Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPRSecretary Condoleezza Rice
December 9, 2008
QUESTION: So before we look back, I want to sort of look ahead because you’re very emotional talking about what this moment in history means to have an African American president coming in. And I wonder if you think that’ll help the U.S. overcome its image problems in the world.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the U.S. so-called image problems, I think, also relate largely to the fact that people sometimes don’t like our policies and they don’t like our strong support for Israel. That’s not going to change. In some cases, it’s a matter of having had to do difficult things in the war on terrorism. But I certainly think that the election of Barack Obama demonstrates that the United States is what it says it is, which is a country in which people of modest means and across color barriers can succeed. And I think that’s what it really says, and that will – that’ll be a positive story for the United States.
QUESTION: And what does it mean for you personally?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, for somebody from Birmingham, Alabama it’s a remarkable thing. I thought I would see it. I thought I might be 80 before I did. And so I’m glad that it’s happened for our country. It shows that overcoming old wounds is possible.
QUESTION: Did you vote for him?
SECRETARY RICE: I’ve told you a long time ago that I’m Secretary of State and I’m not going to engage in partisan behavior.
QUESTION: You – he’s picked Hillary Clinton to succeed you. And you had dinner with her last night.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I wonder how that went.
SECRETARY RICE: It was great. You know, we’ve known each other for a while. I first met her when she brought her freshman daughter to Stanford when I was Provost. And we’ve had many interactions over the time since she was on the Senate Foreign – the Senate Armed Services, so I know her quite well. We had a very good conversation, and she’s going to do great.
QUESTION: Did you – you know, when you advise this team -- the team came in talking about change. But I wonder if there are things in foreign policy -- you know, foreign policy achievements that you’ve made or foreign policy processes that you’ve started that you’d like to see some continuity on or advising Mrs. Clinton on.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’ll certainly give my advice to the incoming team and I’ll do so privately. There are obviously some things that are underway. I think that the Annapolis process will eventually lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. It’s a process that has both a bottom-up that is building the security and economic institutions of the Palestinian state, and a top-down defining the borders and the agreement for a Palestinian state. And that is an approach that has a lot of international support, including from the Arab states.
Obviously, we’re engaged in Six-Party Talks with North Korea. That’s a structure that has the support of the Chinese and the Japanese and the South Koreans and the Russians, who are all essential to getting a deal with North Korea ultimately.
And there are other elements. I think that we’ve had very good relations with India which have served us well during this recent crisis, and with China. In fact, when people talk about the image of the United States, I would just note that in the two most populous states, China and India, the United States is quite well-regarded.
QUESTION: Now, on the Annapolis process, the Middle East peace process, you’re one of the few people in the world that knows what the two parties have accomplished so far. But are you worried that this process is relying on a few people, a few negotiators who may not survive the next election round in Israel or whenever the elections in Palestinian territories start?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is a time of transition. There’s no doubt about that. But the Israeli Government is the Israeli Government. And Tzipi Livni is both foreign minister and a candidate to lead Israel. And I believe that this is a broader commitment in the Israeli polity to a two-state solution, and that’s changed since 2000.
In 2000, it was not as broad a base, right, center-right of the government, and certainly of the population, because when Ariel Sharon came to power in 2001, he came to power to defeat the intifada, not to make peace. When, in 2003 he, the father of the settlement movement, was able to say it’s time to divide the land and I’ll support President Bush’s call for a two-state solution, that changed the dynamics in Israel. So I think that’s going to survive.
QUESTION: But there’s a lot of people -- I mean, many Arab leaders, but also here in the U.S., who say there’s -- the two-state solution is running out of room. Israeli settlements have been expanding and you have the problem of Gaza. Hamas’s grip on power there is stronger than ever, and the Palestinian -- the moderate Palestinians who are involved in negotiations are so weak.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t think the moderate Palestinians are so weak. They have strengthened their hold in the West Bank, the heart of the Palestinian state. They have the support of many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan. They have the support of the international community, as represented by the Quartet. And yes, Gaza is a problem. But when Palestinian unity comes, if it comes on the basis of accepting the agreements and the obligations that Palestinian leaders have been taking now for a couple of decades, that’s going to strengthen the hand of Abu Mazen. And I think that is really what’s probably in the offing.
