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Rice Talks To CBS News, Part II

On Sept. 28, 2007, the CBS News editorial board interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Below is a transcript of the second part of the interview:

Click here for part I.

QUESTION: There's some news today, I think, about Blackwater. There's -- I think the State Department has discovered there's a number of incidents where they've been involved in kind of sketchy situations. Is there any plan to either reduce their role vis-à-vis what they do now in guarding the State Department people and others in Iraq or giving them different marching orders?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't want to comment on any specific stories that are coming out about that during the period of investigation because that investigation needs to maintain its integrity. And when it's done, we'll look at the outcomes of it and see where we are. But what I have done because I am concerned about the overall picture of contract security, how we use it -- we obviously have to be able to protect our people and our people have to be able to move and they have to be able to move in extremely complex security circumstances. And these people have protected us and they've even lost many of their own people protecting us.

But I am concerned about the overall picture. And John Negroponte is on point for me at State, particularly since I've been here, but I went back to Washington yesterday -- I'm losing track of the days -- and I had a meeting with everybody. We are sending a team out to take a look at the full operation. I said I wanted a full 360-degree look, I wanted it to be probing, I want to know what concerns there may be.

I am looking also to a more senior -- to an outside panel of senior people. I don't think we've named the names yet.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can actually go out and check to see if we've done that yet - if we've done that quite yet.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, okay. Sometime later today, we're going to name these -- the people. And so this team that's going out would then do the groundwork to inform the deliberations of this senior outside panel which would then report recommendations back to me on what we -- how the structure looks and what we need to do to improve it. Because we don't have any desire to have incidents of that kind. It's harmful to what we're trying to do and so we need to make sure that we know exactly how this is done.

I have also directed in the interim that there be a reaffirmation of the rules and authorities and reporting that is necessary under which we're currently operating while we look at the procedures more generally. And the Director of Diplomatic Security sent out that requirement not just to Baghdad but also to Kabul, where we use contract security, and to places where there's a significant chance of use of force, several of our embassies around the world that have that profile, that security profile.

So we're going to look at this and look at it very, very carefully. We're going to look at it 360. I want to do that and have to keep that separate from the investigation of this specific incident because we need to preserve the integrity of that so that we are in a position to take whatever next steps may need to be taken on the specifics of this incident.

QUESTION: You want to talk about the Israel-Palestinian issue and whether Olmert and Abbas are strong enough to make it happen on your time clock?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, what's my time clock? You mean while we're still in office (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Not the next 20 minutes?

SECRETARY RICE: Right, right. I'm -- here, guardedly optimistic that a couple of things are coming together. I think that the bilateral track, meaning the discussions between Olmert and Abbas, are gathering a certain momentum and showing a certain maturity. Now, you know, I would not have given you any bet back in February when we had that very difficult trilateral where they were barely ready to speak to each other, let alone speak about anything of importance, that we would be where we are. So that track has matured, I think, more rapidly than we might have thought.

The prospect of an international meeting has focused them also on wanting to be able to memorialize some of the understandings that they may come to between themselves and they've now got the negotiating teams, so they're going to try to do that. So that's one piece of it.

The second piece of it is that I think that the Arab states -- and we had very good meetings during this whole period of time. I think you probably saw that Prince Saud said that he was encouraged, which was a step forward. The Arab states want this to work because I think they believe that the -- if the bilateral track gets support and if they do have some understandings that they want to put forward, it will be very helpful to Abbas if he's got the support of the Arabs.

No Palestinian leader can make some of the decisions that a Palestinian leader will have to make in order to get a state without the support of the Arabs. And so this time, we very carefully had the Arabs as a part of the process moving forward. So I do think we're -- it's moving along. There is a certain momentum to it. The Blair mission has also helped people focus on the institutions of statehood, the building of capacity to govern. You're not going to build -- you're not going to decide to have a Palestinian state and have no ability to govern it on the other side.

And so having that come the -- the piece that I think we need to work more on is the kind of day-to-day life of the Palestinians, which is still a very hard thing because of the security issues. But yeah, I think it's moving together in those three tracks and moving together rather well.

QUESTION: Well, the elephant in the room, then, is Gaza.


QUESTION: Assume for a second all of that stuff works out and --


QUESTION: -- you know, and you get a Palestinian state. So then there's a bastard Palestinian child or, you know, whose responsibility and --

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, the first point is that we've continued to talk about the integral nature of Gaza to the Palestinian territories. In other words, there aren't two Palestinian -- there is West Bank and Gaza and there's also going to be the Palestinian state. And Abbas and Fayyad are actually the authorities with responsibility. Now this isn't the first circumstance in which a legitimate authority doesn't fully control its territory, right? So this is -- happens all the time in international politics. The Hamas overthrew legitimate security and political institutions and took control of territory that they didn't have the authority to take. So the framework is that this is a single entity, Gaza and the West Bank, that will ultimately be a Palestinian state.

