(2:15 p.m. EDT)
QUESTION: Former Secretary of State James Baker wrote in his memoir that it was time for some equity in the Middle East, but it remains an unsolvable problem. How do you comment on that? Do you still see the Middle East as an unsolvable problem? Is it time for some equity over there?
SECRETARY RICE: I think the Middle East is a solvable problem because the people of the Middle East want a better life. And the United States is absolutely dedicated to trying to solve the problems of the Middle East. I think it's true that for so many years we looked to a Middle East and we talked only about stability. We didn't talk about the rights of people to live in freedom and liberty. And obviously there are many places that have not yet had the chance to see the hope and the promise of living in freedom, but things are changing in the Middle East. I know that they are turbulent and difficult, but I think, and for the most part, things are changing for the better.
QUESTION: They are changing in a positive way, you think?
SECRETARY RICE: There are many things that are changing positively. It's hard to see when you see every day so much violence and so much difficulty. And for the people of the Middle East I know that some days getting up must just be difficult. But when you think about some of the things that have happened; in Lebanon for instance, you have now a democratic government in Lebanon, the Syrian forces are gone after 30 years of occupation of Lebanon. And even though it's very hard and very difficult, Lebanon has a chance at a true democratic future where all Lebanese can be represented. And so that's an example of positive change even as difficult as it was with the war this summer.
QUESTION: So allow me to ask you some more questions concerning Lebanon.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: You paid a visit to Lebanon and the region during the July war waged by Israel. Do you think this war has achieved its goal through Resolution 1701?
SECRETARY RICE: Resolution 1701 was a remarkable coming together of the international system, the international community, to try and make sure that the conditions that produced the war in the summer would not be produced again. And so Hezbollah, which as a state within a state had launched an attack across the international blue line, the Lebanese Government knew nothing of the fact that that attack was going to take place, and that then plunged the entire country and the region into a chaotic war.
The outcome of that war -- and there was great human cost and we have to recognize that there was great human cost. But now when we look at the situation, we see the Lebanese army in control of the entire country. That's the first time in decades that the Lebanese army has been in control of the country. We see an international community committed to the reconstruction of Lebanon. That is very important. And we see an international process for resolving some of the political issues between Israel and Lebanon that have long plagued the relationship.
QUESTION: The Lebanese criticized you when you were in Lebanon for talking about new political arrangements in Lebanon about a division between the Shiites and about possible assassinations against the 14th of March Coalition. On what basis do you speak of divisions between the Shiites and do you have specific information about the assassinations?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in turns of divisions, I wouldn't talk about divisions between the Shia. The Shia are like any people; they have many different voices and many different views. The issue is between extremists who want one kind of life in Lebanon and who find their support in places like Iran, and people who want a democratic Lebanon that speaks to Lebanese voices.
Now, in terms of -- we know that Lebanon has unfortunately had too many assassinations, too many tragic circumstances. You know that better than any. And so the evidence is there that foreign influences have -- ever since the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri -- have tried to use assassination and intimidation against the Lebanese people. But the Lebanese people are very resilient people, and they keep coming back to their desire to have a democratic future and to live together, not to be driven again into civil war. We worry these days that --
QUESTION: But no specific information about the assassinations?
SECRETARY RICE: You get information from time to time that there are forces that would want to do this. But if there is specific information, of course, we will pass it on to the Lebanese so that they can try and guard against it.
QUESTION: We heard about new list.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we too have heard that there are people who would like to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Siniora. We've heard that there are people who would like to intimidate or assassinate again. They've done it before in Lebanon.
QUESTION: Well, what about (inaudible) --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's not any great secret that there are concerns about what Syria, which once occupied the country, might try and do through continuing contacts in the country. But I don't want to accuse any one place; I just want to make very clear that the international community believes there should be no foreign intimidation of the Lebanese people.
