Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

The Washington Post

MR. KESSLER: Well, I’ll start off. One thing that struck me when we were in Japan in March is there was a Japanese reporter that said, “Gee, being secretary of state must be really tough.” And you kind of laughed and said, “No, it’s wonderful.” And I’m just wondering, briefly, why is it wonderful? What makes it wonderful?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, because it’s such a remarkable time. First of all, it is a really good job. George Shultz once told me that he thought it was the best job in government; and since he’s held several — OMB and secretary of treasury — he had some comparative perspective. And I think it’s the combination of being able to work to effect policy but also to be able to represent those policies for the United States. I enjoy very much the diplomacy. I like the one-on-one diplomacy with other foreign ministers and with other people representing other governments. I really enjoy strategic problem solving, trying to get to a solution on difficult issues.

So that’s part of it, but I also like going abroad and talking about our policies and talking about our principles and representing the United States. It’s a great country and I’m proud to represent it. So it’s a great job.

MR. KESSLER: Just a quick follow-up. One of your friends said that as national security adviser you were playing with 24 keys of the keyboard, and now you have the whole keyboard.

SECRETARY RICE: Wow, what a wonderful, great metaphor.

MR. KESSLER: Do you feel that way? I mean —

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the jobs are really very different. There is no doubt. When you’re national security adviser, you really are the president’s staff and the responsibility there is very different. It’s to prepare the president for his role. It’s to — a fair amount of it is making certain that the paperwork is right, making sure that all views are seen. It’s a very different job. And here, not only is it important — different because it’s representational and because I act as secretary of state, but this is also a big organization that I’m trying to lead. And I like that. I’ve always liked kind of line responsibility to lead a big organization. When I was provost at Stanford I enjoyed everything about it, including I’ve sat in here at the State Department on a fair number of our budget reviews, what we call our high-level management reviews, because I intend to be able to connect personally in my decision making what we’re trying to do in terms of principle to how we implement that through policy, to what resources we’re putting to the problem, to how our people are executing the problems. And I can’t do that if I’m uninterested in the details of how this place works. And I really enjoy that. Some of my favorite times here have been my budget and high-level management reviews.

MR. KESSLER: You don’t want us to quote you on that? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, sure. It’s a big part of being secretary. I think it’s important.

MS. WRIGHT: You’ve defined your approach as “practical idealism.” Can you, in non-policy wonk terms, explain what practical idealism is and how that’s used on a specific issue that you’ve faced?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, American foreign policy has always had, and I think rightfully had, a streak of idealism, which means that we care about values, we care about principle. It’s not just getting to whatever solution is available, but it’s doing that within the context of principles and values. And at a time like this, when the world is changing very rapidly and when we have the kind of existential challenge that we have with terrorism and extremism, it’s especially important to lead from values. And I don’t think we’ve had a president in recent memory who has been so able to keep his policies centered in values.

The responsibility, then, of all of us is to take policies that are rooted in those values and make them work on a day-to-day basis so that you’re always moving forward toward a goal, because nobody believes that the kinds of monumental changes that are going on in the world or that we are indeed seeking are going to happen in a week’s time frame or a month’s time frame or maybe even a year’s time frame. So it’s the connection, the day-to-day operational policy connection between those ideals and policy outcomes.

MS. WRIGHT: Can you think of a specific instance? Sudan? India? Iran? Any of the —

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me take the broader Middle East issues, you know, concerning democracy and — like, you know, we’ve had a number of discussions — I think each of us has — about the fact that we have enunciated — the president enunciated in his second inaugural — a strong center for American policy that says democracy is and, in effect, always is the right choice, and that the values of freedom and liberty are universal values that are not exceptional or cannot be cordoned off in any part of the world under any culture, and the Middle East is included.

Obviously, countries are moving at different speeds toward that fundamental state and countries start at different places. Saudi Arabia is not Egypt. Egypt is not Jordan. The circumstances in a place like Iraq are different because there Saddam Hussein, you know, an international tyrant, international outlaw, was overthrown.

And so part of the challenge is to take in each of those cases the circumstances as you find them, not accept them to be the circumstances that will prevail, but find workable ways to move toward that goal.

So in a place like Egypt, it means going to Egypt and meeting with the opposition and having programs that support what is being done there, but in the context of a place where you have had the president — Mubarak — take a step, an important step, forward toward a more open system.

MR. KESSLER: Pop quiz. What are your four emotional highlights in the last six months? What are your four —

SECRETARY RICE: Emotional highlights?

MR. KESSLER: Yeah. And also your four political policy highlights.

SECRETARY RICE: Geez, I’m not all that self-reflective. You know, I’m really not.