QUESTION: So do you tell the – Hillary Clinton or whomever that this is a process that can work -- you ought to hit the ground running here?
SECRETARY RICE: As I’ve said, I’m not going to talk about the confidential advice that I will leave with my successor. But I – it’s the international community that said it’s a process that should continue. The Quartet, when it met just a little while ago in Sharm el-Sheikh, talked about the foundation that had been laid. The parties came and said that they had developed trust in the negotiating structure in negotiating behavior that they have, and that’s the real argument for continuing this process going forward.
QUESTION: On Iran, you stopped short of opening a diplomatic outpost there, an interests section. And I wonder if you feel that the internal debates in Washington sort of delayed U.S. action or some openings?
SECRETARY RICE: No, no. No, this really wasn’t about internal debates in Washington. The President made an in-principle decision to do so. And we were continuing to look at how we might do it. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. We wanted to be sure, for instance, that we would be able to issue visas to Iranians, and that took some work. But the international circumstances just didn’t really permit it, first because of the war between Georgia and Russia. The time didn’t seem quite right.
And then of course, it also wasn’t the best of times when the Iranians were in the midst of trying to halt the security agreement, the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq and doing everything that they could to destroy the foundation for that agreement. By the way, they failed in doing so.
But I just want to say an interests section would have only made sense, and does only make sense, in the context of a firm policy toward Iran, because there is no reason to reward that regime. There is every reason to reach out to the Iranian people and to let them know that the United States is a friend of the Iranian people.
QUESTION: Do you worry that you missed opportunities on Iran? Were there some --
SECRETARY RICE: I’m sure that you always miss opportunities when you look back in retrospect, but I know that on Iran, we did our very best to make the United States part of the international condemnation of what Iran is doing, to make it part of the international solution, the multilateral solution. When I came into office in 2005, I felt that really, the United States was the party that was isolated. It’s clearly Iran now that’s isolated. And Iran is paying a cost for its continued defiance of the international community, and that plus lower oil prices, which I think will amplify those costs, may ultimately make Iranian decision makers make better choices.
QUESTION: The State Department lawyers have been working in recent years to deal with prisoners in Guantanamo Bay – detainees – to get them home. Do you think the Obama Administration is going to have a hard time keeping its pledge to close down Guantanamo given what you know about this process?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President, President Bush, wanted to close down Guantanamo and said that he wanted to do so. It’s not easy, because there are some very dangerous people there. There are people who have said to prison officials, “If I get out of here, I’m going to go kill Americans as quickly as I can.” Well, those are not people that you want to let out on the street. We’ve had a very active program. We’ve reduced the Guantanamo population. We’ve returned a lot of people to their countries of origin. We’re trying to do that in a responsible way so that we don’t return people to places where there are questions about how they would be treated, which has been, for instance, the issue with the Uighurs and relocation of the Uighurs. So it’s not so easy, but I believe that it will be closed in time, and it’s just a matter of doing so in a safe and responsible way.
QUESTION: And Guantanamo wasn’t sort of the only issue that tarnished the U.S. image. There is also the treatment of terror suspects, waterboarding, other methods of torture or --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know that I’m going to have to object, because the United States has always kept to its international obligations, which include international obligations on the Convention on Torture. The United States, the President, was determined after September 11th to do everything that was legal and within those obligations, international and domestic laws, to make sure that we prevented a follow-on attack. And information to prevent an attack is the long pole in the tent when you’re dealing with terrorism. You can’t wait until somebody’s committed a crime and then go and punish them.
