|Roundtable With the Press|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
December 19, 2006
QUESTION: This seems like a natural transition moment. You've been in office almost two years. The Administration will, at that point, have two years left. There has obviously been a lot of criticism in the Iraq Study Group report and other reports about your -- the general slant of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. That whole region's policy is sort of up for grabs at the moment, in a sense.
What should the American people expect going into next month that will be different about your diplomacy in particular? How -- what's going to be new?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, let's talk about what is constant, because one doesn't shift strategy every week if you believe you have the right strategy. And I think that in the Middle East, the strategic context has changed a lot and it's changed because there is a clarifying moment between -- really, I think, underscored by Lebanon, between extremist forces and more mainstream, more moderate forces. And that then gives the possibility of different alignments in the Middle East than we are accustomed to in the past.
Unfortunately, some states -- Iran is very clear where Iran stands in that constellation. Iran essentially runs its policy through the extension of extremist elements like Hezbollah into Lebanon or support for extremist elements in the Palestinian territories or in trying to create difficulty for the new Iraqi Government itself. So we know how Iran runs its policy.
Unfortunately, Syria has been a kind of handmaiden to that Iranian policy in part, I think, because where it comes to Lebanon, Syria is still not reconciled to the 2005 withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon and the diminution of its influence in Lebanon and the emergence of a Lebanon that, while still very challenged, is nonetheless sovereign and beginning to control all of its territories. So these alignments have changed.
Now those -- that alignment presents some opportunities. I think that one possible opportunity is to have a coalescence of these more mainstream, moderate forces, what we've been doing in the GCC+2, to support the development of stable, democratic, new governments in Iraq and in Lebanon and to potentially give a space in which a Palestinian -- you could make progress toward the emergence of a Palestinian state that was founded on the same principles as these democratic, moderate states that are emerging in the Middle East.
So I think that's the real opportunity. The real opportunity is to solidify the support of these states that are on the right side of the alignment, to support the development of a Lebanese state that is capable of maintaining its sovereignty and is capable of resisting outside influences, an Iraqi state that is capable of overcoming its differences and becoming a stable and moderate state in the region and a Palestinian state that would be founded on those same principles.
And I think that's really the diplomacy of the next couple of years, is to try and solidify that alignment in the Middle East. And it's a very -- potentially a very powerful alignment because it has, as a part of it, some of the most important and powerful states of the Middle East.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, you've been -- what you've said sounds very similar to what you were saying in the summertime, when the Hezbollah-Israeli crisis first started. And for the last few months, it feels as if we've been on the edge of launching something new in the Mid-East. And each time, it seems something happens; you know, there are more bombings in Gaza, there are more Katyushas fired over, there's the collapse of the national unity government talks.
Is there anything that the United States can do, sort of, to push this process forward if there's no -- if Abu Mazen and Hamas don't figure it out? I mean, because, sort of -- our launch of all this seems --
SECRETARY RICE: No, our launch is not dependent on Abu Mazen and Hamas figuring it out. It's dependent on the Palestinians resolving this political conflict in a way that produces a partner for Israelis and others in the promotion of a way forward along the roadmap toward the development of a Palestinian state. And I think Abu Mazen has made very clear that if he can't get a national unity government, he's going to find some other way to do it.
So he -- the national unity government effort, which he devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to, failed for -- let's say for the right reasons, in that he refused to accept a national unity government that was not going to be internationally acceptable, was not going to be internationally respectable, because it wasn't going to live up to the Quartet principles. That's why it failed.
And so I think that he now has made very clear that he needs, nonetheless, to be able to resolve the political conflict, resolve the political crisis in the Palestinian territories, and he is putting forward ways to do that. And he deserves the support and backing of people as he moves, but I think you've heard Prime Minister Olmert say that he and Abu Mazen will meet soon. It doesn't sound to me as if this depends on a national unity government having been formed. We are pushing forward with helping Abu Mazen on the reconstruction of his security forces. That's not dependent on a national unity government being formed.
