'The global war on terror is the struggle of our times
. . . . We're cognizant that no cause justifies terrorism, and that terror — not an absence of will — terror remains the single, largest impediment to peace in the Middle East.'

Person to Person with Condoleezza Rice

By Trude B. Feldman
January 9, 2005
Updated March 9, 2005

WASHINGTON – January 22nd will mark four years since Dr. Condoleezza Rice became the first female National Security Advisor to the President. When she was confirmed by the United States Senate as the 66th Secretary of State, she became the first African American woman, and only the second woman to serve in that position.

In a farewell interview as President George W. Bush's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Dr. Rice says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coupled with the war on terror, will now be — along with Iraq — the President's “highest priorities.”

Sitting in her White House office, Dr. Rice also tells me that the new leadership in the Palestinian territories is an important step to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse and that that solution is now of interest all around the world.

“Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) or any Palestinian leader needs to understand that the only peaceful outcome is through a negotiated solution, not through the use of terrorism,” she says. “The Palestinian people need leadership committed to the legitimate aspirations for a democratic, transparent accountable government. We will work with the new leader when he renounces violence and is committed to stopping terrorism.”

Disclosing that she had never met Mr. Abbas's predecessor, Yassir Arafat, who, at age 75, died Nov. 11th in France, she adds: “President Bush's refusal to meet him reflected a determination that the American view be known — that there is no excuse for violence and terrorism, and that President Bush will not legitimize those who employ it.”

In her White House office, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor to the President, grants an exclusive, farewell interview to White House/State Department Correspondent Trude B. Feldman.
Photo by Paul Morse, The White House

Dr. Rice believes that a solution is closer with Mahmoud Abbas because he has often asserted that, in retrospect, the Intifada (Palestinian uprising) and violence against Israel was a mistake and that he will attempt to end it.

“There is now a good chance for the development of a democratic Palestinian state where the people can self-govern and live side by side with Israel.“ she says. "The Palestinians ought to have a state where they are allowed dissent. The best way to reach a peaceful solution is for there to be democracies living side by side.”

Asked how she would now begin to help solve the dispute, Dr. Rice responds: “Some of the fundamentals may soon be in place to make that possible. Israeli Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon's disengagement plan, where Israel will give back land and dismantle settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank, is a good start. He pushed his proposal hard and got a favorable vote in Israel's parliament to approve the plan and he seems to be managing the politics of it very well. His plan for disengagement can significantly advance our vision for peace and security in the region. That's why the President is supporting it. We certainly support Mr. Sharon's withdrawal and see it as an historic time -- when Israel begins to give back land to the Palestinians.

'In terms of the security fence, we envision a Middle East in which such a fence would not be needed.'

“The plan stands to do more than just begin the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the dismantling of settlements in the Gaza and West Bank. It could provide a new opportunity for reform of Palestinian institutions, particularly now with the new leadership.”

Questioned whether the U.S. also supports Israel's security barrier, Dr. Rice replies: “In terms of the security fence, we envision a Middle East in which such a fence would not be needed. We spent the last several months working with the Israelis to make sure that any fence would not prejudge a land agreement, and most important, that it would not intrude too much on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.”

What changes in U.S. policy in the Middle East will be considered in the President's second term?

“Well, a lot of it is happening on the ground,” Dr. Rice responds. “A lot will be the U.S. taking the opportunity about to present itself, like with changes in Israel's withdrawals and with new Palestinian leadership. Our strategy is beginning to change the terms of debate in the Middle East. As you know, we have close relations with Israel mainly because President Bush speaks candidly about the conditions everyone must meet so that Israelis and Palestinians are able to live in peace.”

She points out that George W. Bush is the first American president to publicly call for the creation of a Palestinian state, and as an ally of Israel, he views a peaceful and democratic state as being in the best interests of both Palestinians and Israelis. “He is also the first American president to say that the nature of any Palestinian state is as important as its borders,” she adds. “A Palestinian state must have a just and democratic government that serves the best interests of the Palestinian people, and one that is a true partner with Israel for peace.

“Creating such a government really is the only way to realize the President's vision of two states — Israel and Palestine — living peacefully side by side. A Palestinian state will never be achieved through terrorism. Neither Israel nor the United States would permit it.”

'Creating such a government really is the only way to realize the President's vision of two states — Israel and Palestine — living peacefully side by side. A Palestinian state will never be achieved through terrorism. Neither Israel nor the United States would permit it.'

Dr. Rice continues: “Our strategy is to help establish freedom in the area. Freedom is at the core of our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Those Arab states that are committed to peace need to end incitement to violence in their official media and cut off funding for terrorism. They also need to establish better relations with Israel.

