Roundtable With Associated Press
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
December 15, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I thought that we’d spend a few moments discussing the work that we’re going to do in New York. I’ll leave in a few minutes to go to New York. Today, we will have a meeting that the British are sponsoring on Zimbabwe. And the purpose of that meeting is to review the situation in Zimbabwe, but I think the position of the United States is well known on this, that we’ve had sham elections there, we’ve had sham power-sharing talks, and nothing has come of it. And instead, we have a deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe on the political front as well as on the humanitarian front.
I’ve spent some time talking to various leaders over the weekend, but sooner or later the region, in the form of the SADC organization, and the regional states will need to bring more pressure to bear to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe. This simply can’t go on. And the countries of the region are at risk as well when you have something like a cholera epidemic. But of course, it wasn’t just cholera. It was, before that, the problem of migration, of refugees across the border. And so I expect a thorough discussion and report on what people have seen there.
The United States is doing everything we can to help. And in fact, I talked this morning with Henrietta Fore from USAID, and she reported that with good international effort, people are doing everything they can to get a handle on the situation in terms of the cholera. But we’re really, at this point, putting plugs in a dyke because the underlying problem is that the Mugabe regime has really lost all authority to continue to rule in Zimbabwe. And so – or Mugabe himself has. And so we are going to need to look at that situation.
We’ll spend the rest of the day on Middle East affairs. There’s a Quartet meeting. And we had the Quartet in Sharm el-Sheikh, which was historic, when we heard from the parties about their continuing commitment to the Annapolis process, their desire for international support. And at that meeting, the Quartet felt that it would be important to meet one last time during our transition, but also in the transition from the French presidency to the Czech presidency. So I look forward to that meeting, and I think we’ll also meet with some key Arab states after that.
Then, tomorrow, there will be a Security Council session on the Middle East. We’ve been working with the Russians, have co-sponsored a resolution with the Russians to adopt a Security Council resolution that is – indeed enshrines and supports the Annapolis process, the bilateral nature of the negotiations, the importance of not just negotiations but also the Roadmap obligations and building on-the-ground capacity for the Palestinian forces, security forces and institutions. And so that’s a really rather simple resolution, but it does put Annapolis in that long litany now of important Security Council resolutions supporting the peace process. Again, it’s co-sponsored with Russia, but I expect that there will be other states that will sign on.
Then I will attend a Contact Group meeting on Somalia, and then the Security Council session on piracy. And let me just for a moment distinguish between three elements that are related about piracy and Somalia but that are not the same issue. And there’s been a little bit of confusion that I’ve seen on this.
The first is on Somalia, there is the question of getting a proper peacekeeping force for Somalia to give greater strength and staying power to the AMISOM force that is already there, the Africa/AU force that is already there. Ethiopian forces are there. They’ve made clear that they’re not going to be able to stay for an extended period of time, but we are not yet ready with a Security Council resolution on the issue of peacekeeping forces because we need to – we’re working to see what kind of concept of operations the DPKO would bring forward. We also are working to see what troop contributors would be prepared to bolster and buttress a peacekeeping force. So that resolution is not ready and probably won’t be for some time, maybe even after the first of the year. Right now, we’re trying to sustain the African peacekeeping force there, but we are – the United States very much favors a proper UN peacekeeping force there, but we’re not ready for a resolution and we had no thoughts to do that during this period.
Secondly, there is the piracy issue at sea, and we will vote a resolution tomorrow on piracy. There is already a very strong resolution, 1813, which is an “all necessary means” resolution at sea, but there have been continuing questions about the legal authorities under which pirates would be held and under which they would be tried. The resolution tomorrow will deal with those issues, and the Security Council is going to have to have the Secretary General do some work because these are complicated international legal issues. But that is what the Security Council resolution is to address tomorrow.
We also believe that there needs to be – and this is the third issue. There needs to be the issue of – it’s really more of a kind of “hot pursuit” issue of land so that if pirates escape pursuit at sea they can’t simply go to land and be off limits there.
QUESTION: Is that part of the resolution?
