Video: Foreign-policy challenges

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/8/2005 2:51:44 PM ET 2005-02-08T19:51:44

NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday regarding a wide range of subjects, from the Middle East Summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, to European relations, to "regime change" in Iran, to being a female secretary of state. Here is a full transcript of the interview.

Q: Here you are in Rome. The Middle East summit is taking place. There have been so many attempts at peace in the Middle East. Why should this, after 10 cease-fires, why should this cease-fire be any different?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly the many failed attempts to take advantage of historic opportunities should be a very strong signal that it takes hard work and that there is still a hard road ahead in the Middle East. But there are some fundamental differences this time. You have a new Palestinian leadership that is devoted to a peaceful resolution of the conflict that in fact believes that the violent intifada is not the way forward for peace and has been categorical in saying that. You have the Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza, which represents an opportunity to seize on the Israelis’ historic decision that they must give up land in order to have peace. So there are some fundamental differences here, but it’s still a long road ahead. I have to say I was impressed with the singleness of purpose of both (Palestinian Authority) President (Mahmoud) Abbas and (Israeli) Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon, who both seem to realize what an historic opportunity is before them.

Q: Palestinians are demanding a much greater prisoner release than Israel has been willing to do. Should Israel release thousands of these prisoners, many of whom have committed terrorist acts?

SECRETARY RICE: It really isn’t the place of the United States to tell a democratically elected Israeli government what prisoners to release. We do know that prisoner release is an important part of a package of getting to an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But there are obligations and responsibilities on both sides.

The Palestinians really must fight terror and fight it in a way so that there can be permanent peace. The Israelis have obligations to not somehow forestall future decisions through acts that are unilateral and that might prejudge a final status agreement. So there are obligations on both sides. I think the good thing is that when they meet in Sharm el-Sheik, they will be able to put all of their concerns on the table. They can talk about whatever is on their minds and they can begin the slow process of coming to terms with one another.

Q: A lot of people think that that won’t happen without the United States’ putting them together in a room and forcing them to make concessions and to do the give and take. Why aren’t you there today?
It’s a very good thing when the parties can make progress on their own. And they’ve sustained a very good momentum over the last couple of weeks. And it’s a very good thing when the regional actors, Egypt and Jordan, are involved in this way because they are going to have to be party to this — they are going to have to support any agreement.

The United States is very involved. I was just there with the prime minister and with the president. I’ve talked to my Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts. We’ve appointed a security coordinator to help the parties move forward on the all-important issue of security, and so the United States is going to be and is very involved, but I don’t think it’s important for us to be at every meeting. Sometimes it is really crucial that the parties — or the parties and regional actors — move along on their own.
Video: Rice attempts to mend fences

Q: In Paris today, you agreed to talk about democracy and expand on the president’s themes from his inaugural address. What would you like to see the Europeans do? What more do you want from them?
SECRETARY RICE: We all have to first and foremost accept the obligation that all of us have who were lucky enough or are lucky enough to live on the right side of freedom’s divide to support and to promote the aspirations of those who are not yet free to be free. It’s an attitude, a change of our view of our own obligations.

Secondly, there are a lot of things that we can do to help the Afghans and the Iraqis in terms of training security forces, in terms of reconstruction assistance, capacity building for ministries and institutions that are fledgling institutions that need to get started.

And, of course, we have international forum in which we can support civil society, business groups, women’s groups like the Forum for the Future coming out of the president’s broader Middle East initiative, which brings those groups together from countries that are aspiring to freedom with countries that have long lived in freedom.

There’s a great deal more that we can do. We’ve already done a lot, but there is much more to do, and I look forward to talking to our European allies about how we put this great alliance, that faced down tyranny before and saw the emergence of a Europe whole and free, how we put this alliance to work on behalf of the great goal of freedom.