QUESTION: In your visit to the region also during the July war and during the meetings you had with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, you made sure to include the Shebaa Farms issue in the proposal package you presented. What does Resolution 1701 offer on the Shebaa Farm issue, and how could the Shebaa Farms be returned to Lebanon?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, Shebaa Farms is still a question of delineation of the line. It was by the UN declared to be Syrian. And so that needs to be resolved. It is also an issue that the Secretary General has been charged by the Security Council resolution with finding a way to resolve this issue. And so we await the report of the Secretary General on how he would propose to deal with the Shebaa Farms situation. But we should remember that there was a delineation of it to Syria and that will have to be resolved one way or another.
QUESTION: And Syria is announcing now that it's Lebanese land.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, one day they say it's Lebanese; the next day they say it's Syrian. Let's see that if Syria is willing once and for all to say that it is Lebanese.
QUESTION: And what do you need from them to assure that these lands are --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it would be very helpful if when the Secretary General comes that Syria would be prepared to delineate all of its border with Lebanon. You know, in Resolution 1559 it was required that there be a delineation of the border. It would be useful if there would be an exchange of ambassadors, as normal states do. There are many things that Syria could do to increase international confidence that it accepts fully Lebanese sovereignty and Lebanese authority over Lebanese territory.
QUESTION: Will the UNIFIL troops get some help to achieve this goal?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the UNIFIL troops are really there, first of all, to assist the Lebanese army in returning to control of the entire country. They are there to make sure that Hezbollah cannot go back to the border locations that -- from which it started the war. They are there to protect Lebanon and to make sure that security is maintained while the Lebanese army is being improved and reformed so that it can do the job completely. And there are also major efforts underway to improve the Lebanese army.
QUESTION: Could there be a swap for returning the Shebaa Farms and finding a solution for Hezbollah's arms?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Hezbollah -- the disarmament of militias is an obligation that the Lebanese Government has as a result of Resolution 1559 and 1701. These are not issues, I think, that require linkage. I think we should try to resolve them all. And the reason that it's important to get rid of militias is that it's really very hard to have a democratic system in which one element of the government is armed but it isn't armed as a part of the state. The state should have a monopoly on arms.
QUESTION: And the Shebaa Farms are the pretext now to --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, but -- but pretext is -- we shouldn't accept pretext. We should recognize that if Hezbollah wants to be in politics, then on that principle Hezbollah should disarm because you cannot have one foot in terror and the use of violence, and the other foot in politics. It just doesn't work that way. And the international community should insist on that. The Lebanese should insist on it.
QUESTION: Hezbollah is refusing to be disarmed before Shebaa Farm returns and it becomes Lebanese land and before the exchange of prisoners and detainees. What do you say about this?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it was at one point just Shebaa Farms. Hezbollah will find lots of excuses not to disarm if they're allowed to find excuses. The fact is there is an obligation in Resolution 1559 and then in Resolution 1701 that Hezbollah disarm.
Lebanon needs one security force that reports to the Lebanese Government. Now, Hezbollah has ministers in the Lebanese Government, which means that they're participating in the politics. They should participate in the politics and get rid of the arms and let the Lebanese army and the Lebanese security forces defend Lebanese interests. That's the way normal states work.
QUESTION: And if they do not agree? You will use force -- the UNIFIL will force --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is not a part of the UNIFIL mandate, and no one expects UNIFIL to do this. This is something that Lebanon has to resolve within its political context.
QUESTION: So you are counting on the Lebanese army?
SECRETARY RICE: I'm counting on Lebanon to live up to its obligations. I'm counting on Lebanon to want to evolve to a normal state. And a normal state has an army and police that answer to the state, not to a state within a state.
QUESTION: Okay. What about the old fights between USA and Hezbollah, mainly the bombing of the Marines Headquarters and the two U.S. Embassies (inaudible) and the kidnapping of its (inaudible) plane and hostage taking? If Hezbollah lays down on his arms, would you pledge to disregard these old trials? Would you guarantee that Israel won't try to eliminate the party's leader? What are the guarantees?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, Hezbollah -- Lebanon has an obligation to disarm Hezbollah in any case. The United States doesn't forget people who kill Americans. No, we don't forget and we don't intend to forget, because this is a terrorist organization that did this. Hezbollah has to decide whether it's going to maintain its terrorist wing and remain a terrorist organization or whether it's going to become fully a part of the political process. This is a long process. But, no, we're not going to forget that Americans were killed.