SECRETARY RICE: That is – we’re discussing now how that might be reflected in a resolution. It’s really rather complicated, not just because of the authorities but because of the Transitional Federal Government and its status. There continue to problems even today in that regard. But we’re going to have a discussion of that. I’m going to talk with my colleagues when I get there about that set of authorities. But in any case, I wanted to make clear that there are separable issues here. The peacekeeping issue is not – obviously, the problems in Somalia contribute to the piracy issue and you want to stabilize Somalia with peacekeeping, but that was never intended to be a part of today’s – or tomorrow’s discussion.
So that’s what we’ll do during this rather intense period of very heavy use of the Security Council. So, all right.
MR. MCCORMACK: Who wants to start it off?
QUESTION: Before we do the UN questions, I did want to ask you just on two things from yesterday. We had the reports on the Stuart – the forthcoming Stuart Bowen report on Iraq reconstruction, and the President’s trip to Baghdad and the shoe incident. I wonder – both of those things coming at this – on – at the same time, essentially that the United States, for having spent $50 billion, has not restored services much beyond the level they were prior to the invasion and looting, and this, you know, sort of signature moment of a guy throwing a shoe and saying, you know, this is your goodbye present. What – why shouldn’t – why should Americans think that we have done a lasting and valuable thing in Iraq? And I know you’re going to say the removal of a tyrant, but beyond – beyond the change of --
SECRETARY RICE: The removal of a tyrant is a pretty big thing. Look, so a reporter threw a shoe, which, by the way, is a kind of sign of the freedom that people feel in Iraq, but somehow what was missed was the extraordinary moment for the President of the United States to go to Iraq, of all places, and to be received by a democratically elected Prime Minister, a democratically elected Presidency Council, with full honors at the Presidential Palace with the Iraqi band playing the national anthem of the United States of America. I think that is far more salient than one guy who decided to throw a shoe.
And I have to say that the weight of the story is about the President being able, after all of the difficulties and the ups and downs, to go to Iraq and to receive that kind of honor with an Iraqi Government that is preparing for provincial elections at the end of January, that an Iraq that is no longer ruled by a bloody tyrant who put 300,000 people in mass graves, who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and against his neighbors, who literally tried to absorb the state of Kuwait – for me, one of the extraordinary moments was to drive into Kuwait the last time and see the Iraqi flag flying voluntarily in Kuwait, an Iraq that will no longer be a threat to its neighbors, that has its best relations with Turkey ever, that is being integrated into the Arab community of states again, but this time as a Shia-majority, democratic government that is an avowed friend of the United States. That’s what that story is about. And frankly, I think it’s peculiar that any of you decided to focus on the shoe. So let me just close it there.
Now, in terms of Stuart Bowen’s report, we all know that there were problems with the reconstruction, an awful lot having to do with the security situation. And there’s a reason that it’s been easier to do reconstruction now that the security situation is more stable. I’ve said several times we simply didn’t have the right institution to do that – a reconstruction effort of that magnitude. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkans, we tried to do it through the UN, and it’s still a problem. Whatever it is – this is 18 years later. It’s still a problem. In Afghanistan, we tried to do it with the adopt-a-ministry approach, country by country, and I think we’re paying for some of the incoherence of that. So in Iraq, we tried to do it through a single department of the U.S. Government, the Defense Department, which really didn’t have the capability to do that.
And so what we’ve done is to create – or the President has created a Civilian Reserve Corps which would have all of the capacity that you would need to do that kind of major reconstruction effort. But the – we also changed the strategy to move to a more bottom-up, provincial-level reconstruction effort, focusing less on the center. And I think you’ll find that the Bowen report applauds the Provincial Reconstruction Team concept and the fact that that does deliver services and governance at a local level.
So yes, it’s been very hard in Iraq, and much harder than I thought. And there’s been tremendous sacrifice in Iraq, and those lives are never going to be brought back. But when you see the President of the United States welcomed in Iraq by a democratically elected prime minister, who is himself a Shia but leading a multiconfessional, multiethnic democracy in the center of the Arab world and in the center of the Middle East, I think you have to say that the very nature of the Middle East itself has been changed by the American decision to finally deal with Saddam Hussein after more than a decade – decades, two decades of struggling with him as a security problem.