We are pushing forward, as Prime Minister Blair was out, on trying to help with the support for Palestinian political institutions. That doesn't depend on a national unity government being formed. So I would not overstate the importance of a national unity government to the possibility for progress if the -- on the Palestinian front.
QUESTION: Aren't you pushing them into civil war?
SECRETARY RICE: Barbara, the Palestinians have to resolve their internal situation, but the fact is that they can only resolve it in a way that brings the international community along with them on the basis of certain principles. And Abu Mazen is doing everything that he can to support them and I would hope that Hamas would still take him up on the offer that he's made, which is to form a national unity government. But my only point is that if a national unity government can be formed, the Palestinian people can't simply be left to the circumstances in which they find themselves because Hamas wasn't willing -- despite the fact that they were elected, Hamas was not willing to do what it needs to do in order to be able to govern.
QUESTION: Are you talking about all this in the context of the -- before any elections take place, the meeting with Olmert, the funds that you're going to provide for his security forces?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, yes, because there is no date for elections, there's no, even, sense of -- you know, how these elections might be organized. I mean, I think that Abu Mazen has laid that out as a possibility, but we are going to continue to work with the presidency under any circumstances because we think the presidency is a responsible Palestinian voice, Palestinian address, Palestinian partner and we're going to continue to work with Abu Mazen.
QUESTION: But that conflict you're talking about, in terms of the political institutions in the Palestinian territories, is that going to be resolved only in new elections or is there -- do you see another way to resolve this?
SECRETARY RICE: I can't answer that, Nick. I really think this is a question for Abu Mazen and the Palestinians, but what I can tell you is that the international community -- and the United States is not alone in this, is going to continue to support Abu Mazen in the development of Palestinian institutions that can help to deal with the very difficult circumstances the Palestinian people face.
QUESTION: Anyway, let's talk about Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who you challenged very much at the beginning of your --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, and continue to.
QUESTION: But don't you have to make choices here in terms of --
SECRETARY RICE: No, no.
QUESTION: I mean, the sense in the region is that you have pulled back from the, kind of, campaign on democracy that you started with because you now feel you need their help on Iraq, on Iran, on Lebanon.
SECRETARY RICE: You can have commonality of interest about an issue like the creation of a Palestinian state. You can commonality of interest about the need for Iraq to be stable and not to be in the center of the Arab world with its neighbors picking at its bones. You can have commonality of interest on a whole variety of issues and still have a strong view and a strong program that says to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, "You need to reform." Those are not inconsistent.
In fact, I think if you look at the last few years, I'd be the first to say, Glenn, reform is going to have its ups and downs and that's not wholly in the hands of the United States as to whether the reforms are going to go in a straight line. In some places, they're going in a pretty straight line. In other places, they are -- there's movement forward and sometimes there's setbacks.
But the agenda that the United States -- this President set in the Middle East about democracy and reform dominates the debate in the Middle East to an extent that was not the case five years ago. It just wasn't the case. People didn’t sit around talking about democracy and reform in Egypt. People didn't sit with the Saudis in the Forum for the Future and talk about women's rights.
I mean, I'm sorry, you have to recognize that part of the role of the United States is to set the agenda so that these issues become salient for a region. You didn't have, five years ago, the kind of support for nongovernmental institutions in civil societies from the United States that you have now. They're, in part, challenging and pushing and prodding and probing. Egypt is never going to be the same after its presidential elections in which all kinds of taboos broke down about what you could criticize and what you couldn't.
Kuwait actually has women voting. Jordan is on a major reform program. These things are not going to happen overnight. The -- you know, when I gave a speech in Cairo, I didn't expect that a year later or two years later or even four years later, that you were going to have a 180-degree turn in the Middle East toward representative governments and democracies. But the point was to set the agenda to make it a part of our bilateral agenda with these countries, to make it a part of the discourse of the region, and to make it a part of America's support for the people who were going to push it internally.
So no, there's no problem with having common interest about some of these issues. But it's very interesting, when we talk about a Palestinian state, do we just assume that the only thing that matters would be its borders? No. We actually talk about what that democratic Palestinian state ought to look like. That, in itself, is a major change from the way people have thought about the Palestinian-Israeli issue. So I -- it's -- you know, things aren't going to be black and white, but that this is an area in which the United States has championed and will continue to champion these issues. This should be very evident to people.