“And Israeli leaders must support the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. I believe if violence subsides, freedom of movement will be restored, and that would help innocent Palestinians resume a normal life. And in accordance with the 'road map' peace plan (proposed by the President on June 24, 2002), settlement activity in the occupied territories needs to end.”

Dr. Rice went on to recall her two years (l989-l99l) in the first Bush White House when she was Senior Director of Soviet and European Affairs, the period of reunification of Germany and last days of the Soviet Union. Reaffirming what she told a recent audience, she recounts: “I had the chance to participate in the reunification of Germany and witness the beginnings of the peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union.

“When I look back, I realize we were harvesting good decisions that were made in l946, l947 and l948. Then, Harry Truman (33rd President of the U.S.); his Secretary of State Dean Acheson; George F. Kennan, (former Ambassador to Russia and Yugoslavia, who is now 100 years old) and others recognized that we were not in just a limited engagement with Communism, we were in the struggle of those times.

“The global war on terror is the struggle of our times. We are not the first generation to face a defining struggle or be called to defend freedom. We're cognizant that no cause justifies terrorism, and that terror — not an absence of will — terror remains the single, largest impediment to peace in the Middle East.”

During our 45-minute, one-on-one interview, Dr. Rice also replied to questions on Iraq, Iran, and the Sudan; U.S. reliance on foreign oil; relations with France, Italy, North Korea and Northern Ireland; and the role that faith plays in her life and in her decisions. She also discussed the Administration's accomplishments in the War on Terror; weapons of mass destruction; the Intelligence Reform Act, based on recommendations of the September 11, 200l Commission Report, and her sentiments on the attacks of 9/11 and how they changed the world.

At the White House on Sept. 19, 2001, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, President George W. Bush and his National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice, discuss the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
Photo by Eric Draper, The White House

She maintains that the killers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks wanted to terrorize and demoralize us and that they chose the center of our economic might, the headquarters of our military power and the seats of our democratic government to do so.

“They were acts of war designed to cripple us as a nation,” she says. “We were drawn into a global war against an assertive enemy. What happened on 9/11 changed our direction of foreign policy. We continue to do everything possible to defeat all terrorists and their recruits, as well as the ideology of hatred that sustains them.”

She adds that since September 11, 200l, America has built a coalition of some 90 countries that are sharing intelligence and working to combat terrorism. “Until recently, terrorists were well established in Saudi Arabia and faced little opposition,” she says. “But today, especially after the recent bombings in Riyadh and Jeddah, the Saudi Government is shutting down the facilitators of terrorism. As a result of our efforts, the terrorists' world is smaller. There are fewer spots in which terrorists can operate, but we won't give up until there aren't any.”

Pertaining to U.S. policy on the spread of weapons of mass destruction, Dr. Rice says that regimes can pursue them at much peril and cost, or they can give them up and embark on a road to better international relations – as did Libyan leader Col. Moummar Gadhafi.

“Because of President Bush's strong leadership in combating weapons of mass destruction, sensitive nuclear plans, and dangerous equipment from Libya are now locked up in the U.S.," she says. "And, last year, working with our British, German and Italian allies, we seized a huge shipment of centrifuge parts bound for Libya — just in time to help convince Col. Gadhafi of the wisdom of his decision.”

A part of the War on Terror includes American governmental reform as well as international actions. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the crash in Pennsylvania of United Airlines flight 93, as well as the 9/11 Commission Report, there has been constant outcry for stronger intelligence reform – lest, as the Report's Chairman, Governor Thomas Kean put it, the world is at risk of more attacks.

After much controversy and debate in the U.S. Congress, The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bush last Dec. l7. He described the Act as “the most dramatic reform of our nation's intelligence capabilities since President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947.”

Under the new law, the President noted, America's intelligence enterprise will become more unified, coordinated and effective and enable America to better protect its citizens. The Act also creates the position of Director of National Intelligence.

Dr. Rice tells me that her role in the debate was to help expedite the proper legislation, particularly on some of the budget authority issues in Congress. Asked why this reform is so important to President Bush, she responds: “It is a high priority for him because these changes will be the first in our intelligence community since l947 when the original framing legislation was passed. So we need to get started on modernization of our communities.

“The President has already done a lot by working with CIA Director Porter Goss and FBI Director Robert Mueller to bring about meaningful reform. But selecting a National Intelligence Director, who has broad authority and who can mobilize the disparate offices to make sure we receive the very best intelligence, is now our principal focus. These are difficult times for intelligence because we are dealing with a secretive society. We are not dealing with the Soviet Union, which was one big target. We are in a war on terror and that is a shadowy network — so reform is crucial.”