QUESTION: Why do you think it was much harder than you thought?
SECRETARY RICE: Because I think – I know I didn’t – don’t think that I fully understood how broken a society this was underneath that great dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. And one of the problems that the post-war reconstruction had, or the post-war period had, is we planned, we planned a lot. We had plans for the Ministry of Health, for the Ministry of Education, for the Ministry of Agriculture, for the army, for local governance structures. And I personally remember with the Ministry of Oil, for which we planned a lot, that it just dissolved when it was – when Saddam Hussein was overthrown. It was almost as if there was – the ministries were so much his personal henchmen and not ministries in the true sense, and I think we probably underestimated that.
QUESTION: Do you think the Administration has managed to fix the institutional failings that you described at the beginning of why it wasn’t able – why it didn’t work in Iraq and it hasn’t worked as well in Afghanistan? Has that been fixed?
SECRETARY RICE: I think we’ve got structures that will work better now. The – in two ways. First of all, the ability to marry our military forces with our civilian component through Provincial Reconstruction Teams is an innovation. And in Iraq, they are actually embedded – the diplomats and aid workers and so forth – with the Combat Brigade Teams. And that recognizes something that I think is just – it’s so true in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s true in a lot of other places too, is there’s a continuum between war and peace. It’s not war, you end war, and then you start the peace. When you’re doing counterinsurgency work, you very often will have to defeat terrorists, put in place governance and police structures and do the reconstruction right there on – to keep them from coming back. And so it’s really something that has to be married, and I think Provincial Reconstruction Teams and the fact that they work from the bottom up, not the top down, is very important. I think we’ve learned that capitals are important, regions and provinces are more important.
Secondly, I do believe the Civilian Response Corps – and what happened was that the Defense Department had to try through kind of contract to go out and hire techs – people and, you know, people who could help with police training and people – and it really didn’t work. To have a trained group of American civilians who almost – so, by the way, it started to devolve to the National Guard to have to do it or the Reserves to have to do it. You’re never going to have in the Department of State diplomats who know how to do all of those things. It would be –wouldn't make sense. And you’re never going to have the numbers in the U.S. Government as a whole that you need to do those things.
But if you have Americans who, for a couple of weeks training a year plus some guarantees of what would happen if they leave their work for a year to go work on police training in Liberia or budget execution in Mosul, you have a cadre of people to whom you can turn. And I think, you know, we did our best with insufficient structures. But when you realize that probably the biggest threats that you’re going to face are going to be failing states – not strong ones, failing states – then the need to help states build capacity becomes a real national security priority, and you have to organize differently to do it.
It’s not soft power. I don’t think that’s the right term for it, because actually it’s the marriage of security and capacity and governance that makes states strong and stable. And I think we now have the right structures to do that. And the President requested in the ’09 budget 1,100 new Foreign Service officer and 300 new USAID workers and full funding for the Office of Stabilization and Reconstruction. And I believe the new team will carry that forward. But we’ve done a lot of work to get these structures right, and I think they finally are.
QUESTION: But the cost in terms of lives and in terms of the money and the abuse of money – (inaudible) was money wasted, there was money that was siphoned off, corruption and that kind of thing, you’re --
SECRETARY RICE: Not of American money. Not American money. I don’t think that you will find that anybody is arguing that there was corruption in the American programs. The programs didn’t achieve many of the goals that they wanted to achieve in terms of, you know, bringing electricity up, but let me just give you an example on electricity. If we had the best reconstruction program in the world, the fact that Saddam Hussein used his power grid to produce 100 percent coverage in Baghdad and as little as 8 percent coverage in some other places, capacity in other places, you would not have been able to deal with that problem. So what happened was that we started out with expectations about what was needed in terms of electricity, learned that, in fact, you didn’t have enough electricity to cover the country in an even way, evenhanded way – yeah, you could light up Baghdad, but you couldn't do the whole country because the grid was so creaky from years and years of lacking in investment, and way the way, also because of the sanctions themselves – the sanctions under which we had – the Oil-for-Food sanctions had deprived Iraq of a lot of contact and capacity. It was a system that was just very, very broken.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask that – you believe that the cost in lives and money was -- -- was worth it for the result that we see yesterday that the President had a shoe --
SECRETARY RICE: I think nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. And as I said, you know, it’s – I think those lives will never return. But the Middle East was the place from which the most devastating attack against America came. And you could have taken this in the narrowest way, which was to try to bring down al-Qaida, which we have gotten -- tried to do -- I mean, we have tried to bring them down. They’re not yet down, but they certainly are not the same organization that did 9/11.
