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Jon Sopel interview
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


Straw, Sopel and Rice
Jon Sopel with Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw

On Politics Show, Sunday 23 October 2005, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice
  • and Jack Straw MP

During the Foreign Secretary's visit to the United States


Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw
Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw

Interview with Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw, MP

JON: And I'm joined now by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

Both of you welcome to The Politics Show.

Secretary Rice, you've spoken a lot on this trip about democracy and civil rights and we'll come back to that.

I wanted to start with Syria which is the issue that has kind of come to dominate while you've been down here.

The President has called for a meeting of ministers this week, now that is a pretty drastic measure, you don't normally do that just to deliver a slap on the wrist at the UN.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well this Report, calls for a firm response from the international community and it's a report that has to be debated at the level of Ministers.

This is a time when the Security Council needs to discuss this, we haven't called for any specific action, but we do think ... (interjects)

JON SOPEL: What sort of action would you like to see?

Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, we will see. The first thing is to have a review of this Report, which is very disturbing, you have at the very least here Syria not co-operating, you have of course also the very strong implication that Syria was involved somehow in the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, so these are very serious charges and they have to be debated at the level of Foreign Minister.

I'm quite certain that when the community gets together, the international community gets together, we will decide what to do but it can't be as, as the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, just left lying on the table; this really has to be dealt with.

JON SOPEL: Well what sort of measures then Jack Straw.

JACK STRAW: With respect we can't discuss the details of the Resolution, here on this programme, we've got to consult our colleagues, but the mere fact of having a Security Council Meeting at Ministerial level, will send out a very sharp message indeed to the Syrians, that this behaviour, as reported by Prosecutor Mehlis, is simply unacceptable.

What we also know, from the history of dealing with Syria, following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, that where the international community is firm and united, in the end the Syrian government gets the message, and they have got to get the message that you cannot have a (interjection) ... government if I may say so, at any level going in to assassinations.

BOTH TOGETHER

JON SOPEL: Well you, you said it went to the highest level. Did President Assad know about it.

Jack Straw MP
Jack Straw MP

JACK STRAW: Well we don't know that, what we do know is that the Report indicates that people of high level of this Syrian regime, were implicated. We also have evidence from the Mehlis Report of false testimony being given by senior people in the regime. This is very serious.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Let's turn to Iraq now where there have been some positive political developments this week. The start of the trial of Saddam Hussein, the vote on the Constitution, the result of which we await. How far are we away then do you think from Iraq being stable enough for the US and Britain to pull out its troops.

CONDOLEESSA RICE: We've been very clear that we don't want to talk about timetables, we want to talk about results and we want to talk about a success strategy and the Iraqis are making very steady and quite remarkable process on the political front.

When you think about it, everything that they've been asked to do out of the transitional administrative law, at the time well before the transfer of sovereignty, they have done, they have received sovereignty, they've had a government that receives sovereignty, they had elections, they've now had a Constitution written, they've had a referendum, they're going to have permanent elections. So the political process is going forward.

Now it is absolutely the case that you have evil people, men, violent men, who seem determined to try to throw this off course, but they haven't been able to. The real defeat for the terrorists last week, was that people went to the polls in larger numbers than they went to the polls in January, in order to exercise their right to vote.

Now, what we're doing, we and our colleagues in Britain is training - and our NATO colleagues, training the security forces of Iraq, so that they can clear these areas where insurgents are, hold the territory and then build economic im ... (interjection and overlap) ... structures.

JON SOPEL: I know you're used to dealing with worse case scenarios, I'm trying to ask you what's the best case scenario. How soon do you think it will be stable, when do you think it may be possible. I mean your colleague has said that he thinks it can be a stable democracy within five to ten years, which is something he said a few days ago.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think it's entirely possible that it can be a stable democracy within, within several years but our job is not to try to pre-judge or try to pre-figure that outcome, but rather to try to set the conditions in which it will become a stable democracy, and one of the most important conditions, is that the Iraqi governments knows that it has partners in the training of its security forces and in the creation of its political structures.

JON SOPEL: So five to ten years, as he said.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I am not going to, to try to predict. Let's not ...

BOTH TOGETHER

JACK STRAW: (overlaps) Look, I, I was talking about what I thought was possible and I think it is possible, let us see. Just picking up what - something that the Secretary has just said, I remember the first press conference that I did with her, after she'd become Secretary of State in February.