Emotional highlights. The speech in Cairo. I think going to Iraq for the first time. There have been a lot of them, you know. There really have been a lot. Going — they’re images, you know. Going into a place and seeing for the first time that — when I say going to Iraq — that Baghdad is a great city and that Iraq is a great civilization. Of course, I had read that. I knew that. But it means that an Iraq that is democratic and stable is going to be a fundamental pillar of change in the Middle East.

I think seeing Afghanistan for the first time. I had never been to Afghanistan. You know, I was a Soviet specialist. I probably knew every piece of territory in Afghanistan by map and by history. But I remember saying to people that when 9/11 happened and we went to Camp David a few days after 9/11, and the map rolled out and people realized that it was Afghanistan, I mean, finally, something dawns on you. This place that has been described as, you know, the arc of crisis, the place that great powers go to die, and thinking how difficult this region was; but then being in Afghanistan and then being in Pakistan and being in India and seeing the promise of that salvation arc as imagining a world in which you have not just an Indian democracy, which is a natural ally, but also a Pakistan that is stable and has rooted out extremism and is democratic, and an Afghanistan that is stable, that has good relations with Pakistan.

I think that part of this for me has been that when you go to these places, the kind of strategic significance of achieving the goals that are being laid out comes into pretty sharp relief. And it is true that there are a lot of ups and downs. There are days when nothing seems to go right and there are days when you have spikes when something goes very right, like the day of the Iraqi elections, the street protests in Lebanon.

But the goal has to be to keep a fairly even keel and to recognize that big historical changes have a lot of ups and downs … and that you’re just trying to work daily toward putting in place some fundamental pillars for the kind of world that you’re trying to leave. We are not going to achieve all that is on the plate. It’s not possible in three and a half years. But if the administration has laid the foundation, then successive American administrations with successive American allies will be able to realize these outcomes at a later date.

MR. KESSLER: Just on that, you mentioned the speech in Cairo. Why was that an emotional highlight? Is that because it’s setting the stakes or the pillars or —

SECRETARY RICE: Well, because I really believe that it was important to give it, for an American official to give that speech in the heart of the Arab world. And it was — there was an energy in the crowd and I knew not everybody would like everything about it. I’m an academic. I grew up in a world where debate and controversy and disagreement is the mother’s milk of what we do. So I’m not concerned when somebody says, “Well, I didn’t like that line in that speech.” But there was an energy there and I think a recognition that the United States meant what it had — what the president had said in his inaugural address.

MS. WRIGHT: A variation on that question. What do you see as your greatest success so far, and not necessarily the greatest failure but the place that you have the most work to do? With a footnote: It’s quite striking that you, as a Russia specialist — Russia seems to be one of the countries where we’re less engaged or have had less impact than in some of the other parts of the world.

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, it is way too early for me to start counting successes or chalking up failures.

MS. WRIGHT: So far.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Robin, I don’t think in those terms. I am a political scientist who has spent most of my life trying to understand why big events unfold as they do. And my scope of — my time scale is just maybe different. I understand —

MS. WRIGHT: But what’s the —

SECRETARY RICE: You know, I understand that you have to write on a daily basis so this is difficult. But —

MS. WRIGHT: We’re giving you an opportunity to help craft our piece. Anyway, on the issue of Russia, you’re deeply engaged in many parts of the world and I realize you’re involved in Russia, too. It is just striking that at the moment —

SECRETARY RICE: I think the good thing is actually we’re engaging with the Russians on a number of issues. You know, not every country has to just be seen as a target of your policies. Sometimes you actually have partners in your policies. And I speak a lot with the Russians. The Russians are part of the quartet. They’ve been a very active and constructive member of the quartet in dealing with the Middle East problem. We and the Russians have been engaged with the Europeans on Iran. We’ve been very engaged with the Russians on nonproliferation policy, including the Russians’ agreement to be part of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

So I think that the interesting thing here is the degree to which we and the Russians work together. Yes, there are disappointments about the current course of some of the internal policies of Russia, and I have had an opportunity to not just raise this publicly, which I did when I was in Russia, but to have extensive discussions with the entire range of people in the Russian government, including the president, about the future course of democratic development in Russia. But do I expect in six months to have changed the course of development in Russia? No. No, I don’t. That is a — it’s a big and complicated place and over time I think that Russia will find that democratic development is the only way that Russia becomes what Russia wants to be.

