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Rice: U.S. ‘pleased to stand down’ in Iraq

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged patience as Iraqis work through political differences and said the United States will leave once Iraq can safely stand on its own.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses Indonesian students, parliamentarians and businessmen on Wednesday, in Jakarta. She vowed to help fight terrorism in the region, warning that Islamic militants would turn the region into "a ring of fire" if not actively confronted.Ed Wray / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged patience as Iraqis work through political differences and said the United States will be “more than pleased to stand down” and leave the country once it can safely stand on its own.

“I think it’s time we stop saying that the Iraqis want to devolve into civil war. That’s not what they want,” Rice told an audience Wednesday that included Indonesian foreign policy scholars and government officials.

A member of Indonesia’s parliament had asked Rice when the United States intends to pull its forces out of Iraq, which like Indonesia is a majority-Muslim nation. Rice concluded a two-day visit to Indonesia with praise for the country’s transition to democracy from authoritarian rule.

“The longer you stay there it’s going to be as you see now,” the questioner told Rice, referring to the recent wave of sectarian violence.

“I believe that they are going to form a national unity government,” Rice said.

When that government is formed and there are sufficient Iraqi security forces to defend the country “you can be certain that we will be more than pleased to stand down and to have the Iraqis do it themselves.”

Patience urged
Rice accused “foreign terrorists” of fomenting violence in Iraq and said the world owes Iraqis patience and confidence that they can succeed.

“It is hard, there is no doubt about it,” Rice said. “These are people who have resolved their differences for most of their existence by force and coercion or oppression,” she said. “Now they are trying to resolve their differences, to bring together these various sectarian groups on the basis of compromise and politics. It’s very difficult to do that.”

Rice’s remarks echoed President Bush’s defense of U.S. policy in Iraq this week, as the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion approaches. Bush said progress was being made and he laid out a timetable, saying the goal was to have Iraqi security forces controlling more territory than coalition forces by the end of this year.

Rice plans her own speech on the topic later this week in Australia, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led invasion. Australia repeatedly has said it will keep forces in the country until they no longer are needed.

In Indonesia, Rice courted the moderate brand of Islam that prevails in the multiethnic country, but acknowledged that U.S. foreign policy is often unpopular in the Muslim world.

“I understand that the United States has had to do things in the world that are not that popular in much of the world,” Rice said in response to a question about anti-American sentiment that has arisen since the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Example of tolerance
Rice held up Indonesia as an example of tolerance, making an implicit contrast with extremist Muslim ideology and Islamic terrorism.

“I don’t think there’s any disagreement that we need to fight this common enemy,” Rice said. Terrorists have struck in Bali and Jakarta in recent years, including a fatal blast at the downtown hotel where Rice’s party stayed.

In a speech at the Indonesia World Affairs Council, she praised the country’s democratic reforms. She noted elections two years ago that saw the largest one-day turnout ever, with 117 million Indonesians voting.

“There were those who said that democracy could not be sustained,” the U.S. secretary said. “Indonesia silenced these doubts.”

Rice also challenged Indonesia and other nascent Asian democracies to “expand the peace, the opportunity and the freedom that we see in much of Southeast Asia to all of Southeast Asia.”

She encouraged them, in particular, to promote democracy in Myanmar. “So long as the proud people of this great nation remain oppressed, there can be no ’business as usual’ in Southeast Asia,” she said.

Run for president?
Security was tight at the speech venue where guests had been asked to arrive two hours in advance to clear various checks, and were kept inside the building after the speech until Rice’s motorcade had departed.

A prominent Indonesian businessman asked Rice whether she would run for president if asked.

“No. Not likely in my lifetime,” she quipped.

Separately, Rice said she was confident the United States eventually would get strong backing from other U.N. Security Council members despite division at the start of a U.S.-driven review of Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

The five permanent members of the Security Council remained deadlocked Tuesday over a statement on Tehran’s nuclear activities. Diplomats say Russia and China have refused to sign on to a unified set of demands to Iran, raising the threat of an impasse that could mean the U.S., Britain and France may not quickly win the strong action they seek from the powerful U.N. body.