I think the strategy going forward is that you will see what momentum we can create in the establishment of the state, what momentum can be created in improvements in the lives of the Palestinians, what momentum can be created in economic and political institution-building. And the Palestinian people, as a whole, will need to make a choice about their acceptance of that program.

It will be, at some point, a choice that Hamas will have to make; is it prepared to be outside that consensus or not; is it prepared to be outside the Arab consensus or not? And you know, we'll see, but I think today's issue is to create as much positive momentum as an alternative vision to what Hamas is doing in Gaza and what Hamas is doing in Gaza is pretty ugly and probably not in line with the wishes of most Palestinians in terms of what kind of life they'd like to lead.

QUESTION: How worried -- on a slightly different topic.


QUESTION: How worried are you about what's going on in Pakistan and do you believe that al Qaeda is stronger now than it's been in years?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Pakistan is playing out its own internal processes. There was a ruling today, I gather, on the Supreme Court and our role has been just to keep reminding people that the only political stability in Pakistan is going to come from a set of free and fair elections, particularly parliamentary elections that are going to form the basis for moving forward. And that's all working its way through.

Al Qaeda is different than it was before. It does not, I think, have some of the most important assets that it once had, including essentially not being pursued while they sat on the territory of Afghanistan and trained people and plotted and planned. And the most important change, the most important difference from '01 or even '02 is that they are really under pursuit all the time in every country. And that makes for a different kind of organization, sometimes more distributed, which is -- you have to have other strategies to deal with the fact that they're more distributed than they probably once were.

But we and practically everybody else in the world -- constantly after their operatives, constantly after their finances, constantly after their safe havens. And I find it hard to argue that that puts them in a stronger position than they were. Are they defeated? No. Have they tried to adapt? Yes. Has some of that adaptation probably been successful? Probably. But they are constantly on the run now and constantly under pressure and constantly having to reconstitute leadership because their leadership is constantly being captured and killed. And when you think from it -- think about it from that perspective, I find the argument that they're somehow stronger to be a little hard to fathom.

QUESTION: Do you accept, though, that Iraq has been our big recruiting tool for them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know. I know that they certainly tried to make Iraq not just a recruiting tool, but an epicenter of -- you know, it was their stand for their particular version of the Middle East. They were going to do it in Iraq. In Anbar and Diyala, that strategy hasn't worked. In fact, you know, Anbar, a year ago, people were saying was lost to al Qaeda, they hoisted their flag of the Islamic Republic of Iraq and so on and so on.

So it's an interesting question as to whether or not the attempt to establish in Iraq might have had just the opposite effect. Because it turns out that the local people, when encountering them up close and personal, don't care much for them. And you know, a group of terrorists that do things like show up at somebody's home with the severed heads of children in a cooler turn out to have a PR problem, who want to marry off the daughters of these powerful sheikhs to their foreign fighters turn out to have a problem.

So they're not -- I'm not suggesting they're defeated, but I'm suggesting that this argument, "Well, Iraq turned out to be a boon for them," maybe we ought to reevaluate that and see what really happened to them in Iraq, because they tried to establish themselves in Iraq and have failed to do so. In fact, not just failed to do so, but then rejected -- has consequences for Iraq to --

QUESTION: I don't think that was exactly the question. Is --

SECRETARY RICE: You mean recruiting around the world?

QUESTION: Yeah, I think -- yeah, sort of galvanizing jihadists, you know, worldwide and -- because of ginning up anti-American sentiment and I think -- is that what you want to look at --

SECRETARY RICE: Look at the --

QUESTION: Absolutely.

QUESTION: No, but I mean -- I think -- again, that's a very separate issue.

SECRETARY RICE: Look at the -- I'm not one who believes in opinion polls, but look at the popularity of al Qaeda, terrorism, suicide bombings, Usama bin Laden. Look at what's been happening. I would --

QUESTION: According to what polls?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, Karen Hughes did a little op-ed on this just very recently. Now I don't doubt that there are those who use the American presence in Iraq as an argument about the need to fight the jihad. My point to you is that I'm not so sure that they're succeeding. And if you look at the increasing unpopularity of Iraq -- of al Qaeda anywhere that people encounter them, you would have a different story. I would just examine the premise that somehow, Iraq has been a good thing for them.

QUESTION: That's according to the National Intelligence Estimate.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, it's an estimate, right. It is. It's an estimate.

QUESTION: What about the gut feeling, "They're coming, they're coming here?"

SECRETARY RICE: You mean al Qaeda?


SECRETARY RICE: Well, as you well know, unfortunately, they've been here and at least -- well, at least twice that we know of, '93 and 2001. I don't -- I'm the first to say they have to -- we have to be right 100 percent of time; they have to be right once. That's not a fair fight.

And we have done a lot to harden the country. You see the effects all around, especially here in a place like New York. We have done a lot to improve our ability to track them and surveil them and surveil their finances and know what they're up to. And it helps that every country in the world watches them and picks up people when there are plots and you've seen how many times we've now, just very recently, said the Germans have done this, the Danes have done this. You see what's going on out there.

