Remarks From Daughters and Sons Meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations Secretary Condoleezza Rice
December 17, 2008
MS. MITCHELL: Welcome. This is so wonderful for me to see all of you, many of you friends, many of you sons and daughters of friends. I am Andrea Mitchell from NBC News, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, and you all know our very special guest, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. And tonight is a very special evening for many reasons. We are hosting tonight at the Council two cabinet secretaries simultaneously. Bob Gates is in New York at a Sons and Daughters meeting, and concurrently, we have Secretary Rice here at a Daughters and Sons meeting. And it is also the last meeting to be held here because after this meeting, the Council is moving to our new building at 1777 F Street. So all this is very exciting. If anyone wants to help Kay and the great staff here packing and moving over the holidays? (Laughter.)
I should remind everyone to please turn off – and I mean completely off – all cell phones and Blackberries because they do interfere with the sound system. So if you don’t mind doing all that. And as a reminder, this meeting is very much on the record, so I also want to get all of you daughters and sons to think about your questions, because we’re going to have lots of time for you to ask questions of the Secretary. This is really your event and I am here really to just lay the groundwork, talk about some of your legacies and your thoughts after eight exciting years, and some years – sometimes too exciting, I suppose. (Laughter.) But obviously, the Secretary is working up until the very last minute as we can see from some of her most recent travels. So think about your questions and I’ll start off with a few of my own.
Let’s talk about the most recent events because of Mumbai and all of the other things that happened and the reaction, of course, from India to Pakistan. You had to extend your travel and talk to people in the region in both capitals. And as I think back to the way this Administration started with really conflict brewing over Kashmir, and I was traveling with Secretary Powell at the time, do you think that you, in your conversations, have managed to prevent further conflict there? And how do you see it going forward?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first point that I would make is it was obviously a very serious situation, and the President wanted me to go and to express our solidarity with India and condolences there, and to deliver a very strong message that, of course, Americans had also died in that attack. And so this was also of concern to the United States.
I found the fact that since 2001, which is the crisis that I also was a part of the management of that crisis, the United States has developed a very strong relationship with India. It has broadened and deepened, and I do think it has helped us through this crisis, because there’s a level of trust with India that I think was not there in 2001 when we had to get through the – really, the military mobilization that attended the crisis in Kashmir.
On the other hand, with Pakistan, we have a good relationship with the new civilian government. But there, the message had to be: you need to deal with the terrorism problem. And it’s not enough to say these are non-state actors. If they’re operating from Pakistani territory, then they have to be dealt with.
The good news is that I found on both sides a desire to actually work through the conflict. I don’t think anybody wanted to escalate it. No one was speaking in belligerent language. And if Pakistan continues to do – work to really deal with the terrorism problem, and if India can do the hard work of both helping to bring the perpetrators to justice and trying to prevent the next attack, then I think we can get through this crisis.
MS. MITCHELL: Do you have a feeling that the civilian government in Pakistan has control over the military, over the security forces, over the ISI?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have to say that I didn’t hear a different line from the military and from the civilians. In fact, I heard from the military that they want the civilian government to succeed. They recognize that the civilian government has to therefore be the responsible entity for Pakistan. And I’m certain that there are and will be civil-military tension. It’s a new civilian government just finding its footing in Pakistan. But it seemed to me that the civilians were very much in charge and making decisions. And thus far, we’ve seen some positive steps, though they’re not nearly enough to this point.
MS. MITCHELL: Now going around the world just quickly, and then we’ll – I’d love to talk to you a bit about some of your next adventures as you move towards – back to Stanford and towards education and some of the things that might be very interesting to some of our younger guests today – but Iran.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
MS. MITCHELL: There’s talk now that Khatami might consider running again. We have elections there. There is a lot of concern about red lines being crossed as early as this summer and the possibility of military action. We’ll have a new government in Israel as well. What are the possibilities of a new administration coming in dealing with Iran? Do you think that there are, you know, so-called moderates with whom one could even negotiate in Iran?
SECRETARY RICE: I’ve said a lot – many, many times that most bad American foreign policy in the last 25 years has started with the words, let’s find the moderates in Iran. I just – I don’t know that they’re there. I do know that there are people who are more reasonable and people who are not. And clearly, the people who are more reasonable are challenging some of the policies of President Ahmadinejad. I think they’re challenging them in the editorial pages of Iran’s newspapers. You’ve had resignations in certain parts of the Iranian structure, particularly on the energy side.
And I think it’s because the international community, in a unified way, has imposed costs on Iran for their defiance of the Security Council resolutions and the IAEA. The costs have not been so high as of yet to cause Iran to change its behavior, but when you look at the fact that there are really no Western oil companies dealing in Iran any longer – Total was the last to leave several months ago – Iran really can’t take advantage of the international financial system. Their banks are, many of them, sanctioned and can’t do business. They can’t get levels of investment as they did. Investment credits are down from around the world. So costs are there, and it will be exacerbated by the lower oil price.
Now, that may give room to some of those reasonable people to say, is the policy that we are pursuing really worth the isolation that we are actually enduring. And it’s my hope that perhaps even in the next couple of months, but certainly by the time of the election, that you’ll have an Iranian leadership that’s willing to make different choices.