A lot of scepticism about whether the political timetable would be met and as Condi has just said, and in fact it has been met, so scepticism not only in Iraq but by critics elsewhere.

It is remarkable, despite the violence that this timetable has been met. The other thing which is again, against expectations is the degree to which the Iraqis own security forces have been built up.

A hundred and eighty thousand now in those forces, some not so good, but many of the units very good and working extremely effectively with the coalition.

JON SOPEL: Well obviously, and that's a key issue before there can be a transference of power.

JACK STRAW: Indeed. Sure ...

JON SOPEL: Iraq can govern itself and keep its borders secure and internal security secure, and yet we hear you talking about there being something like ninety odd battalions and General Casey talking about there being one battalion that is fully operational.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: No, General Casey is the one who gave us the number of course, ninety one. Let me explain. There are ninety one battalions that are in the fight. Now there are three categories of battalions in the Iraqi Armed Forces at this point.

There are battalions - and by the way, they are all in the combat fight, every single one of them. There are battalions that are capable of completely independent operations.

That means they need no logistical support, they don't need indirect fire support, though there are very few of those. Then you have ones ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: General Casey said one.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well one or two or some place, in the very low numbers, but this was by design, because you build the combat power first. You build the teeth first and then you build the tail. We can provide the tail, we can provide the logistics, we can provide the indirect fire support.

What we want to do is to have Iraqis in the front of the fight. Now there are also Iraqi forces, so you're going to have to give me a moment to do this because it's an important point. There are also forces that are capable of being the combat power without American forces with them.

But they still need indirect fire support or logistical support, that's another category. And then there are those that we believe we still need to help provide he combat power and where we are integrated with them.

So it is a mistake, and I've seen it done so many times in the news that I really must insist; people need to understand that when we talk about completely independent, we mean independent of our logistics, not independent of our soldiers, that's a very different matter ... (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: Okay. This is has taken two and a half years to get to the stage where, as has just been said, there is one or two or three battalions that are fully operational, but you've also got the problem ...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (interjects) No, no. You just made mistake, not fully operational ...

JON SOPEL: (overlaps) Fully independent.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah. But it's an important distinction because they are all operational, they are all in the fight.

JON SOPEL: But you have seen in the South of the country, the problems that there have been with the insurgency and infiltration of the security forces by insurgents.

JACK STRAW: Well, there have been specific problems and we know that from the South, but what is also true, as President Talabani made clear when he was visiting the UK a couple of weeks ago, is that in about fourteen of the eighteen provinces of Iraq, there is pretty good security.

Now that's not to deny the problems in the other four, but it is to spell out that this is a country which despite the internal terrorism and the foreign fighter terrorism has a population which is determined to overcome that terrorism, and which is showing, by its own courage, that it wants to follow the path to democracy. The other thing I' just say is this, if you look at nation building after the Second World War, that took years, it did not, they did not have national elections in Germany within two years, it took four years. They had chaos in Germany after two years.

One of the reasons the Marshall Fund was established was because of the failure over two years, of any of the interim reconstruction efforts. There was starvation, there was dissent, there was serious discontent, and the national building for Germany took a long time, it took for Austria, it took even longer. But out of those ashes you've got a fully functioning democracy there and I believe in Iraq we will see the same process.

JON SOPEL: Let's just talk about Iran now because your Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said something very interesting and it sounded rather hawkish, "there cannot be a situation where the difficulties that we encounter in Iraq, stop us from taking the necessary steps against countries like Iran seeking nuclear weapons." Now what does that mean? Military action?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, quite clearly, we're on a diplomatic path on Iran. We have been very supportive of the EU 3 negotiations, we've also worked with the Russians, who by the way, have structured their civil military, er, civil nuclear deal with the er, Iranians, in a way that does not give to Iran the fuel (?) cycle.

Therefore, sort of, are beginning to diminish proliferation risk. So we're on a very good diplomatic course here. Now, I said when I was in Britain before, military action isn't on the agenda. The agenda is a diplomatic one.

Obviously we never take any option off the table, American Presidents believe that about any concern that they have around the world, but we're on a diplomatic course and we believe that with strong international support, with strong international coherence about this, we can succeed on a diplomatic, diplomatic path.

JON SOPEL: But your colleague has taken it off the table. I mean, you've said, I don't see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran, full stop.