So they're constantly plotting and trying and I think we've got a better net to catch them when they're doing it, but we don't have a perfect net. And that's why you have to have an offensive posture as well. It can't just be all defense. You can't win this on the defense. It's why you have to defeat them in Afghanistan and you have to defeat them in -- when you find them in Pakistan and you have to defeat them in Iraq, you have to defeat them in Southeast Asia and et cetera, you know, all over the place. Because there isn't a strategy that is a defensive strategy that's leak proof. That's the problem; there isn't one.

QUESTION: It's mission impossible.

SECRETARY RICE: That's why you have to go after them and keep disrupting and keep breaking up their networks and keep going after their finances and keep going after their safe havens and all of those things. But ultimately, you've got to deny them a place to be.

QUESTION: On that subject --

QUESTION: Translators and people (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: I would be the first -- I'm -- because I'm deeply involved in trying to improve our Arabic language capability and get people in and so forth, this country didn't invest for many, many years in Arabic languages, in Persian and hard languages, we just -- Farsi -- we didn't invest.

Look, I'm an example of what happens when the country invests. I was a -- I learned Russian, you know, and national defense languages. Fellowships helped me learn Russian. It was kind of the patriotic thing to do to learn Russian and you have a whole lot of us who can -- who were able to contribute on that basis. We didn't make the same investment and we're not going to change that overnight. That takes a -- that takes a long time. We're now making that investment, but that takes a long time.

QUESTION: Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, do you have any sense that her life might be in danger?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would hope that the international spotlight on this will provide some protection and some -- we -- I was just in a P-5 meeting and Gambari is going out on behalf of the Secretary General. There's very strong sentiment that, you know, the strongest message has to be to the people that if they don't cooperate with Gambari, then we're going to come back to the Council and look at other measures. But you know, we've already put further sanctions on them.

There's real international outrage about this. I found myself yesterday in the company of the Burmese Foreign Minister because I went to an ASEAN meeting and he actually did come. And I had an opportunity to tell him exactly what I thought of what they were doing and ASEAN, which, as an organization, has a principle of noninterference, had already issued an extremely strong statement about --

QUESTION: What did he say when you said --


QUESTION: Are we talking to China about this?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. China, India -- MPs in India today, made very strong statements that --

QUESTION: Anyone who can influence them.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes, anyone who can influence them. We're talking to everybody.

QUESTION: On the subject of pursuing an offensive against terrorism, do you think, in the final analysis, Americans would have been safer if we had spent more attention and more money and more effort in Afghanistan and less in Iraq or less (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: No, because there wasn't -- it isn't a matter of diversion. Afghanistan is a very different kind of war, where smaller footprint and the ability to fight in smaller configurations -- I mean, the Soviets learned this the hard way with, you know, their 130,000 men in Afghanistan who were almost picked off one at a time. It's a different war.

And the problem that we've got is that you have to deal with Afghanistan, absolutely. But you also have to deal with the Middle East as a whole because actually, al Qaeda didn't start in Afghanistan; al Qaeda went to Afghanistan. But al Qaeda came out of a set of circumstances in the Middle East in which authoritarian regimes really choked off any channels for legitimate peaceful political resolution. And as a result, there was politics going on, but it was going on in the radical mosques. And it was getting more and more radical and its kind of really virulent form was al Qaeda and it sprung forth.

So if you are going to deal with the root causes, in a sense -- and by the way, which, at some level, are -- hopelessness and all of those things. But these people are not destitute who lead al Qaeda. So if you've got to deal with the root cause here, you're going to have to find a way for all of the kinds of political tensions, differences that one finds in any society to be expressed through legitimate political means.

What you're seeing in Iraq right now, in a sense, is that you have had, buried underneath a dictatorial society, Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis and just suppression of those differences. You now have the potential for those differences to be resolved through democratic institutions, but it's very, very hard when those institutions are very new and very fragile. But unless the argument is, all right, in the Middle East, what we're going to do, then, is we're going to either suppress differences or oppress differences, you have really no choice but to open up political space for legitimate institutions in which these differences can get resolved.

I just want to make one other point about Iraq. If you think about this, then, as starting to change the nature, really, of Middle East politics, it's very hard to imagine a different Middle East with Saddam Hussein at the center of it, with Saddam Hussein continuing to threaten his neighbors, continuing to threaten our forces, continuing to make mincemeat out of the sanctions that were put there to "contain him," and continuing with his appetite for weapons of mass destruction, it's very hard to imagine a change in the Middle East without that, without the removal of that threat.

And so it's all a part of a piece and I know there's this debate all of the time, you know, is Iraq a part of the war on terror. Well, just listen sometimes to bin Laden about Iraq. Look at what they tried to do in Iraq. I think they understood very well what Iraq could mean to them and if you deny them that, I think you've got a weaker -- a weaker organization.

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