MS. MITCHELL: And if not, is there a way in the short timeframe between the moment when at least – many people, many countries are now warning Iran will have made enough progress on the nuclear front – is there time to stop Iran from developing a weapon, short of military action, if the United Nations, you know, doesn’t step up to the plate?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I still think that there’s time, and – because remember, what we’re really talking about here is three components. One is the material itself. That’s the enrichment and reprocessing that gives you actual nuclear material for weapons. Right now, it’s technology that they’re pursuing, and the question is how far have they gotten to actually being able to make that material. Secondly, there’s the question of bomb design, and there is pretty good evidence that they have at least experimented with or looked to try to design weapons. And then third, there’s the question of delivery, and they are making progress on their delivery system.
So it’s a dangerous course that they’re on. But there is still time in at least a couple of those areas to push Iran back from the brink, and I think the diplomacy is set up to do that. Iran, though, is going to have to make a choice that what they’re doing is simply not worth it.
If they want to have a civil nuclear program, they can have a civil nuclear program. The Russians have built a civil nuclear reactor there. They will provide the fuel and take it back. It’s called a fuel takeback, meaning that they can’t keep the spent fuel so that they can process that into weapons-grade materials. That’s a perfect outcome for a state that only wants civil nuclear power.
So there are many options on the table for Iran that they’re not yet taking. There’s a package of incentives that the so-called P-5+1 – that’s the Germans – and the permanent members of the Security Council have put on the table. The Iranian should take it. I think there’s a reasonable chance that reasonable people would.
MS. MITCHELL: Do you have any second thoughts about our negotiations with North Korea now that that process seems to have ground to a halt, that they have not lived up to their agreement? And there’s been a lot of criticism from some former Administration officials like John Bolton that we were too trusting.
SECRETARY RICE: Nobody was trusting of the North Koreans. I mean, who trusts the North Koreans? You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans. (Laughter.) That’s why we have a verification protocol that we are negotiating.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, any thoughts that as you leave, that this is –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah –
MS. MITCHELL: – not just unfinished business, but that this is a missed opportunity?
SECRETARY RICE: No. I think that what we’ve done is that through the Six-Party framework, we have an agreement of September – of 2005 in which North Korea pledges to get rid of its nuclear weapons, the first of its kind, full denuclearization. Then we’ve had a series of negotiations, one that led to the shutdown of a reactor. And in fact, North Korea has made no plutonium since the September agreement was signed in 2005. That’s an important point, because they were making plutonium so that they could make more nuclear devices. Third, we have watched them begin to disable Yongbyon, the reactor and the associated facilities. Fourth, they have given us some documentation and some samples, frankly, which have led us to be more suspicious of some things that they might be doing. These are, by the way, things that we would not have had, had we not been in negotiations with them. And then finally, we negotiated a protocol. There is actually a protocol, but the document had some ambiguities in it. And what the North Koreans have refused to do is not to accept the protocol, but they have refused to write down their assurances about the ambiguities.
Now I think that that means that this is a process that still has a lot of life in it. But North Korea negotiates this way sometimes in ups and downs. It’s like a stepwise function. Each time, we’ve achieved a little bit more and we’ve achieved it, most importantly, with China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea at the table, so that North Korea cannot get the benefits of good behavior if they’re engaging in bad behavior. They won’t get fuel oil shipments that they desperately need and want, until this process of disablement and verification is complete.
MS. MITCHELL: Now I know there’s a lot – there are a lot of people here who are looking for career advice. And just in looking at your career, your extraordinary career, I could say that for someone who has just played – was it Brahms in front of the Queen?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: – and performed at the Kennedy Center with Yo-Yo Ma, one bit of advice might be to keep working at all of your hobbies seriously and –
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, I have a little different take on that story, which is that had I remained a music major, I would not have played with Yo-Yo Ma or played for the Queen. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: I can relate to that.
SECRETARY RICE: I’m not confused as to why I got to play with them. So I think that says when you come to a dead end as a piano major and realize that maybe there is another passion waiting out there for you, take the time to find it and it usually works out okay. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: Well, you know, speaking of passions, you’ve had many passions: ice skating, teaching, music. And I know you’ve managed to look at football, of course. (Laughter.) You’ve managed to pursue many of them. But in terms of career advice, it has been a dozen years, by my count, since we have had a white male as Secretary of State. You –
SECRETARY RICE: And it’s not about to change. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: And you recently had your presumed successor, should she be confirmed, over for dinner.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
MS. MITCHELL: And any advice that you could share that you might have shared with her on how to proceed in this job?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I – we’ve shared our – I’ll share my advice privately with her, but I can tell you that what was really impressive to me is that she already had a handle on what the challenges were, and perhaps most importantly, are. But most importantly, a real sense of the importance of people in this business.
Every day, I get up and I’m very grateful that I lead a Department that has people as dedicated and as committed as the Foreign Service, the Civil Service and Foreign Service Nationals that serve in the Department. And I’ve had to ask them to do really hard and different things. Most diplomats no longer sit in the great halls of the capitals of Europe and report on what our allies are doing and their politics. That’s not really the core of what we do anymore.
