SPIEGEL Interview with Condoleezza Rice "We Feel We Have a Responsibility to the World"

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses America's new engagement in the Middle East, the path to stability in Iraq and explains why Washington is unwilling to compromise in its position against Iran.


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting in Berlin.
AP

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting in Berlin.

SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, you said that during your trip through the Middle East, you wanted to "gather ideas." Have you gained new insight?

RICE: Yes. It was a very useful trip. I asked how people would like to go forward for the acceleration of the roadmap and to really now begin to work for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And out of those discussions, it became clear that a set of informal talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be useful, so to speak, to break the ice. They've not talked about the issues concerning the establishment of the state for six years. And so I will go back sometime in the next few weeks to help facilitate those talks between them. But I think this is a good way to start work toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.

SPIEGEL: Do you see any signs suggesting that the dangerous situation in the Middle East can be defused?

RICE: I do believe it can be. The Chinese have a character for crisis; it's danger and opportunity. And our job now is to press the opportunity. Obviously, it's a complicated time in the Middle East. But very often opportunities come out of difficult times and we will try to pursue those opportunities.

SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, how much time will the US government grant Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration to prove that this time it is serious about disarming the militia?

RICE: The Maliki government came to us to say that this was a time to deal with the problems in Baghdad. And I think they understand very well that that means being evenhanded, dealing with Sunni and Shia death squads. The disarming of the militia is, of course, a part of the prime minister's plan. I believe that they will do that.

But the first goal really is to deal with the population security problem in Baghdad. And that is why the president will make available additional American forces to help reinforce the Iraqis as they deal with their neighborhoods and try to give the population a sense of security. You can't have militias in a democratic state. But I think the first thing they will try to do is to deal with the death squads and the people who are really causing the dangers to the population.

SPIEGEL: When will the new strategy take effect?

US soldiers in Baghdad: Going after the death squads.
REUTERS

US soldiers in Baghdad: Going after the death squads.

RICE: Well, the forces will start to come in on Feb. 1. I think we will know in a few months whether or not this is a having an effect. They have a very developed plan of military districts in Baghdad of army, police and local police to patrol and to work on the problem. And I do believe that if they follow the rules of engagement that the prime minister says he will and they really go after the death squads, no matter who they are, then this has a very high chance of working.

SPIEGEL: Would you say that the war in Iraq is winnable?

RICE: Oh, absolutely I think it is. It's not easy. This is a revolution really in the Middle East, a political-social revolution. Iraq was drawn on the fault lines of ethnic and religious differences. For the first time they're being challenged to resolve their differences by politics, not by the repression of one group by another. There are very deep grievances that sometimes spring to the surface, and so it's not easy.

But when you talk with Iraqi leaders or with just the Iraqi people, they want what everyone else wants: They want a stable and peaceful life. And I think the defeat of those extremists who are trying to deny them that kind of Iraq is what really needs to be done. It's not as if all Iraqis are running through the streets fighting each other, Sunni and Shia. These are people who are intermarried, their tribes are very often both Sunni and Shia, but they are being challenged by violent extremists and by death squads.

SPIEGEL: How big do you think these groups are?

RICE: I don't know how small, but certainly not large, not the majority of the Iraqi people.

SPIEGEL: So you wouldn't describe the situation in Iraq as a civil war?

RICE: No, because the Iraqi people and their government have not given up on a unified Iraq. You don't hear Iraqi leaders saying, oh, we cannot work with the Sunni or the Shia. They have a national reconciliation plan. And so I think we should talk about this the way they talk about it, which is the need to reestablish civil order.

SPIEGEL: In Berlin, you held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Were you confronted with any skepticism or criticism over the new American strategy in Iraq?

Jubilant supporters of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.
AP

Jubilant supporters of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.

RICE: I found the German government quite understanding of what we are trying to do. I think that everyone -- and I found this in the region, too -- is impressed with and pleased that there is an American recommitment to Iraq, that the president is not following the voices of some who would say, well, just leave the Iraqis to their own problems at this point, because we feel we have a responsibility to the region, to the world, to help stabilize Iraq. But we recognize that the responsibility really rests with the Iraqi government for what kind of Iraq this is going to be, and with the Iraqi people. The United States needs to play its part and I've found broad support for what the president is prepared to do.

SPIEGEL: Don't you think it's time for Washington to hold direct talks with Iran?

RICE: No, I don't. I think the Iranians are in violation every day of international demands. I think they are engaged in activities that are leading to the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. I think they are behind much of the instability in Lebanon and they are with the rejectionists in the Palestinian territories.

I think everybody knows what Iran needs to do. We don't need to tell them. And I, by the way, would have reversed 27 years of American policy to sit with my Iranian counterparts, if only they would meet the demands of the international community. So the question isn't why we won't talk to them. The question should be why they won't talk to us.

  • Part 1: "We Feel We Have a Responsibility to the World"
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