But ultimately, you weren’t going to deal with this terrorist problem unless you started to change the very nature of the Middle East itself, and Iraq is at the center of that.
Do you think that the Middle East remains the greatest threat incubator or has that shifted to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I actually think the Middle East is far better in this regard than it was when we came on all – on many fronts, whether it’s the Palestinian-Israeli side or Iraq or the fact that Saudi Arabia, which really didn’t take on its terrorism threat until really May of 2005 and now has become extremely aggressive against it.
Yeah, I think the Middle East is a – is far less the place from which there are threats. Now, yes, there are problems in other part of the world. But in an ideological sense, a philosophical sense, for al-Qaida to have to fight its wars or its terrorism from the periphery of the caliphate, rather than from its center, is not inconsequential.
QUESTION: On the Middle East and specifically on the Israeli-Palestinian question and what you’re going to be voting on, you’re hoping to have this resolution done tomorrow? Is this – this is intended to lock in Annapolis as --
SECRETARY RICE: It’s to do what Sharm did.
SECRETARY RICE: It – yeah, but the parties have made clear that they want to continue on the basis of Annapolis. The Quartet has made clear that it wants to continue on the basis of Annapolis. And now, the Security Council will make clear that that is the basis going forward.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any indication that the incoming administration will stay the course on this, that they don’t want to come up and try their own (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m not going to speak for the incoming administration, and I’m sure that there will be decisions about tactics and how to do it. But I’ve heard no one suggest that a commitment of Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate on all issues, all the core issues, until they reach a comprehensive agreement with Arab support and international support is a bad thing.
QUESTION: Do you think that the next administration is going to have a better shot at getting the deal you had once hoped to get (inaudible?)
SECRETARY RICE: I think that a lot of the fundaments are in place, and the political situation in Israel will have to resolve, but it will, because they’ll have elections. It appears for the time being at least that – or at least we’ve heard from the Arabs, that there isn’t much question about President Abbas stepping down (inaudible) on January 9th, so that is resolved. So – and I think the parties have made significant progress on the core issues. As they say, nothing is agreed till everything is agreed. But they have made a lot of progress. And, from time to time, you will hear them say that they’ve made more progress than even they did at Camp David. So that should give you a hint of the kinds of things they’re doing.
QUESTION: Can I take you back to Somalia briefly?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: A couple questions: On the piracy part of it, why do you think, if you do, that having authority to pursue pirates on land is a good thing? And secondly, the broader question about Somalia, with the strength -- the recent strengthening of the insurgency essentially has control of a large section of the country. It kinds of looks in some ways like it’s going in the direction that Afghanistan went, in the sense of the – you know, ten years ago or more – with losing control of a failed state (inaudible). And are you concerned that you’re leaving -- the Administration is leaving with a country that’s going in the wrong direction would you say?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I would argue that one the other way: Where did we come in on Somalia? I think some positive things have happened in Somalia. It’s been touch and go and it’s always very, very fragile. But you know, two years ago we were talking about no – the government, the Transitional Federal Government, was sitting across the border in Kenya. It couldn’t even get in. And you’ll remember that there was the Ethiopian Christmas offensive against the Islamic Courts. That was two years ago, when we were talking about the Islamic Courts in control of Somalia.