We’re out trying to help aid workers deliver on our – the President’s AIDS relief program. We’re out in Guatemala, trying to help farmers in the highlands to get out of subsistence farming. We’re out in Provincial Reconstruction Teams in some of the most dangerous places in Iraq and in Afghanistan, trying to deliver decent governance and reconstruction, because in today’s world, you’re not talking about war and peace. It’s a continuum. You have the military, they’ll go in, they’ll clear the bad guys. Then somebody has to come in with reconstruction and with governance, and that’s what our diplomats are doing.
And so we’ve had to ask people to do the hardest things. Most – an awful lot of our people now serve in hardship posts where their families can’t accompany them. And President Bush has recognized that we need more diplomats. So he’s requested 1,100 new Foreign Service officers and 300 new USAID officers, because the business of transformational diplomacy is really helping – Americans helping people transform their lives. And I was really impressed, and I think Senator Clinton had a really good take on that very early on.
MS. MITCHELL: Now before we go to the audience questions, when we speak of transformational diplomacy, it was very clear that the President went to Iraq to try to thank our troops, have a final visit with President al-Maliki, but also to show that he could come in daylight, have an arrival ceremony, a red carpet ceremony, outside of the Green Zone. And instead, the image – unfortunately, I’m sure for everyone involved – but the image that circulated around the world was of the shoes. What is your response to that? I mean, Iraq is clearly more pacified than it was, but you had this moment and it certainly doesn’t help in public diplomacy, because there are then people rallying in the streets of Sadr City, hundreds of them, with shoes.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Sadr City and particularly Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement has never been reconciled to what is happening in Iraq. Look, I think in 10 years, maybe even in a year, what will be remembered is that the President of the United States went to Iraq to stand side by side with a democratically elected Shia Prime Minister of Iraq in a multiconfessional, multiethnic democracy that, instead of invading its neighbors and using weapons of mass destruction is now a welcoming – becoming a welcome member of the region where an Egyptian Foreign Minister goes for the first time in 30 years to Iraq, where I had the great pleasure of being in Kuwait and seeing the Iraqi flag fly voluntarily in Kuwait, an Iraq in which this journalist could throw his shoe at the President of the United States and probably only be brought up on assault charges, rather than being executed because he insulted the great dictator. I can go on and on.
What’s sort of sad is that we don’t seem to be able to realize how much today’s headlines are never the same as history’s judgment. And those who report today’s headlines ought to keep in mind history when they do it, because I’m quite certain that an incident in a press conference of that kind isn’t what the history of American engagement in Iraq is going to be.
MS. MITCHELL: Duly noted. There are a few journalists in the room. (Laughter.) And we have lots of daughters and sons, so there are microphones here.
SECRETARY RICE: Great.
MS. MITCHELL: And so please stand up, give us your name and keep your shoes on and – (laughter) – fire away.
SECRETARY RICE: Andrea, I’m not as quick as the President.
MS. MITCHELL: Let’s see. Who’s going to –
SECRETARY RICE: Who’s going to start?
MS. MITCHELL: No one’s going to be shy here, because we’re all in the (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: The young lady right here.
MS. MITCHELL: Right here.
QUESTION: My question is, you mentioned something about a nuclear takeback program with – between Iran and Russia, but wouldn’t there be a danger that Iranian – the Iranians might, say, bribe Russian officials to let them keep this nuclear material?
SECRETARY RICE: Mm-hmm. Well, what a very good question. (Laughter.) I told Richard Haass – I said I want the daughters and sons to ask questions because they’re going to get better questions. I’ve never been asked that question, so that’s great.
Well, first of all, I think you – we have to count on the fact that Russia as a state has a great interest in not having the Iranians have a nuclear weapon. And so I think they will do everything that they can to account for the material, to make certain that it’s being returned.
We worried a lot a number of years ago about Russian scientists who were going to be out of work, nuclear scientists who were going to be out of work. And as a result of some work that Senate – then-Senator Nunn and Senator Lugar did, there is a whole program that was to retrain Russian nuclear scientists after the collapse of the Soviet Union so that they had options not to do exactly the kind of thing that you’re talking about – sell material on the black market, or perhaps even more importantly, sell the knowledge of how to do things on the black market.
So I think with a program like the Bushehr reactor, which is the reactor Russia has built, that they will have the kinds of safeguards to make sure that the fuel is being returned. And the good news is, you can actually account for fuel. And so I think that there are few risks, but it’s a really good question.
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you very much. I see a hand.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I have been an international recruiter for about 15 years in a variety of countries. And not to beat a dead horse, but if you could say a little bit more about America’s standing in the world in terms of – what I’ve seen in the last handful of years, scrawled on the walls, scrawled on people’s faces, and what you can say just from the heart. I know you’ve mentioned about waiting for the headlines to change down the road and putting more diplomats out in the field, but – and what you can say from the heart about how to deal with the difficulty and even pain of seeing America’s standing, in my impression, drop internationally? Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think I would – you know, you have to have a little bit of – maybe I’m just getting older. When you get older, you say you have to historical perspective on something. It means you’re old enough to remember something that other people don’t. And if you look back to 1979, 1980, 1981, when in fact, women were chaining themselves to Greenham Commons because we were going to deploy nuclear missiles in Germany and in Britain. If you look at the way Ronald Reagan was vilified for that, America’s policies – there have been many times when America’s policies were not so popular and when, in fact, people protested. There were millions of people in the streets in Europe during the protests about the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces. But people tend to forget that.
