- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

The following is a transcript of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday:

Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden: Why don’t we just get started, and I’d like to give you the opportunity to say what you want us to hear, and then if we can we’ll open it up to questions around the table. Everything will be on the record unless you specifically go off the record.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: That’s just fine, just fine.

I’d like to start by saying that I think we are living in quite remarkable times and obviously this has been, I believe very strongly, because the United States of America was willing to take leadership and do difficult things during the president’s last four years. After September 11th, the president set out on a bold agenda, not a narrow one, to respond to what had happened to us on September 11th. Those decisions were not always popular but they were right, and they were decisions that included, of course, a very aggressive campaign and then war, of course, to take down al Qaeda’s training operation and territory in Afghanistan. People seemed to understand that that was a part of the war on terrorism, but when the president said that the war on terrorism was indeed broader than that and that it was necessary to help bring about change in the Middle East, that in fact the only antidote to terrorism and the ideology of hatred that we were facing was going to be the spread of liberty and freedom, there was some skepticism about that. I think that’s putting it mildly.

But that was a goal and an aspiration that I think was worthy of the largest power in the international system, perhaps the most powerful country in international history, but one whose foreign policy is based very much on values, and that linking again of our values and our interests in an extricable way I think has given us a leadership role that allowed us then, after some time, to bring others together around a common agenda. And there were obviously those who understood this from the beginning, like Prime Minister [Tony] Blair and [Italian] Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi and the president of Poland, President [Aleksander] Kwasniewski. It was interestingly an agenda that seemed to be best understood by those who had just come out of tyranny, and not just the smaller states who had just joined NATO, but probably a lot of people don’t realize that one of the firm supporter was Rwanda, for instance, that had experienced the horrors of genocide and the horrors of tyranny.

And so now I think what you are seeing is that, largely because we were willing to take, the president was willing to take difficult decisions, but also because the people of this region, the Middle East, have been demonstrating and with incontrovertibility that the idea that freedom and liberty are universal aspirations, that that is right, you’re seeing it and it’s just you cannot deny it. So whether it’s in Afghanistan, a place that is in many ways a very, very underdeveloped society, but you saw these people streaming along dirt roads to vote; to the Palestinian territories where again the president had said back in 2002 that the Palestinians needed new leadership, that we weren’t going to be able to do anything with Yasser Arafat; well, the Palestinian people went to the polls to vote for a leader who talked about an end to the armed intifada and living in peace with Israel; obviously, Iraq in many ways a kind of capstone event with the Iraqi people facing down terrorism, literally facing down terrorists in order to vote; and on and on and on, what you’ve seen in Lebanon, where we’ve had, by the way, outstanding cooperation with the French on the Syrian withdrawal, Resolution 1559, and giving the Lebanese people control of their own future; and then even the ripplings of change in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, modest as it is.

So, to my mind, it is an indication of how important it is that there be in American foreign policy core values, that there be in American foreign policy a willingness to stand firm and to hold to positions that are not always popular but that are right. And we’re going to have to keep doing it. And we’re seeing again, I think today I’ll be talking in a little while about Iran and the decision to back the diplomacy of the EU-3 [France, Germany and Britain]. But if you think about it, Iran wasn’t even on the agenda as a nuclear issue until the president put that on the agenda with the “axis of evil” speech. And now, slowly but surely, you have the international community uniting around the idea that the Iranians cannot have a nuclear weapon, that indeed there are suspicious activities that need to be dealt with. And we, for our part, have decided to more actively back those diplomatic efforts of the EU-3 by removing our objections to spare parts and to WTO [World Trade Organization] application and I want to emphasize, application by the Iranians, because it exposes where the problem is. If the Iranians can’t come to agreement with the Europeans, it exposes what all of us suspect, which is that the Iranians don’t want to come to agreement. So it puts the spotlight back on the Iranians, not on, well, what is the United States willing to do or why aren’t you supporting the diplomacy and so forth.

So that’s the opening. I’m also on my way to Asia where we have also a number of challenges. But again, the president stands for the alliances that we have had there for many years. We are a force for stability, probably the force for stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The emergence of China as a major power is a challenge to the region but it can be an opportunity to the region if we show for the region, if we show the same kind of principled foreign policy toward Asia that we have been demonstrating in Europe. And I believe that what we have in this president is someone who is just willing to lead from a position of principle and unless the United States is willing to do that, no one will. When the United States is willing to do that, it finds allies and it finds ways to unite what has been a great alliance both in Europe and in Asia around those principles.

So I’ll stop.

Mr. Pruden: I wonder if you could elaborate just a bit more on the Iranian decision to cooperate with the Europeans on the Iranian initiative.

Miss Rice: Sure. When I went to Europe the first time, as opposed to the other two times I’ve been since, but the first time, it was very clear that the Iranians had succeeded in making the discussion about the United States and, in effect, sowing division between the United States and Europe so that it almost appeared that Europe was mediating between the United States and Iran. And in talking to our European allies, this didn’t make sense because nobody wants the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon. It’s the Iranians that are isolated, not the United States. How had we maneuvered into a position or gotten maneuvered into a position in which we were the problem? So I came back, I talked to the president about it. He immediately saw this issue. And when he was in Europe, he talked to his counterparts and basically said there are a couple things I need to know. Do you believe that Iran has to be prevented from getting a nuclear weapon? Yes. Are you prepared to do tough things to make sure that they don’t get a nuclear weapon? Yes. Because there is always chatter around, you know, well, how seriously did the Europeans take it? It was absolutely clear that they, too, understood how destabilizing it would be if Iran were to get a nuclear weapon and that they were suspicious of the Iranians.

Similarly, in his discussion with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin, where they were about to sign an agreement on civilian nuclear power cooperation with Iran, it was also clear that the Russians were determined to have certain anti-proliferation measures with the Iranians, like a fuel take-back and so forth.

So, given all of that, we came back, the president met with his advisers, and when I went back to Europe I went back to see if we could then forge a common approach in which the Europeans would be somewhat clearer about their views of the Iranian problem and that there would be consequences and we would support the European diplomacy so that we had now a common approach. So forging that common approach has been the business of the last 10 days or so. And you may have seen that the Europeans sent a letter to their foreign minister colleagues that lays out their policy, and we will a little later today support them in that.

Foreign Editor David Jones: What specifically are the carrots that will be offered?

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