So I know that it’s hard for people to believe when I say I really am not sitting and chalking up successes and failures, but it’s just not how I see this job. When I look at the — have you ever looked at the secretaries along my wall? Jefferson. He was the first secretary. Everybody has Jefferson on the wall. But Marshall. I think if you looked at what Marshall faced in ’46 and ’47 and ’48 or ’49, or what — how it looked — I’m sorry — how the outcomes looked at that point in time of what Marshall put in place in ’47, they might not have looked so great; or Dean Acheson, who I think is an underrated secretary of state.

So what I’ll try to do while I’m here is to make progress toward big strategic goals, lay some foundation, hopefully resolve some problems and leave it to the next secretary of state to keep moving forward.

MS. WRIGHT: Can we switch to some of the hot spots?


MS. WRIGHT: Specific hot spots. Syria is one that’s —

SECRETARY RICE: But do I get to answer the other part of Glenn’s question?


SECRETARY RICE: You asked me about policy.

MR. KESSLER: Yeah, we — yeah. Good.

SECRETARY RICE: I do think that what we — that we have been able to unify our policies with the Europeans on Iran. I think that’s very important. I think there is a new centering of the five parties around a common approach to North Korea for the six-party talks to restart. I think we have with the appointment of Jim Wolfensohn and General Ward engaged the Gaza withdrawal in a way that gives international support to what is going to be obviously a very difficult process. And probably, to my mind, the most important thing is that we had to do this, and I think we have, on the transatlantic relationship side, moved from analyzing how the transatlantic relationship is doing today to actually putting the transatlantic relationship to work on behalf of some great goals. It’s pretty remarkable that you’ve got NATO airlifting into Darfur and you’ve got the kind of support that we’ve been able to garner with the French, a very strong relationship with the French on Lebanon, for instance. So I think, you know, there’s been some progress.

MR. KESSLER: Planting the seeds?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let’s see if Robin gets the reference: “Three yards and a cloud of dust.”



MS. WRIGHT: Oh, that’s not fair.

MR. SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It’s all right. You’re in good company.

SECRETARY RICE: It’s all right. But Ohio State won a lot of championships.

MS. WRIGHT: No, I know.


MS. WRIGHT: Just rub it in. (Laughter). The editor of the paper is from Ohio State. (Laughter). Okay, back to the specifics.


MS. WRIGHT: Syria: A problem still with Lebanon; the economic boycott still on Iraq; obviously, with the radical groups. What is the United States doing on Syria? Are there messages being sent? Do you plan to take tougher action, go to the Security Council because of violations of 1559?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first thing that we’ve done is to, together with France, mobilize international opinion so that the Syrians had to get out of Lebanon. There is no doubt that the Syrians continue to try to influence events in Lebanon in ways that are unseemly, including, I think, the pressure that they’re putting on the Lebanese on the border.

We are going to continue to work with the international community to convince the Syrians that this is not an acceptable course. And I think it’s — I don’t need to try and forecast where we’ll be in a month or six weeks. But this is a daily proposition for me and for others in the administration to continue to press, not just the Syrians who hear our messages publicly but through multiple channels that Syrian behavior is hurting the Palestinians, hurting the Iraqis and hurting the Lebanese, and that they’re out of step with what’s going on in the international system.

MS. WRIGHT: But is there a moment in which you say, “Enough”? We’ve sent out, first administration, Powell, Armitage, Burns. We’ve sent messages, we’ve — in united action. The Lebanese are against — is there a moment in which you say, “Enough is enough,” and you do something?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we — well, I think —

MS. WRIGHT: I mean —

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it’s not a small accomplishment that Syrian forces are out of Lebanon.

MS. WRIGHT: No, no, no, but it’s still in violation of what you called for.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, but let’s remember that, again, a lot has happened in the period of time since the Hariri assassination. And Syrian forces are out of Lebanon and there is a new government in Lebanon. And now, the next step is to make certain that the Syrians respect Lebanese sovereignty, and so we’ll work on that step. But when you say, “Are you going to do something,” well, I think Syrian forces out of Lebanon is a good thing.

MS. WRIGHT: And you now believe that all intelligence and military forces are out?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I don’t. But I do believe that Syrian military forces are out of Lebanon. There’s a verification team that will tell us what other elements there might be there. We still await the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. So there are a number of steps —

MR. KESSLER: Which will probably be out soon, isn’t it?

SECRETARY RICE: Fairly soon, but I don’t have a date in mind. We don’t have a date that we’ve been given yet.

MR. MCCORMACK: You have about five minutes, guys.

MS. WRIGHT: Uzbekistan. Are you sending an envoy out or someone to see Karimov soon?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we’ll see. What we’re doing on Uzbekistan is, first of all, we’re trying to deal with some of the near-term problems, like the refugee problem. And we’re getting good cooperation internationally on that problem.