I think I could also note that in some of the most populous countries in the world – China, India, and Vietnam – America’s standing has never been higher. So where are we talking about, right? We’re talking essentially about parts of Europe and the Middle East. And in the Middle East, I think the truth is we’ve had to do difficult things. And we’ve had to say hard things about terrorism, its sources, about how to deal with it. And frankly, sometimes our support for Israel is also just not very popular in the Middle East, despite the fact that the President is the first president to really call, as a matter of policy, for a Palestinian state and call it by its name Palestine.
And so I think we have to distinguish between America’s standing in the world, which I think is really pretty high, and the views of our policies sometimes, which people then will say “We hate what Americans are doing.” But I’ll tell you something, you say you’re a recruiter – I don’t know for what – but students coming to the United States, foreign students coming to the United States, are at record levels. Why? Because they hate America? I don’t think so. How many people in the world do you think would turn down the chance to come to a community college in the United States or to a state university in the United States or to Stanford? Not very many.
When I go around the world, what I get is “Can’t you get our students more visas, can’t you get our students more opportunities?” That to me speaks of the standing of America.
QUESTION: Can you? Is that what (inaudible)? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: We’re doing better. We’re doing a lot better.
MS. MITCHELL: That’s actually one of – as someone who’s very involved with the university world, I know that there are – there’s universal praise for what the Secretary has done in the last couple of years at making life easier for the visa requests. I know that the university presidents have been really admiring of that.
So more future college students here. I see this young man right here.
QUESTION: Yes, Madame Secretary, I would just like to know how do you feel – do you feel that the Iraqi Government is being helpful to the United States during the current conflict?
SECRETARY RICE: I do think that the Iraqis are being helpful. And I think they’re being helpful in their own cause, first of all, and that’s the most important thing.
But it’s a good question, because I think that there were times earlier on when you could question whether the Iraqi Government was doing everything that it could to make the situation more stable. There was a period in which there’s no doubt that the Ministry of Interior, for instance, had sectarian policies that were adding to the violence. I think there was a time when they squabbled more among themselves. But this is a government that now seems to be pretty devoted to trying to build proper structures. Certainly, the Iraqi security forces are fighting and fighting tough, and they’re delivering as they did in Basra when they defeated the special groups trained by Iran and other extremist forces in that part of the country.
So, yes, I think the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi security forces are pulling their weight.
MS. MITCHELL: It’s a little bit hard to see, so I see some hands back there. Yes. Thank you. Do you want to give us your name?
QUESTION: Hi, Madame Secretary. I was just wondering, with the current standoff between Russia and Georgia and a nuclear shield being built in Poland, do you see any current conflicts down the road between America and Russia and how we should deal with those conflicts?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, what grade are you?
QUESTION: I’m in 8th grade, ma’am.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: (Inaudible) education.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right. That’s fine, that’s great. Yes. We went through a rough summer – August, September – with Russia. And look, I think on balance, the United States and Russia still have a workable relationship. Yesterday at the UN, I sponsored with Sergey Lavrov a Middle East resolution on the Annapolis process. Russia was very helpful in getting a piracy resolution done. We cooperated very well during the recent Six-Party Talks with North Korea. We’ve generally cooperated pretty well on Iran. So I think on broad, global issues, we and Russia cooperate very well. On some of the issues that you were mentioning, global nuclear terrorism or nuclear materials, we do very well.
Where we have problems is when we get to states that are in Russia’s periphery and particularly those states that were part of former – part of the Soviet Union. Because Russia claims to have special rights, a special influence, and our view is that these countries have their right to have their friends, and those friends can include the United States, and they have the right to have independence from Russia. And this, of course, came to the head in Georgia in August and September.
But I believe that the unity of the United States and its European allies, and by the way, on the question of America and our allies, we have excellent relations with the Europeans now; simply excellent. And the unity that we showed really did deny to Russia its strategic objectives. The Georgian Government is still in place; Georgian democracy is still there; the Georgian economy is doing well, in fact, got more donor money probably than they ever thought they’d see; Russia is sitting in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that’s true, with the resounding support of Hamas and Nicaragua, which are the only other entities that recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and people are questioning whether Russia is a good partner.
And so I think the Russians now probably see that they have not fared that well out of this conflict. And I hope that that – if we keep that unity, that that is going to deter Russia from any further adventures of that kind.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: Okay, yes. Right here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: We’ve talked a lot about Iraq and Iran, and I actually have a question pertaining Africa. I’d like to know a little bit more about our current Administration’s successes as well as failures, because it seems like the entire – or a lot of Africa seems to be lagging. And I’d like to know your opinion on that.
SECRETARY RICE: Sure. Well, I – there are certainly really bad problems in Africa. But the thing that I would cite is that we’ve developed very good partnerships with a lot of the very good leaders that are emerging in Africa. And one of the tools that we’ve used to do that is the Millennium Challenge Account. And the idea behind the Millennium Challenge is that the United States dramatically increased its assistance to Africa and Latin America and other poor parts – other parts of the world that are in poverty. To Africa, we’ve almost quadrupled our assistance.