So again, it is not where it needs to be. But I do believe that if you can get a peacekeeping force that has some staying power -- and the Ethiopians essentially don’t want to stay in Mogadishu. And I – you know, they’re a lightning rod there, and we understand that. But there are also Ugandans and Burundians there and there are other states that may be prepared to bring their forces in, but I think they won’t do it unless there’s a blue helmet. And that’s why we’ve been pressing for a concept of operations from DPKO. You could then take the concept of operations and gather enough troop contributors and then go for a Security Council resolution. So I have to say: Yes, I worry about Somalia, but we’ve done a lot of counterterrorism work there in conjunction with the East Africans. I think we’ve made it difficult for terrorist leadership to congregate there, through counterterrorism efforts that we and the East African states have carried out. But it hasn’t been an easy – it hasn’t been a governed place since 1993.
QUESTION: Well, on the pirate question --
SECRETARY RICE: So let’s put this in the right perspective.
QUESTION: Why would that be a good thing?
SECRETARY RICE: You just don’t want them to be able to escape capture or consequences at sea and go to land into which it is admittedly a space that is not very effectively governed. So it’s going to be important to have some kind of authority to deal with it on land.
QUESTION: Are you confident that you have full Pentagon backing for that operation?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the -- we have had several principals meetings, and the Pentagon has been in the meetings, and the principals have decided that this is something that we wish to pursue. And we wouldn’t be pursuing it at the UN if we didn’t have NSC, National Security Council, backing to do it.
QUESTION: But there have been a few notes of caution since the --
SECRETARY RICE: Look, I’m cautious, all right. I’m very cautious. And nobody wants to suggest that what we are talking about here is putting American or anybody’s forces on land. Everybody has the image of ’92, ’93, including me. And that is not what’s being talked about here. And I don’t think anybody wants to get into a situation in which forces are trying to – other than peacekeeping forces, are trying to operate on Somali territory.
QUESTION: Have you asked the Ethiopians to stay on? And, if so, will they stay on a little bit longer than the December 31st deadline, because if they --
SECRETARY RICE: That’s my mike. It’s not a good thing to mess around with. I’m --
QUESTION: Because if they leave, the – that force basically collapses. You’re right that Uganda and Burundi are there, but they’ve been very small numbers.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and they’ve been very clear that they need Ethiopian support. That’s why we’ve got to work more rapidly toward this peacekeeping --
QUESTION: Right. I mean, they’re talking about pulling out by the end of the year. Is that --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I – we’re trying to talk to everybody to see if there’s a prospect that this peacekeeping force can get done relatively soon, that we can hold the forces in place until it’s done.
QUESTION: And -- the Ethiopian force --
SECRETARY RICE: Including, yeah.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you view the Six-Party process as stalled?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would consider it as not yet having achieved what it needs to achieve. But it’s been through these ups and downs before. You know, this is – it’s sort of par for the course for the North Koreans. But let me make very clear what has happened here.
First of all, we do have agreement of the five parties on what a verification protocol should look like, and we have a agreement with the North Koreans on what a verification protocol should look like. The problem is that there are -- in addition to the protocol itself, there are certain understandings that have to be clear, written down, in order to make sure that there is no about what certain terms mean. And that’s where this became a problem with the North Koreans. They gave us certain assurances in private – well, not even in private, in the negotiating record. We have made those assurances known to the other parties. But the North Koreans have as of yet refused to write them down in the formal document, which is what we think needs to happen. So that’s the problem.
We have to complete – we’d like to complete the disabling and the fuel shipments. But the fuel shipments are not going forward at this point because this all has to be a package – disablement, verification, fuel shipments. So we’ll keep working on it. But that’s the issue.
QUESTION: And are you on the same page as the South Koreans on the repercussions?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you expect Iran to be at all or much of a subject for your UN discussions? And can you talk just sort of generally about now three years, I guess, into the UN Security Council process, are you at all disappointed that it didn’t have a more pronounced effect on Iran itself, which has seemed to have said they would just ignore no matter what you did?
SECRETARY RICE: The Iranians are paying real costs for their behavior.