The Indians – I was just in India because of the Mumbai attacks, and they were going through the same issue of how you prevent attacks and how do you get the information that you need to prevent attacks. But a lot has happened since those days. We’ve been able to know more about the structure of al-Qaida. We have other ways to prevent attacks. Our democratic system has made judgments both through Congress and through the Supreme Court on various detainee issues. The Administration has adjusted its policies to reflect those processes. And so as a democratic society does, we’ve come to a different place on those issues than we were in the first months after September 11th.
But I’m going to tell you, when you’re facing, every day, anthrax attacks and when you’re facing, every day, a threat matrix as thick as your phonebook about what the next attack might be, if you have a legal way to get information to prevent those attacks, you have an obligation to do it.
QUESTION: Are you – but are you worried about you personally, though? Because there were all these reports that you were involved in pretty thorough discussions about techniques to get information out.
SECRETARY RICE: I was National Security Advisor, and quite clearly, you would expect the policies of the United States to come through the National Security Council. But I absolutely was – believed and was told and continued to believe that we were doing so under our treaty obligations and under our domestic laws. And in those circumstances, I really do think that the President of the United States and those responsible, in positions of responsible have – responsibility have an obligation to try and protect the American people.
QUESTION: A lot of this Guantanamo, this – all these issues, you start hearing from people, bad actors in the world, people like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, he brings up these issues at the United Nations General Assembly floor. And I wonder if you think some of this made it more difficult for you as the Secretary of State to talk about human rights.
SECRETARY RICE: No, of course not. Robert Mugabe – to mention Robert Mugabe in the same sentence with the President of the United States is an outrage. And Robert Mugabe is simply trying to cover the fact that he’s taken a country which was once one of the jewels of Africa, made it into a center of starvation and now of rampant disease that threatens its neighbors. And no, we shouldn’t fall prey to any kind of moral relativism here. We ought to call it as we see it.
QUESTION: And he – President Bush today issued this very strong statement saying Robert Mugabe must go. I wonder what the U.S. – what you’re doing on this front, what the U.S. can do.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is one of those limits of American power. We are trying to work with the international community to bring pressure on Robert Mugabe. What have we had? We’ve had a sham election and we’ve had a sham power-sharing arrangement talks. And we need the help of the region. Now, to be fair, a lot of African states are speaking out, leaders are speaking out against what Mugabe is doing, including in Kenya, where the Prime Minister of Kenya has spoken out, including voices of moral authority like Desmond Tutu.
But ultimately, one of the real disappointments for me in this work has been that when you have tyrants like Robert Mugabe or you have regimes like Sudan or you have juntas like Burma, the international community seems to lose its voice and its capability to deal with those circumstances.
QUESTION: Is that something that you think a new Obama administration can try to regain the high ground on?
SECRETARY RICE: It’s not a matter of regaining the high ground. It’s a matter of the international community living up to what it says it wants to do. We all undertook this notion of a responsibility to protect a couple of years ago with great fanfare, and we’ve, as a community, fallen short – not because the United States hasn’t tried. We’ve put unilateral sanctions on Sudan, on Burma, on Zimbabwe. And very often, we’ve been joined by other states, particularly the Europeans in several of those circumstances. But much of the world is prepared to turn a blind eye, and that’s really unfortunate, and I think it really damages the credibility of the Security Council.
QUESTION: I want to ask about your recent trip to India and Pakistan.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Did you come away feeling that these two countries are going to avoid a conflict over the killings in Mumbai, India? I mean, have – or are you worried still about that scenario?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we have to be concerned because it’s obviously a time of great outrage in India. And what I emphasized was that this was a threat to both Pakistan and India – these terrorists – and Pakistan needed to act since their territory had been used for these non-state actors to make those attacks. Also, Americans were killed, which gave the United States a special responsibility.
I’m pleased to see that some steps are being taken, some important steps are being taken in Pakistan. We are working hard to try and clarify and verify what is actually happening there, but there seem to be some positive steps being taken.