But in exchange for assistance that isn’t purely humanitarian, we expect countries to govern wisely, govern democratically, invest in their people’s health and education, fight corruption. And we have some very good partners like Tanzania where the Millennium Challenge Compact is over $800 million; Ghana where it’s over $450 million. We’ve just chosen Liberia as a threshold country for Millennium Challenge.
Secondly, the President’s health policies in Africa, I think, are renowned, whether it’s the enormous – the largest single program to fight disease ever in history, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or the Malaria Initiative that we have, or the tropical diseases initiative. We’ve been very active there. We’ve helped to resolve conflicts in Africa. Liberia is free today because – often forgotten – American Marines actually secured the port and the airport. Charles Taylor was forced from power. And Liberia has a woman who I think is one of the best respected leaders in Africa. And so we’ve done a lot of very good things in Africa. And I think we – in Africa, the President is probably more popular than any place else in the world.
But we also have some challenges. I was at the UN yesterday to talk about Somalia. I simply don’t understand the argument that the United Nations can’t put a peacekeeping force or a blue hat – an African peacekeeping force – because Somalia is a country that’s trying to make its way back from chaos. There’s certainly – probably to me the most disappointing international response has been to Sudan. Because there – I was in those camps in Darfur and it’s awful. And if the international community cannot respond better through the Security Council to the unwillingness of the Sudanese Government to respond to mandates for peacekeeping forces, I don’t think it reflects very well on the Security Council.
So I’m very proud of what we’ve done in Africa. There are a couple of conflicts that I hope we can still do more. But in terms of humanitarian assistance, but especially development assistance, promotion of democracy, helping to resolve conflicts, and really treating Africans as partners, I think this Administration will stand as – I’ll say it, I think the best ever.
MS. MITCHELL: The concerns that the Commander of the 5th Fleet in Bahrain expressed about any kind of peacekeeping force in Somalia, have those been addressed internally? Do you think that those were overstated?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t have gone and asked for a Security Council resolution on pursuing pirates onto land unless the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States were onboard, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And there was a question of what you could do under authorities previous, but now the authority is there.
I don’t know if the United States will have any reason to pursue pirates onto land. I – it’s – somebody might. And having the authority means that you don’t allow the pirates that neat separation between the sea and the land.
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you. Again, I see a lot of hands in the back and it’s hard to see. I think there’s someone right here. There’s a microphone there, young man.
QUESTION: This is sort of following up a little bit on Ms. Mitchell’s question. But what – having been now at the Department of State – what have you learned, perhaps the hard way, that you wish that your predecessor had passed on to you?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: Or the easy way.
SECRETARY RICE: Or the easy way, yes. Well, my predecessor, Colin Powell, passed on a lot to me. And I was also National Security Advisor so I had watched the State Department.
But you know, the hardest thing about the Department of State is that it is just very big and very sprawling. When you think about the fact that it’s 55,000 employees worldwide in some 150-some countries, it’s like having a huge multinational entity, and you have to recognize that if you’re trying to do everything from the center, if you’re trying to do everything from Washington, if people in the field don’t feel empowered, then you’re going to find that – what I call the time zone problem gets to you, which is that you wake up here and it’s already 12 hours later in Asia or eight hours later in the Middle East or five hours later in London, and time has already passed and you’re either behind the news cycle or behind the politics or something. And so you’d better learn to have a clear framework for people to deal in, but to trust your people out in the field to do their work.
And it’s very easy to think that everything happens in Washington, and that if it doesn’t get solved in Washington, it won’t get solved. And that can be the death of you with an organization that is that big and that sprawling. And so the key, I think, to doing this well is to learn the secret that so many corporations have really done very well, which is decentralization, but on a common set of purposes and a common set of goals.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, I want to encourage – I see back there some of the – I want to encourage our young guests of the Council, so I see a young woman with her hand raised on the aisle there. If you could pass the microphone down, and why don’t you stand and speak into the mike and tell us who you are.
SECRETARY RICE: Why don’t you come out into the aisle (inaudible).
QUESTION: I was wondering about the sanctions in Iran and North Korea. I understand why you would impose them, but don’t they, first of all, harden the country against us and, second of all, hurt the already poor people there?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Miriam –
MS. MITCHELL: I’ve been trying to ask her that for, you know, eight years. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: You didn’t ask me that one, Andrea.
MS. MITCHELL: I haven’t the guts to ask that. Miriam asked you, so you go ahead. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: It’s a great question. First of all, in terms of the countries, what we try to do with our sanctions is to target them to make an impact on the regime and an impact on those who are actually conducting the bad policies rather than on people more broadly. And so, you’ll find very often that we talk about freezing assets. Well, that means freezing the assets of people who are engaged in bad work. And that way, you don’t end up really hurting the people of a country.
We also try to target, for instance, the entities, the banks or the companies that are engaged in proliferation, because it’s really one of your best and only tools. If you’re not going to use force, this is one way to get the attention of the regime.
The trick has been, particularly with Iran, is to try, at the same time that we are imposing these sanctions on the regime and on their policies, to try to reach out to the Iranian people. So we’ve tried to keep exchanges alive. I’ve hosted artists and I’ve hosted civilians who do disaster relief. And they’ve hosted our wrestling team. And we’ve tried to keep things open and – the channels open to the Iranian people.