And it hasn’t yet convinced them that they ought to change their course, but there are plenty of voices being heard inside that government that are talking about the costs and about whether or not they’ve made a mistake in getting themselves so deeply isolated. Just look at the state of the Iranian economy. Just look at the fact that they are unable to get now any investment from foreign companies, from Western companies, in their oil infrastructure or refining capacity.
QUESTION: Would --
SECRETARY RICE: The banks won’t deal with them. This is – they’re paying a lot of costs. And what I’m pleased about is that we’ve been able to put that structure in place and to impose those costs, because they’re about to have an election. We’ll see what happens in their election. But sooner or later, they’re going to have to deal with the fact, particularly with declining oil prices, that these costs are going to become pretty acute.
QUESTION: That’s sort of a long-term, take-it-on faith response, though. I mean, if – true, Iran is – has had to change some of its international banking operations, but there – certainly there’s been no specific, measurable effect on the current regime and --
SECRETARY RICE: Anne, I just said their economy is in very desperate condition.
QUESTION: Well, they continue to reprocess --
SECRETARY RICE: They continue to --
QUESTION: -- and get closer to --
SECRETARY RICE: I said -- I said they’re playing – they are paying a cost. We will see whether or not the costs that they’re paying, at some point, start to change their decision (inaudible). But the – they’re paying a great cost in terms of investment and the ability – Total was the last company to deal with them, and they’re gone. So sometimes you have to impose the cost and see if – see when, and wait for a response to that. And I think the diplomacy has done precisely that, and we’ll see what response you start to get.
QUESTION: And it is worth continuing?
SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely, it’s worth continuing.
QUESTION: The P-5+1?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: But you --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, not only do I think it’s worth continuing, I think the P-5+1 thinks it’s worth continuing. Because this really is – the strategy here is not an American strategy; it’s a strategy that Europe, Russia, China, and the United States are all signed onto. And you know, we have to remember that the Iranian refusal to stop their enrichment and reprocessing predates even the P-5+1. That’s why the Europeans left the negotiations – or called off the negotiations to begin with was because the Iranians insisted on reprocessing and enrichment.
But at the same time that that – that they’re doing that, we have, of course – they’re in a much more difficult situation in terms of Iraq. They did everything that they could to stop the strategic forces arrangements. They couldn’t do it. Their allies lost in Basra, flat out lost. The Iranians find themselves, I think, unable to operate as effectively in Iraq because we’ve been very aggressive against their agents.
And finally, the Iranians find themselves with significantly improved defensive capabilities all around them in the Gulf, as we have helped countries from UAE to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain improve their defensive capabilities, and by the way, Israel as well.
QUESTION: Do you think that the Iranian leadership has made some sort of a strategic decision to knock off some of the activities that you have accused them of in Iraq -- I mean specifically the Qods Force and the EFPs?
SECRETARY RICE: I think that it was getting to be a very tough business, given that we pursue them and pursue them hard. Ryan Crocker told them that, when he met with his counterpart the last time, your people are not safe in Iraq as long as they’re trying to harm our people. And we’ve carried through on that.
QUESTION: So for their own safety --
SECRETARY RICE: I don’t think it’s goodwill.
QUESTION: Speaking of Ryan, is he – does he still plan to leave, or are you hoping that he stays on for a period of time?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, Ryan has served really – he’s been one of the most incredible diplomats I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. But I know he wants to move on, and hopefully he can do that relatively soon.
QUESTION: Is that something, though, that you would like to address in your time left or --
SECRETARY RICE: We’re talking --
QUESTION: -- that’s something that you’d leave --
SECRETARY RICE: We’re talking – we’re talking to the incoming administration about it. But I just think that Ryan has served in a very, very difficult post under extremely difficult circumstances, and he’s done it with skill and dedication and commitment and good humor. But he’s made it clear that he’d like his time to come to a close, and I think we owe him -- the country owes him that.