Q: Some people might suggest that you’re going into the belly of the beast by going to Paris, meeting with President Chirac, confronting the French, who were the most critical of our policy in Iraq. How do you end the disagreements, strong disagreements?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s clearly time to put behind the differences of the past. That’s not what we’re going to be judged by; we’re going to be judged by our achievements. And I intend to go to Paris to talk about what we have done together; that’s a lot: The French have been very active in Afghanistan; we and the French sponsored a resolution on Lebanon against Syrian interference there. We will be involved and have been involved in the Middle East.

I know that there were differences in the past principally over Iraq, but now with the Iraqi people having expressed very strongly that they will take the opportunity of their liberation to try and build a free and democratic Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, I think we have a lot to do together, and I think we and France and Germany and Britain, the entire trans-Atlantic alliance, will look to the future, not to the past.

Q: There are still disagreements over China, over whether or not there should be a continued arms embargo over China and over Iran principally. The Europeans believe that the president in his inaugural address was in fact promoting regime change in Iran. What can you say to them about what U.S. policy is? Are we telling the Iranians that they should rise up and rebel against their government?
SECRETARY RICE: We’re telling the Iranian people that they’ve not been forgotten in the efforts to spread freedom and democracy around the world. The Iranian people are a sophisticated people with a great culture and a great heritage and tradition. They are people that have demonstrated time and again that they want to live under democratic principles, and yet they live under an unelected few who are frustrating those aspirations, and this message to them — a message, by the way, that I think is being echoed in other places — is that the behavior of the Iranian regime internally is a concern for those of us in the trans-Atlantic alliance, that we’re not going to forget that.

Q: You called [the Iranian regime] loathsome …
Well, the human rights abuses in Iran are. You cannot summarily in effect execute young women for certain kinds of behaviors and not consider that to be loathsome. You cannot throw the reformists in jail with really no process and not consider that to be loathsome.

Q: Some of our allies — Egypt, Saudi Arabia — do the same thing without that kind of harsh criticism from you and the president.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’ve been very clear that we expect a lot from our friends as well. And we are seeing throughout the Middle East that the conversation is changing about what must be done. That even at the Arab League meetings last year, there was a conversation about reform.

That is why when the American president puts something on the agenda of this sort, it begins to change the way that people talk and the way that people behave. But the Iranian regime is special in its internal behavior and in its external behavior, that it seeks nuclear weapons, that is engaged in supporting the very terrorists who are trying to destroy the peace process that we’ve just been talking about.

Q: One of the Iranian leaders was quoted in USA Today as saying that “the U.S. would not dare to attack us. We have got used to this nonsense” — this is quoting Rafsanjani. “Miss Rice is a bit emotional. She talks tough, but she cannot be tough herself.”
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we ought to be emotional about people who live essentially in bondage. We ought to be. Because those of us who are lucky enough to have been born on the right side of freedom’s divide have an obligation to those who are still caught on the other side of that divide to care about their progress.

But the United States believes that our concerns about Iran can be resolved diplomatically as long as there is unity of purpose, as long as there is unity of message to the Iranians, we believe that we have diplomatic solutions here.

Q: Do you think that you as a woman secretary of state are treated differently? There is press coverage here in Europe. One headline called you “coquettish” with Chancellor Schroeder in Germany. Here you’ve got Rafsanjani in Iran saying that you are “emotional.” Is there an extra burden that a woman in your position carries where you are interpreted and viewed within a certain framework?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know, and I don’t think much about it. I will do what I do. I’m a package — I’m who I am, and that includes being female. But I think as secretary of state I’ve got a job to do. I’m delighted that I have an opportunity at this historic time to try and help the president, to try and help our friends and allies move on this historic agenda. It’s a great time for those of us who believe in these values. It’s a challenging time. There are a lot of difficulties and a lot of hard times ahead, but if we put our best efforts to it, if we put our minds to it, I believe that we have a chance to leave a more permanent peace and, most importantly, a balance of power that favors freedom.

Thank you very much Madam Secretary.
Thank you.

The complete transcript of this interview was provided by the U.S. Department of State.


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