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Interview with Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Interview with Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

By The Situation Room - November 3, 2011

BLITZER: And joining us now from the University of Miami, Condoleezza Rice,

Secretary of State,

National security adviser.

She's also the author of a brand new book entitled "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington".

Madam Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It's nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's get to some of the current issues, then we'll talk a little bit about the book.

You probably have been seeing these reports that Israel might be preparing to launch some sort of military strike at Iran because of its nuclear program.

Would that be wise?

RICE: The fact that we're even talk about that shows the danger of the Iranian program. My view has been that there's still time for diplomacy with Iran. But really the international community has got to be a lot tougher than it's been willing to do in the past. I really don't have any insight as to what may or may be going on in Israeli calculations, but I do know that there's much more than can be done to Iran through sanctions, and it's high time that it get done.

BLITZER: For eight years, you were consumed with this concern about Iran and its nuclear program. What should the U.S. do, because sanctions don't seem to have had much of an effect?

RICE: Well, I think the sanctions have had some effect. I think the Iranian are having some trouble with their program. Probably many of the kinds of equipment and the materials that they need are harder to get thanks to the embargoes, and those should be stepped up.

But it's possible to put a lot more pressure on the Iranian economy, too. Perhaps people should really start looking at an oil and gas embargo and what effect that would have. But the Iranian regime is dangerous, but not 10 feet tall, and a concerted effort here building on what has been done over the last several years, we really did manage to bring together an international coalition around Iran. We did manage to get the Iranian to the Security Council a number of times. And it is extremely important that those sanctions be toughened.

Now, the president of the United States should never take off the table military action, but I think everybody understands that has a lot of potential hi unintended consequences.

BLITZER: The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to be aligning himself with Iran. He refused to allow the United States to maintain a military presence beyond the end of this year with the kind of immunity that would require and he's increasingly supporting Bashar al Assad in Syria. Is this why the U.S. went to war, spent $1 trillion or whatever, lost so many lives, to see Iraq emerge as strategic partners of Iran?

RICE: Wolf, I think that significantly overstates the case about what's happening. The Iraqis don't really like the Iranians very much. They are Arabs, not Persian. Maliki himself actually left Tehran, didn't go into exile there, went instead to Syria, which may explain some of the linkage of Bashar al Assad. And he ought to be pressed to get in line with the Arab spring because Maliki is an elected leader, not a dictator.

But we also have to look at the fact that Iraq has now become the fourth largest purchaser of foreign military sales from the United States. We have to look at the fact that even though we were unable to work out an arrangement for residual force, there's still some talk of perhaps doing that.

I don't know what happened in the immunity deal. We actually did work out an immunity deal with the Iraqis that they were willing to accept. But we should try and revisit the issue of a residual force. But it's highly overstating the case to say that Iraq has become a strategic ally of Iran. I think it's actually something not the case.

BLITZER: It's moving in that direction increasingly. Why could Kuwait, for example --

RICE: Don't even -- BLITZER: I said, why would Kuwait allow 30,000 U.S. troops have a presence there, have the immunity that the U.S. troops require, but a country like Iraq where the U.S. invested so much is saying no to the United States?

RICE: Well, first of all, I was not inside the negotiations and I don't know who said no to whom. I know that we were able to work out an immunity clause with the Iraqis that was acceptable to them and the president and Pentagon.

BLITZER: Beyond the end of this year? Beyond the end of 2011?

RICE: My point, Wolf, is that we were able to work out an immunity clause, and I don't know whether or not that same clause might have applied -- had it been looked at, that it might have applied to our forces going forward. I was not inside the negotiations, so I don't know where the breakdown was.

But when you have the Iraqis buying military equipment from us, you will have some training of Iraqi forces. The Iraqi people are no particular friends of the Iranians. And so let's not overstate the case they're somehow moving into the Iranian camp. I think there's simply not the evidence for that at this point.

BLITZER: And $2 billion a week the United States is still spending in Afghanistan, worth $100 billion a year for at least another three years through the end of 2014. Is this money well spent given where Hamid Karzai is right now and where the opposition to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is right now?

RICE: Well, Hamid Karzai is not a perfect partner. That's quite obvious. But he isn't is Taliban, either, and he's not harboring Al Qaeda in his country. This is a country that no longer has an Al Qaeda safe haven. It is a country that actually has made some progress toward decent governance.

Yes, Pakistan is a continuing problem for Afghanistan and a continuing problem for us. It's really that frontier between the two countries that is the most dangerous threat to not just Afghanistan but I think also to Pakistan.

So yes, there's a lot of work yet to do in Afghanistan, but I think we can in a reasonable amount of time train Afghan security forces that are capable of preventing an existential threat to the Afghan government, help the Afghans to create more decent governance, particularly perhaps in the provinces. And the real wild card is whether or not Pakistan is really going to go after the extremists in that northwest frontier. That's really where the issue is.

BLITZER: In your book "No Higher Honor" this line really jumped out at me on one or your visits to Saudi Arabia. "The crown prince pulled out a gift-wrapped package. "I have a gift for you," he said. It was a full length, beautifully embroidered abaya, the black robe and veil Saudi women traditionally wear. "I had it made especially for you," he said tenderly. "Our women wear them." Yes, as a sign of oppression, I thought." How do you balance the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia where they can't even drive a car let alone fully vote with the need for their oil and the U.S. Saudi relationship maintaining that balance? How frustrated were you?

RICE: Well, this is a deeply conservative society. And I'll say one thing for King Abdullah. He is a reformer within his own context. He after all has put in place a multibillion dollar university that is a technical university where women will study even though they'll study separately.

He himself has said women should be able to vote by 2015. That may not sound like much to us, but from the Saudi king, that's really a revelation. And so this is a society that is deeply conservative and you are not going to change it overnight.

I think the real issue is how out of step will Saudi Arabia will with the democratizing trends within the rest of the region? And that's why we have to keep pressing Saudi Arabia to make reforms, to make changes.

It's not just about their oil. It's strategically located ally as well, and the United States isn't a nongovernmental organization that can simply press for human rights. It also has interests. But I think we've learned over time that our interests are ultimately better served if our values are well severed, too. And yes, it's a balancing act with a country like Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: Everything seems to be a balancing act in all of the negotiations all over the world. Madam Secretary, eight years you served in Washington, and I know you're enjoying the private sector right now. Good luck. Let me remind our viewers, the name of the book is entitled "No Higher Honor, a Memoir of my Years in Washington." Thanks very much for joining us.

RICE: Thanks very much, Wolf. Take care. 

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