Can I ask you a quick question on Pakistan?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
There have been a number of incidents recently where the supply convoys – American supply convoys have come under attack. Is there a need to consider alternatives? And is Russian airspace an option still? Is that something you’re --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, we’ve worked out some arrangements with the Russians through NATO that are helpful in this regard. That’s being – it’s being looked at – it’s being looked at with the Pakistanis. I don’t have anything for you on the answer to it, but it’s obviously something of a concern. There have been some significant discussions with – between the ISAF and Pakistan and the U.S. about how to deal with the situation.
QUESTION: Can I take you back real quickly --
MR. MCCORMACK: Guys, you have about two, three more.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question on Iran and Iraq. It kind of sounds like maybe you’re suggesting that you’ve sort of turned a corner in terms of reducing Iranian influence in Iraq, that it’s a change in significance in the last --
SECRETARY RICE: Iran will have influence. They’re a neighbor. They’re a big state. They’ll have influence. That’s okay. But what we have to – and we have to have – continue to work at it, it’s not done yet – but Iran was training violent special groups to go after coalition forces and go after innocent Iraqis. And it came to a head in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces defeated them. They defeated them. Now, that’s a major change.
QUESTION: So if they went back to Iran, the question is will they come back? I mean, do you anticipate more trouble from --
SECRETARY RICE: No, I think the stronger the Iraqi security forces get, the harder it’s going to be for the Iranians to contemplate something like that. Because it’s one thing to deal with coalition forces; it’s quite another to have to take on Iraqi security forces which are getting stronger every day and are battle-hardened and, by the way, becoming more effectively equipped and so forth. I think Iraq is not yet there, but they’re going to be to the place that they can defend their borders. And so that’s very important.
So, you know, there’s still work to do. But I think you can argue that they didn’t fare well. And when I say that their influence -- when I talk about how hard they worked to undermine the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement, I think you see that the Iraqis are quite an independent state and quite an independent people. And they’ll do what they see in their best interest. And that’s probably ultimate – by the way, the best bulwark against Iranian influence in the region – Iranian – malign Iranian influence in the region.
Geostrategically, Iraq has always been the Arab world’s bulwark against undo Iranian influence in the Gulf and in the Middle East as a whole. The only problem was it was Saddam Hussein, and from time to time he would instead – yeah, he would go to war against Iran, but from time to time he would do something like absorb Kuwait, or use weapons of mass destruction, even against Iranians, and threaten its neighbors and be unable to keep control of its north so the PKK was running wild on the border against the Turks. And what has now happened, geostrategically, is Iraq is rebuilding itself as a strong Arab state. But it’s a multi-confessional democracy where Shia have a decent chance for political expression -- that’s a first in the Arab world – where they aren’t going to use weapons of mass destruction or even posses them, where their neighbors are reengaging them – and I want to reemphasize, the Egyptian Foreign Minister had not been to Iraq in 30 years. And where Iraq is still a bulwark now geostrategically against Iran, but with all – without all of the downsides of Saddam Hussein. And that’s a fundamentally different Middle East. And yes, as a – you know, you get – international politics doesn’t just take place in a vacuum. The structures of the international system matter. And a Middle East with that Iraq at its center is different than a Middle East with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at its center.
QUESTION: On Russia, what do you think of a Russian warship visiting Cuba? And more broadly, aside from the bluster, has anything improved since August in relations?
SECRETARY RICE: With U.S.-- U.S. relations with Russia – I think they didn’t do in Georgia. In fact, I think it was a – we imagine that they didn’t get really any of their strategic goals.
Yes, they are sitting in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are responsible for Ossetia and South-- and Abkhazia, and with the resounding support of Nicaragua and Hamas. And we’re going to have to keep working on the Georgia issue. But they didn’t overthrow the Georgian Government, they didn’t overthrow Georgian democracy, they didn’t destroy the Georgian economy, and in fact, they did little more than call into question what kind of partner Russia is.
But that said, we’ve had a lot of cases of cooperation since then. I mentioned the joint sponsorship of the Middle East resolution. We’ve had excellent help from the Russians at North Korea – with North Korea on the Six-Party Talks. We are working the piracy issue pretty closely with them. We’re continuing to look at the nuclear issues with them -- the nuclear arms control issues with them. So the relationship is workable, and I think at that stage – at this stage, that’s a good thing.