We also are making pretty clear to the Uzbeks that relations with the United States do depend on the clarity in the investigation into what happened in Andijan. And you know, we’ll see whether or not we have somebody go out to talk to talk to the Uzbeks. We’re talking to all kinds of people in the neighborhood, not just the Uzbeks. There are other states in that region that have relations with the United States at stake and would like to have good relations with the United States.

MS. WRIGHT: But we still want to hang on to the Uzbek K-2 base.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course, the use of the base would be a good thing. But, of course, the United States also does not believe that its strategic interests and its interest in democracy are divisible in some way. And I don’t think the Uzbeks are at all confused by that. Don Rumsfeld’s in Kryzsgstan today. Or yesterday.

MR. KESSLER: Yesterday.


MR. KESSLER: I don’t know where he is today.

The six-party talks. Chris Hill’s predecessor, Jim Kelly, was always frustrated that he didn’t have the flexibility, the negotiating flexibility that he thought he needed. Chris Hill seems to have a fair amount of flexibility to try to push this process forward. What accounts for the difference? What has changed here?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know — I mean, I’ve never talked to Jim about what he felt. The important thing is the six-party talks to unite — keep united about what we’re trying to achieve there and I think we’ve done a lot over the last several months to do that. It has in part to do with the fact that North Korean behavior after February 10th really created a situation in which the international community, and particularly the other five parties, had to decide that they were going to unite around, not just getting the North back to the table, but getting the North back to the table ready to negotiate. So I think we’re in a somewhat different position than we were a couple of tries ago at the six-party talks.

But Chris is a — we sent Chris there because he’s a good, tough negotiator. Chris knows where the principals are. He knows where our concerns are with the North Koreans. And I think everybody trusts him to get this done, if possible, within those constraints. I talk to him every morning. I talked to him this morning at 5:45, yesterday morning at 5:45. That’s our appointed time for him to give me a call.

MR. KESSLER: So what did he — what did he say today?


SECRETARY RICE: He said that, you know, that there had been some getting everything out on the table that the North Koreans wanted to get out on the table, but that was to be expected, but that he found the atmosphere really businesslike. And that is good because the atmosphere has not always been businesslike. He also has had a series of bilaterals with all the other parties. I think we feel we’re very linked up on what we’re trying to achieve. And then he’ll — they’ll have plenaries starting their time tomorrow. So, yeah, I think he has — he has flexibility. He’s a good negotiator.

MR. KESSLER: You know, there’s been some grumbling within the State Department, lower ranks, that you have a very powerful 7th floor staff that tends to push policy down from the upper levels as opposed to letting policy come up. How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I have the most open door policy of anybody you would want to see. You know, I’ve seen — I’ve had desk officers in to talk to me. I’ve gone — I go by the bureaus and talk to people and say, you know, thanks for what you’re doing.

I have very strong line officers who are my assistant secretaries. That’s the real focus for policy in this building. And so if something is going to come up or go down, it’s going to go through those assistant secretaries. And I expect the assistant secretaries to decide what can be decided at that level, their level, and what needs to come up for Bob [Zoellick’s] attention or Nick [Burns’s] attention or my attention.

I can’t, in a world like we live in with so much swirling around, take every issue that might come up from every desk in the State Department. I just can’t do it. I’m not going to try. I think people understand that now. But I do expect that if there is an assistant secretary who has something that needs to get resolved, that they’re going to be in this office within hours. Not days, within hours. Sometimes within minutes. Sometimes immediately after we have staff meetings. So that’s the way that I operate. I’ve always operated very strongly through my line officers, not through my staff. But this staff is not to cut off the assistant secretaries. They are the line of responsibility. So I see David Welch and Chris Hill and Connie Newman and Dan Fried and, you know, Christina Rocca and Sean all the time, and that’s the way I expect it to always be.

MS. WRIGHT: Karen Hughes went through a confirmation hearing. We know what you want to do philosophically. Now that she’s coming into office, can you describe for us in very specific, tangible ways what programs you expect her to introduce?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think you probably want to have this conversation with Karen.


SECRETARY RICE: When she gets here.

MS. WRIGHT: I do, as a matter of fact. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Karen and I have had long discussions about the importance of being able to get our message out and to, you know, to deal with a lot of the myths that are out there and so forth. I really am a big, big proponent of exchange programs and I hope that we’re going to have as active as possible exchange programs, specialized exchange programs, civil society, business groups, women’s groups. Some of what we’re doing but perhaps even more.