Because terrorism and oil are vital factors in the Middle East equation, I asked Dr. Rice what role oil plays in U.S. policy in the region. “Oil does play a role since it is an important commodity in international trade; and in the growth of economies throughout the world,” she responds. “But it is not the reason we are in the Middle East, politically, or that we are in Iraq.”

Is oil independence a goal of the Bush administration? If so, how does she plan to move towards that goal?

“For national security and energy reasons, the U.S. ought to reduce its reliance on foreign producers to the extent practical,” she says. “One way is to increase domestic production; another is to further diversify those foreign sources of supply. We should also increase energy efficiency and improve energy conservation.”

Dr. Rice points out that President Bush — four years ago — put together, with Vice President Dick Cheney, a Task Force on Energy, and that the Task Force developed a solid, comprehensive plan, subsequently translated into legislation.

“That plan would reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy and put us on a future course to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbons,” she says. “It is a good bill, reflecting much of the President's plan, and had – several times – passed the U.S. House of Representatives. But it continues to be stuck in the U.S. Senate.”

Concerning Iran, Dr. Rice was asked how she views that country's willingness to suspend enrichment and reprocessing activities in exchange for certain benefits agreed to by European powers.

“The important thing is that the world remains united,” she says, “and let the Iranians know they cannot pursue their nuclear ambitions and continue to be an active member of the international community.”

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair at their joint press conference in July 2003 in the Cross Hall of the East Wing of the White House following Mr. Blair's address to a joint session of Congress. Observers in the front row, from left: First Ladies Cherie Blair and Laura Bush, and Lynne Cheney, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and wife of Vice President Dick Cheney. In the second row, from left: White House Correspondent Trude B. Feldman, White House stenographer Lea Hutchins, Communications Director Dan Bartlett, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and (half-hidden) British Ambassador to the U.S. David Manning.
Photo by Paul Morse, The White House

Does any agreement hold promise for resolving the issue?

“I believe it is something that can be dealt with diplomatically,” she responds. “But the important thing is that whatever agreements there are, there be adequate means of verification, that the Iranians know they are not getting away with anything and that they recognize that if they do not live up to their obligations, the international community is prepared to take them to the United Nations Security Council.”

Would the U.S. contemplate using military force against Iran?

“I believe,” she reiterates, “that is still something we can resolve diplomatically.”

'The important thing is that the world remains united and let the Iranians know they cannot pursue their nuclear ambitions and continue to be an active member of the international community.'

Concerning the North Koreans, what risks is President Bush taking by waiting longer to address them on their nuclear weapons status?

"We have to do it right with North Korea," Dr. Rice asserts. "That's the most important thing – to get an agreement that achieves the goal of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula, an agreement that ends North Korean nuclear programs. We have a more effective way of going about that than in the past because in the 'six party talks' we have all of North Korea's neighbors involved. It is not just the U.S. and North Korea. It is China, which, by the way, has more leverage with North Korea than we do. It is Japan, it is Russia, it is South Korea. So it is not a matter of waiting. It is a matter of insisting on the right outcome."

Despite the controversy surrounding U.S. relations with France, Dr. Rice tells me: "Our relations with France are better in practice than they are in theory. We are doing fine with France. I recently talked at length with my French counterpart (Maurice Gourdault-Montagne) and the other day, I met here with Michel Barnier (Minister of Foreign Affairs of the French Republic). We sponsored a resolution together in the United Nations on a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. (The U.S. and Paris jointly sponsored U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, passed on Sept. 2, which called on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.)

"Also, very early on, the French were in with us in Haiti (in persuading President Aristide to go into exile). And we are working with France on the bad situation in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

"Yes, we had differences with France on Iraq, but it was really about Iraq. Yet, we're working now with France about Iraqi debt relief; and NATO is involved (in training Iraqi troops with French participation). So our relations with France are just fine."

In Iraq, how concerned is Dr. Rice that the capture of Fallujah by U.S. forces may lead to increased resentment against us on the part of Iraqi civilians?

“I think Prime Minister Iyad Allawi probably said it best when he noted, 'You cannot have parts of the country where terrorists are intimidating populations and keeping people from going about their daily lives.' The aim is to create an environment in which elections can take place so Iraqis can govern their own affairs.”