As to Russian warships, I saw them when I went across the canal the other day. I guess they’re on R & R. It’s fine. The United States doesn’t have an exclusivist view of our relations with the countries in the Western Hemisphere. Russia is welcome to have relations with the countries of the Western Hemisphere. I don’t think that anybody thinks the balance of power has been upset, military power has been upset because there are a few Russian warships in the canal. I don’t think anybody’s confused about the preponderance of power in the Western Hemisphere. And I’ve said very clearly that, you know, a few aging Blackjacks flying unarmed along the coast of Venezuela is – I don’t know why one would do it, but I’m not particularly going to lose sleep over that.
Now, where there are problems – and it is arms to a country like Venezuela, which has such difficult relations with some of its neighbors in a security sense. But we – I don’t have that problem with Russia having good relations, even military-to-military contacts in the region. That’s fine.
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll take one or two more questions.
QUESTION: Yeah, a little bit along the same lines. When Russia invaded Georgia, they moved quickly, and one could argue they moved preemptively, the President instituted a policy of preemption six, seven years ago now. Do you think that works in 2008? And is it something that this administration should be carrying forward, or are there problems with it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what the President said is, we won’t allow threats to materialize against us before we act. And in the wake of September 11th, that was –necessary. I don’t really think that Georgia was a threat to Russian security, and so I don’t think that the argument obtains when one talks about the situation in Georgia. To the degree that their peacekeepers were in danger, they had plenty of options. I don’t see where going and effectively setting up checkpoints on major Georgian roads or going to Gori was in any way associated with a doctrine of protection – protecting Russia. So I don’t think the argument for Georgia makes very much sense.
But as to the question of whether or not you still have to act against threats before they multiply and become – and there’s an actual attack, I don’t think there’s any doubt that that is something that the United States will want to maintain and, by the way, has had as a policy for many, many, many years in the past. It’s a question of how – no one will want to let threats materialize. It’s a question of how imminent do you think a threat is, and the point the President was making is in the modern era, with terrorists and potentially terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, the question of imminence has to be looked at differently.
MR. MCCORMACK: Last one.
QUESTION: You touched on this just a few minutes ago on the Middle East, but are there a couple things that you would like to see the incoming administration tackle early, in which you think they may have a better shot of getting something done if they begin early?
SECRETARY RICE: I will talk to people and give them my views. But the administration will have to decide its priorities. I can’t advise them on that.
I just think that the Annapolis process, because it is both bottom-up and top-down is most – the most likely chance we have to bring about the two-state solution that the President has talked so much about.
For many, many years, people tried to solve the question of the borders of the Palestinian state, what percentage of the land would Israel give, and so forth and so on. But the President’s innovation was to worry a lot also about what would be the composition of that state. A state – a Palestinian state, whatever its borders, run by a corrupt, terrorist-associated Yasser Arafat was unlikely to be a net addition to peace and security in the Middle East.
Now, a state that is run by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad that has decent security institutions, decent economic institutions, a government that isn’t corrupt, a government that really has renounced violence, that isn’t dealing with terrorists, that’s fighting terrorists. That composition, when you finally do determine the borders, is likely to be a net contributor to peace and security in the region. And that’s why Annapolis tries to deal with both parts of this. And it’s no secret that one of the people who has been most involved on the – the building the institutions bottom-up is Jim Jones. And so I think they’ll determine their own priorities. But the international community has blessed and the Arabs have blessed this structure, and I think in some form, that is the basis on which eventually a Palestinian state will be born.
QUESTION: We’ve got a pretty historic day coming up in 36 days. Are you planning to attend the inauguration?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I’ll watch it on television. (Laughter.) But I will watch.
QUESTION: From here?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I’ll still be in Washington. Yes.
QUESTION: From here? Are you really staying – you’re going to stay in here until 12 noon? Are you going to be at home watching this?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m not telling you where I’m going to be. It’s a state secret. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Fuzzy slippers. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You and the Vice President will be holed up (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Great.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thanks very much.
Released on December 15, 2008