And if I can just say one other thing, it's extremely important that we recognize that this isn't just some flight of fancy about, it would be nice to have democracies in the Middle East. I would ask people, what is the alternative to the democratization of this region, to the opening up of this region, to creating systems that actually can give the kind of potential, the chance for the potential to be realized in the Middle East that's being realized in the rest of the world? What is so different about the Middle East that we can advocate for democracy in Nigeria and South Africa and El Salvador and Mexico, but not in the Middle East? What's so different?
QUESTION: But the criticism, I think, is that -- for the Administration, it's increasingly a sort of flight of fancy, that there's a sort of passivity that's crept into your policy that you won't interact with certain people because they're not worthy of interaction and then everything else is supposed to sort of happen of its own accord. I mean, you're waiting for the Palestinians to come together so there's some partner there. I mean, when I asked you about what's the main opportunity looking forward, you said, "To solidify the stability of the Gulf states and the other states."
SECRETARY RICE: No, that's not what I said. No, that's not what I said. I said that it was to solidify the alignment --
QUESTION: On the alignment, okay.
SECRETARY RICE: The alignment, okay, so that you have support for Lebanese democracy, Palestinian democracy and Iraqi democracy. That's what I said. It is not about solidifying the stability of those states. Those states may, in fact, see that a -- imagine that those states see that a democratic Iraq is actually more in their interest than not. Now that's a very big step forward. We're not waiting for the Palestinians to come together.
In answer to Helene's question, I talked about the work that we're actively doing with Abu Mazen on his security forces, actively doing with them about political reform in the Palestinian territories, actively working to promote the -- Olmert and Abbas getting together to deal with the issues before them. And as to the agenda on democracy, you know, we have created the Forum for the Future, the Foundation for the Future which, in and of themselves, are institutions in which the nongovernmental organizations and civil society are, in part -- funded, in part, act with governments and, in part, challenge governments in ways that my standing up and giving a speech will never do. And so these are changes that take time. Everybody understands that they take time. But the United States has, in effect, changed the nature of this entire discussion in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Given what you've been now saying for the last 15 minutes or so, how do you explain, sort of, the rise in criticism of the Administration's foreign policy? You see it not just from Democrats, but also from Republicans, from the public. It is because what you're doing is so difficult, that there's not going to be a lot of quick successes? Do you think it's partisan? I mean, some people look around the world and they --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it's difficult and --
QUESTION: It's about Russia and North Korea as well as the Middle East.
SECRETARY RICE: Look, it's a world that's in a lot of -- there are a lot of transitions going on in a lot of difficult places. But you know, it's interesting, after the year of 2005, which was this sort of -- you know, with the Cedar Revolution and all of the -- and the elections in the Palestinian territories that brought Mahmoud Abbas to power and so forth and so on, if anybody expected that the forces of the repression or the forces of -- the forces that wanted to count -- the counterrevolutionary forces were not going to react, you don't know much about history.
So of course, the removal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and the emergence of a democratic government in Lebanon that was avowedly against foreign elements in their country, that had come to power on a removed Syrian forces, that that was going to produce a Syrian reaction and a reaction from others, absolutely clear the -- that the Palestinians, that there would be a reaction that produced, once it looked like Prime Minister Olmert and Abu Mazen were actually starting to make some progress.
Do you think it's an absolute -- do you think it's an accident that Shalit gets kidnapped at that moment? Do you think it's an accident that as things are moving forward, Hezbollah decides to attack across the international line? Yeah, forces of reaction react when they're challenged. After the elections in Iraq, you got forces of reaction to that. As a matter of fact, we know exactly what happened there because Zarqawi wrote about it. He wrote about it to Zawahiri, he wrote about in his e-mails. He said this -- if these elections come off and you start to get this democracy thing, we're finished in Iraq. And he came up with a quite diabolical and pretty -- as it turns out, unfortunately successful strategy, which was to set Shia against Sunni. And he -- it was the bombing of the Samara mosque that set that off.