The people who did this also wanted to abort what has been a positive direction in Pakistani-Indian relations. I was here in 2001-2002, when they really were on the brink of war after the Indian parliament was attacked. And the relationship between Pakistan and India is very different now. The Pakistani Government is a civilian government, a legitimate civilian government that has been reaching out to India, and vice versa. The Pakistani Foreign Minister was actually in India at the time that this took place.
And so we have a lot to work with, and I think we’re making some progress.
QUESTION: And you spent a lot of time with military officials there.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: And I wonder if you are confident that they’re going to follow every lead and that they’re doing –
SECRETARY RICE: Well --
QUESTION: And if not, does the U.S. step in to make sure India doesn’t?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they are – they seem to be making important steps. Nobody wants to escalate this conflict. And to escalate it is simply going to invite unintended consequences and perhaps circumstances that are worse than the ones that we face now. And so India – the Indian Government is working hard to improve its own counterterrorism capability, to get the information that you need to stop attacks, to do what we did in overcoming the kind of stove-piping that is really so detrimental to using information to become knowledge, to become actionable. And the Pakistanis appear to be working to root out and to arrest some of these people, and that’s very important.
QUESTION: I can’t – I know, I want to – I have to ask you a couple personal questions, but I – if I could ask one about Russia, because you spent much of your academic career there and that’s where – what we share our interest in.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Whether you have regrets about where things are with Russia.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m sorry that Russia didn’t take up what was an open invitation from the United States and Europe to be a part of an international community, a transatlantic space that was built on 21st century values and assets, not on 19th century ones. But I think we’ve also got a lot to be proud of in what we’ve achieved with Russia: a global nuclear terrorism pact, real cooperation on the Middle East, real cooperation on North Korea, cooperation on Iran which produced four Security Council resolutions. So a lot – the Moscow Treaty which significantly reduced the number of deployed warheads on both sides. So there are also a lot of good things that have happened with Russia.
But as to Russia’s periphery, that’s where there have been differences. And here, I have to say that the unity of the United States and Europe in response to what happened in Georgia has made it impossible for Russia to achieve its strategic goals. The Georgian Government is intact. Georgian democracy is intact. Georgia has been given incredible resources from the international community for rebuilding its territory. And it’s Russia’s motives and behavior that are being questioned worldwide. So I think Russia didn’t achieve very much and it lost a lot concerning Georgia, and perhaps that will deter them from that kind of action again.
QUESTION: I understand that you’ve been scouting out office space back at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. I wonder what your plans – what do you plan to do there? When are you going to be ready to --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’ll go back. I’ve been on leave from Stanford for all this time, so it’s probably time to go back. I’m going to do some book projects. Obviously, I’ll write the book on foreign policy, which is an extraordinary time. But I may take a little time to reflect on that. I want to write a book about my parents, who were educational evangelists and believed in the kind of upward mobility as a result of educational opportunity that I really think is at the core of who we are as a country. And in that regard, I’ve been an advocate in the past for improved K-12 education, particularly in the public schools.
As Secretary of State, I’ve seen how that belief in the United States that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going, is respected and really admired around the world. And it’s at the core, really, of our confidence and therefore at the core of our ability to lead. And as we try and make sure that we really are securing quality education for everybody, I think I can lend my voice to that as a national security priority, not just a moral responsibility.
QUESTION: And you’ve said that we were not – we’re not going to hear from you very much. I wonder if you’re going to be ready for life out of the limelight, away from the blogs that follow your hairstyles and shoes.
SECRETARY RICE: I think I can live without that, thank you very much. No, I’m looking forward to going back to other things. I suspect I’ll be plenty busy, but it’ll be nice to have other opportunities. It’s been a long eight years. I’m very gratified by what we’ve been able to achieve. I do believe that what George Shultz said is right; there is no greater honor than representing your country; it’s the best job in government. But there are a lot of great jobs outside of government, including going back to the life of the mind and to the promotion of education for everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.
Released on December 10, 2008