But you’re very right. One thing that can happen is that sanctions can start to slip into punitive sanctions on the people, and it happens without intention. I’ll give you an example with Iraq. The Oil for Food sanctions we have learned – and it’s one reason by the way when people say, “well, you should have just kept the sanctions on, eventually Saddam would have cracked.” Well, what we learned is Saddam was getting around the Oil for Food sanctions quite effectively. He was bribing people. He was using unnamed accounts. He was getting around them quite well. The Iraqi people, on the other hand, increasingly were showing higher rates of malnutrition. Agriculture was really completely destroyed by the Oil for Food sanctions because there was no way – no market for internal productions, that they were importing food, a place that used to be the breadbasket for that part of the world.
And so you do have to be very careful that you target sanctions and that you watch their effect on the population and that you know, when you have to deal with something like sanctions for so many years in Iraq, you have to ask yourself, is that really the way to solve the problem.
So it’s a very good question. We try to be very sensitive to what you’re talking about.
MS. MITCHELL: Do you think having an interests section in Tehran will – could, and when –
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: – help, have eyes and ears on the ground –
SECRETARY RICE: I do.
MS. MITCHELL: – to better assess that –
SECRETARY RICE: I do. And the President has made an in-principle decision to do so. And we did the work to see how we could make sure that it was an interests section that was reaching out to the Iranian people – not to the regime, but to the Iranian people. And that meant the ability to issue visas which would have taken some doing, but also to be eyes and ears and to be a point of contact. Our Interests Section in Cuba is really actually a rallying place for dissidents. Now maybe that wouldn’t happen in Iran, but it gives America a presence there.
The problem for us was that it really wasn’t the right time to do it in the middle of the Russia-Georgia war. And we then had a period of time, frankly, in which Iran was doing everything that it could to prevent the SOFA with the Iraqis – strategic forces agreement with the Iraqis, strategic framework agreement with the Iraqis – and that didn’t seem to be the right time to do it. And so a lot of the work is done and the next administration can take a decision.
But I believe we need to find every conceivable way that we can to reach out to the Iranian people. They are among the most pro-American people in the entire Middle East.
MS. MITCHELL: Okay, we’ve got a little bit more time. If someone taller than I can see in the back there. Let’s have the young – our young guest (inaudible). Yes.
QUESTION: I heard that you –
MS. MITCHELL: Where do you go to school, Alex?
QUESTION: Greenbriar West. And I heard that you played for the Queen of England --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: – a few weeks ago. And I’d just like to know what it was like and if you have any advice because I play the piano, too.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, great. All right. (Laughter.) That’s great. Well, first of all, Her Majesty was really lovely. And I didn’t start out to play for the Queen. I was going to just play – David Miliband, my counterpart in Great Britain’s wife is a very fine violinist. She plays for the London Symphony. And we were just going to kind of have a jam session, where we got together with some of her friends and played. And then David said, well, you know there’s a beautiful music room at Buckingham Palace and Elgar played there. And I thought, well, that’s kind of neat. Elgar played there, maybe I could play there. So the next – I get there and they say, oh, by the way, Her Majesty has decided to come. (Laughter.) And I thought, well, this is taking on whole new proportions now. (Laughter.) But she was lovely and everything went well. We played well, which was good, because we’d only played together for a few minutes before she came.
But my advice to you would be that you have to keep working at piano at least until you’re good enough to play any and everything that you want to play. And I’ll tell you a story because you’re eight. I started to play piano when I was about three and a half, right, because my grandmother taught piano lessons. I wanted to learn. She decided to take the risk that I was old enough. I could read music before I could read. And when I was about two years older than you are – 10 – I decided I’d had enough. And I was also sort of a little tomboy, so I was tired of practicing, I wanted to go do other things. And my mother said, “You’re not old enough or good enough to make that decision.” (Laughter.) And I’m really glad she wouldn’t let me quit.
So the one thing I’d say to you is, piano has its ups and downs. There are months that you go along and you think, oh, I’m getting so much better, I can play anything, and it’s going really well. And you finish your piece and you start the new piece and you think: Have I ever played the piano before? Why can’t I play this piece? And it’s very frustrating. And you can go through whole days of practice, where it’s really hard and it’s not working. And that’s when you really have to stick with it. And the other thing that I’d tell you is, if you can only practice 20 minutes a day, practice every day for 20 minutes, it’s better than trying to practice all in one day for three hours. Okay? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I play (inaudible) for two hours each day.
MS. MITCHELL: Two hours –
SECRETARY RICE: You play for two hours in one day? That’s a long time. That’s a long time.
MS. MITCHELL: But the advice probably for playing in Buckingham Palace is the same as getting to Carnegie Hall, to practice.
SECRETARY RICE: Is getting – practice.
MS. MITCHELL: Right.
SECRETARY RICE: Practice, practice, practice. Except the only person I’ve ever heard of who didn’t have to practice was Mozart, and that was 250 years ago. So I think practice is probably the answer. (Laughter.)
MS. MITCHELL: All right. From – yes, right here. Is there a microphone?