QUESTION: And what will be the consequences if you don't forget concerning the Hezbollah?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it is best just to talk about the American position here, which is that we will never -- there are legal -- there is legal recourse. There are all kinds of ways to deal with the fact that Americans were killed by Hezbollah. But no, we are never going to simply wipe it away and forget that Americans were killed.
QUESTION: And if this, what you're saying right now, make them afraid about the future about how to deal with the Lebanese Government maybe and the U.S. in the future?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that we believe very much in international law. We believe in people being brought to justice for crimes that were committed against other people. And no, the United States Government is never going to simply forget that Americans were killed. But we can certainly rely on processes that are legal processes to deal with these issues.
QUESTION: Will the UN peacekeeping troops undertake air surveillance over Lebanon to put an end to the Israeli constant violations of the Lebanese air space? Anyway, according to German defense ministry, a clash took place two days ago between a German warship and two Israeli airplanes in front of the Lebanese coast. How do you comment on that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly we are looking into what happened there. The -- we've always said that there are certain fragile aspects to this ceasefire and having people still -- military forces in close proximity means that there are dangers of clashes.
We think that the responsibility for the monitoring of the arms embargo, for assuring that Hezbollah will not be rearmed, it should be the responsibility of the Lebanese Government with the help of the international community. But there has to be an effective way of doing it. There has to be an effective way of making sure that the arms embargo is not being violated. We've told the Israelis that they should not make overflights, that in fact they should rely on the international community, but they need to be able to rely on the international community and on Lebanon so Lebanon here can exercise its responsibilities on the arms embargo.
QUESTION: But Israel and especially the Defense Minister Amir Perez has said that the Israelis will overflight over Lebanon and this will continue.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we need both -- everyone, all parties now -- to work within the context of Resolution 1701. It's very clear where the responsibility for monitoring the arms embargo and making sure that arms are not being shipped to Hezbollah rests. It rests with the Lebanese Government. But the Lebanese Government is not yet fully exercising that responsibility and that authority. It needs more help from the international community, especially concerning the land border. I think things are working relatively well at sea and at the airport, but there needs to be more done to make sure that the arms embargo is being respected. We are looking, for instance, at whether or not in the United Nations there might a committee that could help oversee this.
QUESTION: Okay. President Bush pledged $230 million to support Lebanon and contributions to the Lebanese army. When will these contributions begin and what is the extent of your support for the Lebanese army? Do you think the Paris III donors conference will succeed and is it a substitute for the Beirut I conference that was planned for in New York?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, it's not a substitute, but obviously it'll be important. Paris will be the central conference and I think everybody looks forward to that conference. In terms of support for the Lebanese armed forces, we're working out the means by which we can be involved in helping the Lebanese armed forces. The Europeans are doing the same thing. A number of Arab states are planning to help with the reform and equipping of the Lebanese armed forces. The Lebanese armed forces now have tremendous responsibilities, and the international community wants the Lebanese armed forces to be competent and capable and able to carry out the responsibilities.
QUESTION: So they will receive all the help they need?
SECRETARY RICE: They should receive and I think they will receive the help that they need. In terms of the reconstruction though, the United States has also made contributions to reconstruction and will make larger contributions to reconstruction. We have a private sector effort as well. We had American CEOs in Lebanon talking about a private sector effort. And I think together you will see the United States make an exceptional contribution to rebuilding Lebanon.
QUESTION: Okay. On another issue, can you confirm that the investigation in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination will be carried through, that the perpetrators will be unveiled and brought to justice?