So do you have progress and forces of reaction? Absolutely.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a follow-up? So how much of this current turmoil in the Middle East and in the rest of the world, which I guess, seen differently, might be the beginning of this historical transition can be traced back to American action in Iraq?
SECRETARY RICE: Some of it, but not all of it. The Middle East -- when people talk about returning to the stability of the Middle East, I wonder, what Middle East is that? Is it the Middle East that allowed Saddam Hussein twice to attack its neighbors, gas Kurds, gas Shia, acquire weapons of mass destruction, turn the world inside out for 12 years with sanctions that weren't -- it turns out were not so hard on his people -- not so hard on him, but pretty hard on his people?
Is it the Middle East that produced Syrian occupation of Lebanon to the point that when Warren Christopher negotiated in 1996, into the last conflict in Lebanon, he did it with Syria and Hezbollah and didn't even bother with the Lebanese Government? Is it the Middle East that Yasser Arafat was stealing the Palestinian people blind, accepting arms from Iran which was intercepted in the Karine A incident and, by the way, couldn't take a deal with 97 percent of the land to the Palestinian people, launch the second intifada, 3,000 Palestinians died, a thousand Israelis died? Is that the Middle East that was stable?
Finally, is it the Middle East that produced al-Qaida? Is that the Middle East was that was stable, one that was so stagnant that politics was going on, but it was either going on in a radical mosque or it was going on in this perverted way to produce al-Qaida?
So yes, some of it is that America challenged some of those old bargains, whether it was deciding that Saddam Hussein finally had to go or saying Yasser Arafat wasn't a partner for peace, yes. But that Middle East was going to break down. It had to break down. You weren't going to continue to suppress all of these negative trends. And so one way or another, it was going to come apart, but I think September 11th probably changed the strategic direction of the United States. But the ground was more than plowed.
QUESTION: You paint this big historical picture and you go back to the Cold War and you basically -- if I understand it, your message is, trust the American people, people didn't see all the changes that were coming up, this thing in the Middle East is going to work out, the old stability was bad, that things are going to work out.
And as -- if you look at the moment, we're teetering on civil war in Lebanon, the same in the Palestinian Authority, we're in -- or maybe in or not, a civil war in Iraq. Iran is emboldened and headed towards a nuclear program. So the American people are looking at it and saying, holy whatever and yet, you're telling us that the arrows are pointing in a positive direction and I just --
QUESTION: That sounds a little Pollyannaish.
SECRETARY RICE: I didn't say it was going in a positive direction. What I said is that the old Middle East wasn't going to stay, all right. Let's stop mourning the old Middle East. It was not so great and it wasn't going to survive anyway. And there are some positive elements of the new alignment that is there.
I don't know, for instance, if any of you were at that Security Council meeting that was held on the Middle East which the, you know, the Qatari -- I'm sorry, that the Danes arranged. It was during the UNGA and we had a session on the Middle East toward the end. I thought it was quite phenomenal. You know, there was no -- we were -- it was the end of the -- you know, Lebanon had just ended, you know, what terrible things were going to be said and so forth. There was no posturing and talking about occupation and this and that. There was a real strong sense that actually, if states came together, you know, maybe the Palestinian situation could be resolved. I've never really seen that kind of mood about the issues.
I just -- my only point is that there are -- it's a positive alignment when you have Arab states, some new democratic forces, and the potential for an Israeli Prime Minister who sees the need to try and resolve some of the outstanding questions for the Jewish state, vis-à-vis, the Palestinian state. That's an interesting new alignment and we ought to see if we can make it have an outcome.
So I'm not arguing that it's just going great, no. There are a lot of very difficult places. So of course, some of these, as you put it, teeter on the edge of really bad outcomes. But my point about the Cold War is that if you just go back and put yourself in that time and walk through the events of that time, you will have the same feel of things that could have gone very badly and thrown the whole beginning of the Cold War in a completely different direction, but for the United States getting in there, trusting in the values and working at it day after day.
Released on December 20, 2006