SECRETARY RICE: Uh-huh. Go ahead, go ahead.
MS. MITCHELL: And then he’ll come right up and --
QUESTION: I’m astudent at George Washington University, studying international affairs. And I just wanted to know what you thought – what advice you would give to the next administration regarding our relations with South American countries, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, whose leadership doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with ours?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah. It’s a good question. And let me not pose it as advice, but pose it as how I think we’ve tried to deal with it. First of all, don’t let Venezuela and Bolivia dominate your policy, all right? We don’t talk about Hugo Chavez anymore. Oh my goodness, I mentioned his name for the first time in a long, long time. (Laughter.) We simply don’t talk –
MS. MITCHELL: We’ll never tell. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: We don’t talk about him because the Venezuelas and the Bolivias of the world are the exception in Latin America, not the rule.
Most of the countries of Latin America are trying to – their leaders are trying to govern democratically. They are trying to get economic growth. They are trying to translate that economic growth into social justice, better health care, better education. Because if you’re a democratically elected government and you don’t do that, you won’t be in power for very long. They are dealing with the problems of bringing marginalized people, like indigenous people, into the political process. And that’s an agenda that we can completely identify with, and it’s an agenda that we can identify with, whether it’s somebody from the left like President Lula of Brazil, or from the right like President Uribe of Colombia.
In some cases, like Mexico or Colombia, they’re dealing also with significant law enforcement and security problems, and we can be helpful. But the one thing that you will have to be for, if you’re going to have a successful policy in Latin America, is free trade. You tell those countries that you’re going to protect American markets, that you’re not going to trade freely, that you’re not going to sign free trade agreements with them, or even worse, renegotiate ones that you signed, and you’re going to lose them. Because they see trade as an – not as an engine of growth. That’s too up here. They see trade as a way to deliver for their people.
And if you go to a Colombian flower market, like I did, and see people who have been victims of terrorism, working side by side with people who have been demobilized out of the paramilitaries, and now they’ve got a decent job in a flower market, are raising flowers in Colombia that are going to be in the American market as a result of trade preferences that the United States has, and would be even more in the American market if we had the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, then you know that trade is about that demobilized worker, demobilized paramilitary, who now has a decent job in Colombia. And so if you don’t want to – if you’re going to have good relations in Latin America, all of the aid in the world will never make up for closing down on trade.
MS. MITCHELL: All right. This young lady here had a question. Thanks.
QUESTION: This is more on a personal note, following up on the eight-year-old girl – I forgot her name. I also play the piano. And I was wondering – your job seems pretty stressful, and how does music play a part?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah. Good question.
MS. MITCHELL: It’s such a good question.
SECRETARY RICE: Very good question. First of all, it really does play a part, because I have to work very, very hard, and I work a lot of long hours, and I travel a lot. But I try still in all of that to have a balanced life. I try to make time for my friends and my family. I try to make time for exercise. Even if it does mean 4:30 in the morning to do it, I try to make time for it. And I try to make time for things that feed my soul, and music feeds your soul.
It’s not that it’s relaxing. People say, “Well, is it relaxing to play the piano?” Well, you or the young woman in the back know it’s not relaxing. If you’re sitting there struggling with Brahms, it’s not relaxing. But it is transporting. While you’re playing Brahms or Mozart, you can’t think about anything else. Everything else has to clear out of your mind, and you’re just in that moment. And in doing that, you have an opportunity to really clear your mind, and you have an opportunity to clear the stress, because instead of worrying about what you’re going to do tomorrow or was that paper done or what that negotiation is going to do, you have a chance to be within yourself in a different place in your mind and in a different place in your soul.
And when you’re done with that – I’m actually pretty tired after I’ve played, but it’s a good tired. And I usually find I’m able to sleep. And the other thing that I do is I have a regular music group that I play with – used to be about once a month, but now it’s been kind of every six weeks, I’ve been traveling so much. But they come over on a Sunday afternoon, and they’re all very good musicians. It’s a quartet. We together are a quintet. We’ve been playing together now for about four years. And it’s like having family. You know, you get to squabble about whether or not the first violinist was too quick with that entrance or, you know, about whether – usually, since they’re string players, I’m too loud. (Laughter.) You know, that’s always what string players say about piano – you’re too loud. It is – they’ve become – among my best friends. And so make time for your music and let it take you to some other place. That’s what music does.
MS. MITCHELL: Yes, right here. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary of State, my question is one that I believe you’ve been asked many times before, but what do you believe – what actions do you believe the future administration of the United States of America should take in order to resolve the current financial crisis?
SECRETARY RICE: Okay. (Laughter.) Well, I’m no financial genius. But –
MS. MITCHELL: But the financial geniuses actually would have (inaudible). (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me tell you what my colleagues are trying to do. First of all, obviously, they’ve been trying to deal with the root causes in the financial crisis itself, trying to deal with bad assets, trying to improve liquidity for the banks, trying to deal with the credit – the fact that credit froze. And they’ve been trying – using a variety of means to do that, and that’s what they’re doing.