SECRETARY RICE: They must be unveiled and brought to justice. And it is really the responsibility of the international community to make sure that they are. The -- we are working now with the Lebanese. The UN is working with the Lebanese to find a way to conduct a tribunal to know how to do that. The Brammertz investigation is continuing. It continues under a strict Security Council resolution that requires cooperation of all member-states, including Syria, with that investigation. And it needs to be completed and the perpetrators need to be found and brought to justice.
QUESTION: Okay. Is the Syrian regime threatened by the investigation, this investigation, and could there be a deal in this matter allowing Syria to make concessions in Iraq and Lebanon in exchange of limiting the accusations and protecting the head of the regime?
SECRETARY RICE: There cannot be a deal about the Rafik Hariri assassination. The people who did that, people who are responsible for it, have to be brought to justice. And on this one, it has to be whoever was involved in that has to be brought to justice. There can't be -- and the United States wouldn't want to participate in some kind of side deal that says, well, if you do this, maybe we'll shield you from the investigation. That would be wrong.
QUESTION: Do you think that we'll reach some results by the end of this year or we have to wait till --
SECRETARY RICE: That is certainly the hope is that it will be by the end of the year. Mr. Brammertz is a good prosecutor and he keeps his cards very close to his chest. We don't know where he is in the investigation. But I hope it will be wrapped up soon.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you confirm concerning President Lahoud's mandate? Soon it will be -- it will come to an end. Already there's talk about the presidency and the need for electing a new president. Is the United States interested in the presidential elections in Lebanon?
SECRETARY RICE: We'll have only the following interests: first of all, that the elections be free and fair so that a Lebanese president can be elected who fully represents the Lebanese people. And who becomes -- who's elected president, that's for Lebanon to decide. The United States is not going to be involved in that.
QUESTION: According to the Taif agreement, the president is supposed to be Christian Maronite, but the main concern, and like what was happening during the Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, agreements will be reached between other communities and regional powers -- maybe the USA, too -- and the new president will once again falsely represent the Christians and especially the 14 March Christians. What's your opinion on this issue?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, these are internal Lebanese matters. Lebanon is going to be best served by having leaders that represent as many Lebanese as possible and that Lebanese know were selected and elected in a way that was -- had integrity and that was transparent. That's the most important part of this. So we will not have an opinion on who ought to be president of Lebanon.
QUESTION: Even if there are some agreements in the region?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, the Lebanese people aren't going to put up with that. The Lebanese people are going to want a Lebanese president that's elected by democratic processes. That's the way it should be. Now, how it relates to Lebanon's constitutional issues and so forth, I leave that to the Lebanese. But Lebanon should be beyond the time of, so to speak, backroom deals. It is really now for Lebanon to take its rightful place as a democracy and to elect its leaders.
QUESTION: Speaker of Lebanese parliament Nabih Berri called for a national dialogue to discuss changes in the government in order to create the so-called unity government and prepare a new parliamentary election, ignoring the July war and ignoring the demands of the March 14 forces which called for the election of a new president and the disarmament of the Hezbollah. Do you believe that this will escalate tensions in Lebanon again?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that it should not escalate tensions. All Lebanese need to step back and realize that the political system needs to reflect the interests of the Lebanese. Now, whatever kind of government there is going to be in Lebanon, that's for the Lebanese to decide. I do want everyone to understand how much admiration and respect there is internationally, in the international community, for this government, for the government of Prime Minister Siniora and his ministers. They brought this country through a difficult war. They negotiated an agreement to end the war that was favorable to Lebanon. They have put Lebanese issues on the international agenda for resolution, issues like the Shebaa issue. And so this is a government that has a lot of respect in the international community.
QUESTION: Thank you. Concerning Syria, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to push Syria to collapse and warned against a regime change in Syria because, as he said, the alternative may represent a great menace to the national security in the whole region. Is this fear of the alternative or its inexistence, what is keeping this regime alive and does this regime have a specific function on the American policies agenda in the region?