I think Karen will try and operationalize the idea that this is a conversation, not a monologue, and to see if there are ways that we can listen better. And so it’s not my job to design programs. That’s why I got one of the best people, I think, out there to design the programs. But those are some of the things that we’d like to achieve.

MS. WRIGHT: But how? I mean —

SECRETARY RICE: My responsibility is to get the best person to run public diplomacy and to say, “Karen, here are the things we need to achieve.” You know when you — I’ve managed big organizations before and there are two things that you learn, especially when I was 38-year-old provost. I had never been a department chair before. And suddenly I found myself doing everybody else’s job and thought there are two problems with that.

First of all, if you do everybody else’s job, you won’t do it very well. Secondly, good people won’t work for you because people who are very senior and have come from — I’ve assembled here a very senior team of people who have had enormous responsibility in their lives. And my responsibility is to say to them, “Here’s what we’re trying to achieve.” And I’ve tried to assemble a team of people who agree on what it is we’re trying to achieve and then to say to those people, “All right, go at it. Let’s put together the very best program in the Middle East, David Welch.” Or in public diplomacy, Karen Hughes. Or in economic policy when — if the Senate confirms Josette Shiner. I mean that’s how you manage a big organization like this and that’s what we’re trying to do.

MR. MCCORMACK: The last question, Glenn.

MR. KESSLER: All right. I’m tempted to do a 27-part Japanese question. (Laughter.)

MS. WRIGHT: Yeah, I just — I want it to be one of those — one by — yeah, it can be one of those that the Japanese journalists did, you know.

SECRETARY RICE: Just one other point, though, on the assistant secretaries. The other reason that the assistant secretaries are so important is not just managing what happens here, but these are very senior people who can walk into a foreign minister or a head of state and who are, therefore, an extension of Bob or of me. The fact is I can’t be everywhere all the time.

MR. KESSLER: You have been.


SECRETARY RICE: It only may seem like that, Glenn, because you’re traveling with me. And, you know, you have to have really empowered people who can do these things.

Now, last question.

MR. KESSLER: Well, there are only 10 issues to choose from. What do you say to people who assert, in both the case of Iran and North Korea, that the administration is simply showing greater flexibility because it is convinced neither country will really give up its nuclear programs; and then, when the talks inevitably fail, the administration can return to isolating those countries without being blamed for the failure of those talks?

SECRETARY RICE: I think those people think too much. Would we like to resolve the Iran problem? Would we like to resolve the North Korea problem? Absolutely. And we have a strategy that says that the only way that those get resolved is if you are clear on what it is that you’re trying to achieve; that is, you know, an Iran that doesn’t have the capability, the technological capability for the fuel cycle, a North Korea that abandons its nuclear weapons programs and ambitions and begins to — and dismantles them.

But what we put a lot of emphasis on is the diplomacy of that, which is pulling together with the Europeans in the case of the Iranian case, and with the others in the six-party talks in the case of North Korea, to first of all come to a common purpose and then just keep pressing that common purpose forward until, eventually, North Korea or Iran realize that there’s no out.

You know, I do think that in — when we first — when I first went to Europe, I found that somehow we’d gotten into a position where it was the United States that was the problem in the Iranian situation, and so you actually had a strange situation in which the Iranians — in which the Europeans were trying to broker between the United States and Iran. That was not a good place to be.

And so through that trip and then the president’s trip to Europe and then my return trip to Europe, we worked hard to come to a common position so that we could leave Iran effectively no way out except to go through the EU-3 talks. That’s what diplomacy is really all about and that’s how I spend most of my time in trying to solve a problem is to try and create a circumstance in which that’s the only course for a Syria or an Iran or a North Korea. Because when one of those states can get into a situation where it’s a problem between the United States and Iran, or the United States and North Korea, or the United States and Syria, then the possibility of trying to cherry-pick a little bit from this side, a little bit from that side, exists. That’s not where you want to be.

Somebody said that, you know, the art of diplomacy is getting everybody to the place that your policies are their policies. Well, some of diplomacy is finding a place where your policies and their policies come together. And I think that’s what we’ve been spending a lot of time on.

MR. KESSLER: So how did the U.S. get in that place that you found when you went to Europe? Just, I do want to understand that. I mean, you were kind of part of the group —

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I don’t know when. Over time, that’s — it had eroded to that place. And sometimes that happens and then you have to go back and fix it.

MS. WRIGHT: One last — just one question. Is there anything that you think is important in terms of what’s happening right now that you’d like to use The Washington Post to make clear a position or a development?

SECRETARY RICE: No, but I’ll call you if there is.

MS. WRIGHT: Promise?



MR. KESSLER: Thanks so much.

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