There also is a very big effort to make certain that the real economy, as people call it, doesn’t suffer from the effects of those – of that crisis. The President said Wall Street and Main Street, there’s a relationship here. And so when you talk about freezing up of credit, you’re talking about freezing up of credit for Americans to do the things that Americans need to do, whether it’s pay for college or buy a car or buy a house. And so they’ve been trying to deal with that. And obviously, the underlying problems of the housing market, they’ve been trying to deal with it.
But I think that probably one of the best things that has happened in this period is that the international community as a whole, has tried to respond as a whole. And so the importance of the G-20 meeting that took place here in Washington and the subsequent affirmations of the outcomes of that meeting that took place at APEC, and recently when the President – when I was with our Latin American colleagues in what’s called Pathways to Prosperity – is that we need to not throw out those elements of our economy or of the economic system that have served us well. You want to keep the possibilities for people to continue to invent and be creative and be entrepreneurial without a heavy overhang of too much regulation. Nobody says some regulation isn’t necessary, but too much regulation and you kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
There’s also a sense, and this is probably most important from an international standpoint, that we can’t deepen the crisis by protectionist measures and turning inward. And so when the G-20 said that they would reject protectionism, I had hoped that it would cause a new impetus for Doha. Because the strongest signal that the international community could send that the financial crisis and the economic slowdown have not led us to be protectionist, but could only deepen those problems – we learned that in the Great Depression – only deepen those problems. That’s the strongest signal that could be sent is to pass free trade agreements and to complete Doha.
So if I could – if I had to focus on one thing, it would be to try and keep the pledge not to engage in beggar-thy-neighbor policies and not to engage in protectionism. Because what we’ve learned is that the international economic system is so interlinked and so intertwined that if you have states that are engaging in protectionist policies or in beggar-their-neighbor, then the whole system is going to be at a risk. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
MS. MITCHELL: I think we have time for one more question. Should we go down there? Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: You mentioned your focus on reconstruction in countries after they have government – military intervention. What action, if any, can students take to assist in this reconstruction?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, you can – that’s also a very good question. Let me tell you first what we’re trying to do in terms of civilian Americans, which is that we’re trying to create something called the Civilian Response Corps, which will allow Americans who might be very expert at tax policy or budget execution or people who do rule of law and justice programs to actually be able to come for a year, keep your position open wherever you came from, do some training and – a couple of times a year, and be able to go out and deploy, not just to places like Iraq or Afghanistan, but also places like Haiti or Liberia or, hopefully, Sudan one day.
But as students, I would hope that you would do two things, one now and one in the future. The one now is to be really involved with a number of the good nonprofit institutions that are engaged across the world in everything from helping care for AIDS orphans or helping Afghan girls go to school. I mean, what a wonderful thing if schools here adopt schools there. So there’s a lot that you could do to send a signal and actual practical help to people who are trying to recover from the devastation of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They look to American citizens, not to the American government, but to American citizens through nonprofits, everything from the International Red Cross to Habitat for Humanity, which builds across the world. That kind of work – I think you would find it immensely encouraging and engaging and fulfilling to volunteer with nonprofits here that have international reach, and there are a lot of them.
Now, my challenge to you for the future would be, if you continue to be interested in international affairs, is to go learn languages, go study abroad, really become somebody who wants to bridge these gaps as an ambassador. I don’t mean in the large “A” ambassador sense. But go study abroad, learn a language, and then join the Foreign Service. (Laughter.) It’s a great career. And we need more people who want to give their lives, even if it’s for a while. If it’s not the Foreign Service, maybe it’s the Peace Corps. And if it’s not the Peace Corps, maybe it’s the American military. We’ve got the finest volunteer military in the world. But do public service. Take some time to do public service. I think it’s well worth your while.
I’m so grateful that I’ve had the chance and the honor of serving this country and of representing this country. You know, what you recognize when you are abroad, whether you’re Secretary of State or a student abroad, is the enormous fascination with America, the enormous reservoir of goodwill that we have abroad. But you also recognize some great things about our country. You know, there’s nothing like being abroad to understand your own country better and to appreciate it. You appreciate suddenly what it’s like to live in a country that just doesn’t tolerate difference and diversity, but actually thrives on it. And you recognize what it’s like to live in a country where you can be Mexican American or Korean American or African American and you’re still American, because in so much of the world difference is a license to kill. And you recognize, too, that you live in a country where people of modest circumstances of birth go on to do great and extraordinary things and class doesn’t get in the way. And you really learn to value that and you want to protect it more than anything. And so not only is it great to represent this country abroad and do what you can to advance its interests and its values, but it’s a great window on what it is to be American.
So to each and every one of you, particularly the young people here and those of you who’ve asked those great questions, try to spend some time abroad. You’ll love it. You’ll love being abroad, but you’ll love even more coming home. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. MITCHELL: Well, I have special thanks from all of us to the Secretary of State for taking the time and especially for so embracing, I think, the wonderful concept of having daughters and sons of Council members as our special guests today, because it, I think, created a wonderful exchange. And we thank you. We know that Condoleezza Rice is going to be writing and thinking and looking at our education system and returning to her beloved California and visiting us often. And we thank you very much and wish everyone a happy holiday. And as the Secretary exits, if you could just keep your seats and then everyone reconvene downstairs for our dinner reception. Thank you all very much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. (Applause.)
Released on December 19, 2008