SECRETARY RICE: We would like to see a Syrian regime that was really devoted to helping stabilize the Middle East, that was devoted to not interfering in Lebanese affairs, that was trying to stop terrorists from going into Iraq, that was not giving safe haven to terrorist groups in Syria, that would support Abu Mazen in his efforts to find a way out of the political crisis that the Palestinians have now, that would encourage the release of the Israeli soldiers in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories so that that process could move forward. We look for a change in Syrian behavior and this regime is not doing very much at all now -- it's doing a great deal to destabilize the region rather than to stabilize it.
QUESTION: Do you support the Syrian opposition?
SECRETARY RICE: There should always be opposition, and in Syria too. The Syrian people deserve a democratic life, a democratic future, just like all the people of the Middle East do.
QUESTION: Concerning Palestine, do you have any intention to support the Hamas-led government by (inaudible) on the Palestinians? Isn't Hamas success in the elections proof of your polices' failure in the region?
SECRETARY RICE: In fact, Hamas' selection -- success in the elections was tied to Hamas' argument that they would be less corrupt and more effective than the Fatah government would be, and then they came to power and we recognized the legitimacy of the election. They then came to power and they've not been able to govern. And why have they not been able to govern? They've not been able to govern because they refused to accept international standards, international agreements that the Palestinians signed on to more than a decade ago, the Arab consensus even about how to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the very right of Israel to exist.
And because they've been unwilling to accept this, they've not been able to engage the international community and they've not been able to get the kind of international assistance that the world would like very much to be giving to the Palestinian people. So we're supporting Abu Mazen, who is signed on to and does believe in a two-state solution, and we'll continue to do so. But the Palestinians need to resolve their internal situation and get a government that has international acceptance.
QUESTION: And in Iraq there was rumored that former Secretary James Baker will propose a compromise between the status quo and getting out of Iraq, that he is for a gradual withdrawal from Iraq and for stability and security before democracy. How true are these rumors?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I -- we will see what the Baker-Hamilton Commission report is. I'm not going to try to comment on what are rumors about what they might do. But the President of the United States is dedicated to staying to help the Iraqis to create the foundations for a democratic future.
Iraqis have work to do, too, though. They need to solve their political differences between the various groups. They need to come up with laws that protect the interests and the rights of all Iraqis. And I'm quite sure that when they do that, they're going to have tremendous support from the international community.
QUESTION: Concerning Iran, is Iran on the way of producing a nuclear bomb as in the case of North Korea? Do you think that your leniency on the North Korean front encouraged Iran to pursue its own nuclear program?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think on North Korea, North Korea -- if the Iranians are watching, they've seen a North Korea that has just been hit hard by the international community: a resolution that is a Chapter 7 resolution that mandates that states will do everything they can to prevent the North Koreans from getting -- from proceeding with their nuclear weapons program. There are sanctions against North Korea. And those sanctions were joined by China, which has long been North Korea's friend and ally. And Iran will face sanctions, too, in the international community for its defiance. But sanctions are only there to provide an option to provide pressure for negotiations.
QUESTION: What can be the other options?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, all options are available. Not all options are good, but all options are available. And so the most important thing for Iran, I think, is to accept the very generous package that was given to them by the six parties through Javier Solana, the EU High Representative. They could accept that package any day. They could have civil nuclear power. The Iranian Government is fond of telling their people that the international --
QUESTION: And this means that they have enough time?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they can accept at any time, at any time. But the issue of sanctions is moving along, but they can accept that. That is open to them at any time.
QUESTION: There is not a dead end?
SECRETARY RICE: They can always accept to come back, stop enrichment and reprocessing and enter negotiations.
QUESTION: Last question, Ms. Rice. Could you be the Republicans' candidate for the U.S. presidency? Could you compete with Hillary Clinton if she was put up as the candidate for the Democratic Party?
SECRETARY RICE: I can't be because I don't want to be. I don't. I think anybody who wants to run for President is remarkable, and I'm very pleased, but not me. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: It was a real pleasure.
QUESTION: Thank you for this interview.
SECRETARY RICE: It was a pleasure. Thank you.