change in the Middle East.
Afghanistan, it’s tough because it’s one of the world’s poorest countries. The Taliban clearly found new life by being able to regroup in the FATA area, which is why the relationship between what is going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan is so important. But it is a decent government that is trying to provide benefits to its people. They’re going to have elections. I think President Karzai has done a good job in a country that historically isn’t very unified in giving Afghanistan a national center. And it’s also true that the Afghan army is getting better. So there are things to work with there. NATO has made a major commitment. The United States is going to commit more forces. I think NATO will commit more forces. But it’s tough going in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about travel. A very big part of your job as, well, the head of U.S. diplomacy, I noticed just about last week you were playing piano for Queen Elizabeth in England.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So you’re using all your talents, and I’m sure a lot of energy, in visiting so many countries. Does it give you satisfaction, or frankly, is it a pain, tiring, jetlag?
SECRETARY RICE: I actually think it’s critical for this job. Yes, we have in these days videoconference and we have phones, but there’s nothing like going. And I’ve been very pleased to be able to go and do cultural things as well as the hardcore diplomacy. But when I came in 2005, we had been through some difficult times, particularly with our allies. And I thought that it was important to go and be with our allies. I thought it was important in person to be there when we formed the P5+1 and to make it work, to meet with it many times.
QUESTION: The group to confront Iran?
SECRETARY RICE: To confront Iran. It was important with the Gulf Cooperation Council, which are the Gulf states in the Arab world plus Egypt, plus Jordan, and now Iraq, to be able to go there in the six or seven times that we’ve met to work on the problems of the Middle East. So yes, sometimes it’s a little tiring, but it’s critical to this job.
QUESTION: Speaking of travel, you mentioned you never thought you would go to Libya, and you did. Do you wish you had gone to Tehran or Pyongyang, or did you hope to? Or was it, again, off the charts?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, when you go to a place, you have to have a reason to go, and it has to be in accordance with policy. Sure, I’m a student of international politics. I’d love to see those places. And I would have loved to have seen them in this time. But it would have only made sense in the context of achieving something. And the time just wasn’t right.
QUESTION: Are you personally excited about Barack Obama becoming our next President and our first African American President? Is it meaning --
SECRETARY RICE: Sure. Sure, it’s meaningful. It’s meaningful to me personally; it’s meaningful to the country. I’m a kid from Birmingham, Alabama, where, when I was – until we moved to Denver, Colorado when I was 12, I didn’t have a white classmate the whole time that I went to school in Alabama. So sure, this is a huge move forward for our country.
Our country has been getting there step-by-step. You know, we’ve had back-to-back African American Secretaries of State. We have had heads of Fortune 500 companies who are black. The world’s greatest golfer, not exactly a sport known for – (laughter) – African American dominance, is an African American. And so slowly but surely, this country has been overcoming race.
I want to make a point, though. We’re still not race-blind. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves that we’ve overcome everything about race. And the particular witch’s brew that is race and poverty is still very, very hard. And unless we improve our ability to provide particularly a quality education for underprivileged kids, we’re not going to really overcome, in a massive way, our past.
QUESTION: May I take it that you actually preferred a victory for Senator Obama rather than John McCain?
SECRETARY RICE: I have constantly told people that I was Secretary of State and I was not going to get into a partisan debate and I would vote by – vote by ballot in a secret way, as all Americans do. But I just want to acknowledge that when the election took place and after the election took place, it was a special time for Americans.
QUESTION: I’d like to turn it back to policy for a second.
SECRETARY RICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the limits of U.S. power --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and some of the other problems that we haven’t talked about yet? Why can’t the U.S. seem to do anything to stop the Russians from going into Georgia? Why can’t we solve Darfur? Zimbabwe is a basket case after being – after feeding southern Africa. What are the limits? Why can’t you jump in and do things that some people think you could – should be able to do?
SECRETARY RICE: That’s a really important question, Charlie, because it does show that not only are there limits to American power; unfortunately, there are limits, it appears, to what the international community is willing to do. And if I have a real disappointment about this period, it is about – it’s about Darfur and Zimbabwe and Burma, because these are tyrannical regimes. We’re seeing horrible things now in Zimbabwe: cholera epidemic. I was talking to our people this morning; maybe 14,000 infected people. They fear many, many more.
This is something that -- without real strong regional support from the Africans, who have to tell Robert Mugabe it’s time to go. He’s destroyed a country that was once a really shining star in Africa. But the international community’s unwillingness to do these hard things sometimes, to insist, yes, that’s a disappointment. And the United States can’t do it alone. We’ve sanctioned the Zimbabweans as much as we possibly can. But we need the international community to help.
QUESTION: Is it time, perhaps, for force to be used to take Mugabe?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, that’s a very difficult matter. And enough diplomatic pressure and we brought Charles Taylor down in Liberia without – without using – without firing a shot. We did so with the President’s very brave decision to have the Marines secure the ports and the airfields.
But Zimbabwe could be done through tough diplomacy. The diplomacy just hasn’t been there on the part, frankly, of the region. Not all over the region; there are some Africans who have spoken up very forcefully, and the – Bishop Tutu has really spoken forcefully. But this could be done. It just needs to be done.
QUESTION: When you leave this job, just briefly, if you would, Madame Secretary, what’s your plan? Where are you going?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m going back west of the Mississippi where I belong. I’ll go back to Stanford. I’m on leave from Stanford.
QUESTION: Did they hold your job?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, George Shultz was on leave 12 years. I’ve only been on leave the eight. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: And so I’ll go back. And I plan to do some writing. I want to write a book, obviously, about foreign policy. I want to write a book about my parents, who were educational evangelists. I want to do work on something I worked on a lot before I came, which is the problem of excellence in K-12 education.
You know, as Secretary of State, I’ve been privileged to represent this great country, and I know its strengths and I know its challenges. One of its strengths is a belief here and abroad that this is a really a place that you get ahead on merit. It doesn’t matter where you came from; it matters where you’re going. It’s the log cabin myth: modest circumstances, great achievements.
But I worry that the weakness, particularly of our public schools, is going to make that less and less true for everybody. And if we ever lose that as our core, then we’re going to lose our confidence. We’re not going to lead. We’re going to protect, we’re going to turn inward. That would be very bad for the world. So as a former Secretary of State, I think I can advocate for education as a national security priority.
QUESTION: Do you want to give us a peak into your memoires and tell us which leaders you’ve enjoyed dealing with, which you really didn’t look forward to --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think I’d better wait to do that after I’m Secretary of State. (Laughter.) I don’t know who I’ll need to call.
No, look, I’ve had a great experience. And it’s been hard at times. For those of us who were in positions of authority on September 11th, every day since has been September 12th. And I would like to be able, if nothing else, to vivify for the American people the dramatic change that that event made. You know, it would be wrong to say that America had a kind of innocence before September 11th, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we had a kind of complacency about what the great oceans protected us from, having not had an attack on our soil, really, since the 19th century on – on America proper. That changed a lot. It changed the way we view foreign policy. It changed the way we view failing states, that the greatest threats came from failed states, not from powerful nations. I hope to have a chance to vivify that and to talk about how we tried to deal with the threats, but also to capitalize on the opportunities.
QUESTION: Still the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, so kind to give us so much of your time. I’m here with Charles Wilson, the CBS News State Department reporter. Madame Secretary, thank you so much.
SECRETARY RICE: It was great to be with you, and happy holidays to everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Dan Raviv, CBS News, at the State Department.
Released on December 9, 2008