In Darfur, Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance, Dr. Rice says the U.S. is constantly working on this crisis. "We are working very hard with the United Nations to get the Sudanese government to own up to its responsibility," she adds. "It has to stop being malicious and perpetrating violence against the people and to get humanitarian assistance. We have had more success in getting humanitarian assistance than in stopping the violence. But Sudan is on notice that the world expects the Sudanese government to act responsibly."

In Northern Ireland, discussions and implementation of the 1998 Belfast Agreement are at a critical stage. Questioned about any progress on the peace process, Dr. Rice responds, "The U.S. has been involved in trying to help the parties execute the Good Friday Agreement. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are talking with President Bush on the issue and the president remains committed to helping resolve it. He made that clear during our visit to Northern Ireland (April 2003) and again on his trip to Ireland last June, as well as during his subsequent telephone conversations with the appropriate leaders.

"In the past, we have worked with Ambassador Richard Haass (now President of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York) on the ongoing problem. Our point man now for Northern Ireland is Ambassador Mitchell Reiss and we continue to support their efforts."

Does Dr. Rice see a resolution for Northern Ireland in the near future?

"It is hard to know because the parties have to be ready to resolve the problem. They have a good agreement, but they need to implement it."

Turning to Condoleezza Rice, the woman behind the title of National Security Advisor, how does she define the role of women as leaders in peace-building and national security?

“Gender,” she replies succinctly, “makes no difference as to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.”

She cites Afghanistan as one country which today is a much better society because women are now permitted to vote and are beginning to play a role in public life, she observes: “If that spreads throughout the world, we will see that even in societies where there has been much poverty and other difficulties, when women get control of their lives and can open businesses, their societies benefit.”

Dr. Rice's first name, Condoleezza, is derived from an Italian musical term meaning 'with sweetness”. And of all the countries she has visited, Italy is one of her favorites. “If you ask me where I'd like to spend more time,” she muses, “I'd say Italy. I love going to Italy and since I am a real lover of antiquity and ancient history, I love going to Rome.” (Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was a recent luncheon guest at the White House.)

In addition to National Security policy and diplomacy, among her passions are sports and music; and she is an avid exerciser. Also important to her is keeping up with her personal friends, former colleagues and her interactions with international diplomats.

An accomplished concert pianist, she was invited to speak in honor of world-renowned pianist Van Cliburn three years ago at the 24th annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts. During her tribute, she recalled: “When I was growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Van Cliburn was the only pianist I knew by name. In fact, I wanted to be Van Cliburn. I tried and tried to imitate his passion and his technique, but by the time I got to college, it was clear that, uh, I was no Van Cliburn. I lacked virtuoso talent and I hated to practice, a particularly devastating combination for an aspiring pianist. So, instead of studying Russian composers, I decided to study Russian generals. But like all his fans, I never forgot Van Cliburn's grace and lyricism. I never forgot the power of his music to build bridges across cultural and political divides.”

Dr. Rice with world-famous cellist YoYo Ma at the Arts and Humanities Award Ceremonies at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2002.
Photo by Eric Draper

Dr. Rice, who just turned 50 years old, is the author of “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft," with Philip Zelikow (Harvard University Press, 1995); “The Gorbachev Era” with Alexander Allin (l986) and “Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army” (l984).

She earned her bachelor's degree in political science, cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Denver in l974, and her Ph.D. in l98l from the university's Graduate School of International Studies.

As a junior at the University of Denver, Condoleezza Rice planned a career in music. But as a student studying international politics under Professor Josef Korbel, she became more and more drawn to international relations, eventually specializing in Soviet affairs. (She now speaks fluent Russian.)

Professor Korbel, a former Czechoslovak diplomat whom Dr. Rice calls “one of the most central figures in my life,” is the father of Madeleine Albright, America's first female Secretary of State.

As for Dr. Rice's own father, a Presbyterian pastor, and the roles that he and faith have played in her life, she tells me: “Faith plays a major role in my life in general. It is a kind of organic and integral part of me, not separate from anything I do. I am very religious, committed to my faith and committed to prayer. I am one who is analytical about decisions or recommendations I make, and a big believer in trying to seek guidance on a daily basis.

“You know, I think of myself as a package. I am female. I am Black. I am 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and I am a Professor of International Politics. It all kind of comes together. It is hard to pull out one piece and say, 'This comes to that or that comes to this'. I do think that women, in general, have a major role to play in our democratization effort.”

Editors Note: Trude B. Feldman, a veteran White House and State Department correspondent, has interviewed every National Security Advisor to the President since Henry A. Kissinger in the Richard Nixon White House.

Copyright © 2005 East West Services, Inc.

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