JACK STRAW: Well, that's our position. I don't speak for the US President, but I don't also understand why the media are quite, is so obsessive on this issue, given the fact that both our countries have made it absolutely clear that military action is not on the agenda.

It is not on the agenda. All right. This is an abstract issue. What we are doing, as the Secretary has indicated is pursuing this matter by diplomatic means and what we've been able to achieve so far, is a very good consensus, again, against the odds, thanks to the very active backing ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Just going, just going back to what John Bolton said at the UN, where he said, it takes any means necessary.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Er, listen to what to the President of the United States has said, and the President of the United States, and I said that we are pursuing a diplomatic course. We believe that a diplomatic course will do what we need to do, which is to deny to Iran the ability to build a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power.

JON SOPEL: You choose your words with great care. You're saying we should listen to the President, in other words, we shouldn't listen to John Bolton.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: John Bolton has said nothing that the President of the United States has not said. But John Bolton has said, as our representative at the UN, and John Bolton is pursuing, as our representative at the UN, a diplomatic course.

JON SOPEL: But leaving open that possibility if the - I mean you know, you talk about the diplomatic course (interjection) ...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We have, the, the American President, the American President and the American Government, and I've said this every time I've been with you or with anyone else in the press corps; the American President never takes any option off the table.

You don't want the American President to start taking options off the table and to therefore have an adversary start calculating what is possible and what is not. It is, as Jack said, at this point however, an abstract issue because the course that we are on, and it's the course that we believe can be successful is a diplomatic one.

JON SOPEL: What, I mean how much progress did you make when you went to Moscow. I mean I heard one diplomat say, the door wasn't quite slammed completely in her face, but it was pretty much slammed in her face.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Er, the er, discussions with the Russians were about how we keep the Iranians from getting a nuclear weapon. Nobody is stronger on the view that we don't want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon.

Now the Russians have had a view that it is not yet time to refer this to the Security Council, but I'll just note, the Russians didn't vote down the IAEA Resolution, they abstained. An abstention is a wait and see. And so the, the Russians in their wait and see mode, want to do what we all want to do which is they want to pursue a diplomatic path and see if the Iranians will come ... (overlaps)

ALL TOGETHER

JON SOPEL: ... quote from the Russian Prime Minister when he says, "Iran is not violating its obligations and its actions do not threaten the non-proliferation regime". He said that on the 25th September. Now do you accept that or do you think Iran is breaking its obligations.

JACK STRAW: The Resolution that was, the last Resolution that was before the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Iran was non compliant with its obligations, under the safeguards agreement. That was a Resolution which twenty two countries voted for, including India significantly, very important, and twelve countries abstained.

One of those, as Condi has said, was Russia. And the Russian Federation are very, very clear that they do not want Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. As Condi has said, they are the country which is supplying the only nuclear power station in Iran, which at Bushier, they have been very careful indeed to ensure that all the fuel for that, comes from Russia, is not manufactured locally in Iran.

So they're on the same page as us, in terms of objectives. Yes, there is a continual discussion with them in terms of tactics, but - and this is a really important issue for all of us, that at each stage, despite forebodings by people, we've managed to build together, an international consensus on this, and I think we'll do it again.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well let me just pick up on that point because I read the headlines prior to the vote and the headlines prior to the vote was that this, Iran had managed to push the international community aside on this.

JACK STRAW: Yeah.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That the Iranians were going to emerge victorious, and then the Iranians ended up isolated out there with Venezuela. I would just suggest that people step back and take a look at who is really isolated here.

It is not of course the EU 3, it is not of course the United States, it is not of course the Russian Federation, the Iranians are the ones that the entire world is saying, you have to find a way to satisfy the world that you are not trying to build a nuclear weapon under a cover of civil nuclear power.

JON SOPEL: Let's talk about the purpose of this trip down here to Alabama. You've talked a lot about the Civil Rights movement, and about, movingly, about you growing up in the period of segregation.

Didn't Hurricane Katrina show that for all the progress that has been made in the United States that there is, it is still a rather divided society, and maybe you're limited about what you can lecture other countries about, when it comes to democracy.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, first of all, we don't lecture other countries on democracy. We simply defend our values around the world, and since I've never believed that democracy is something that America owns, and some how has to impose on others, that rather that you actually impose tyranny, that people would rather live in democracy, I find that where America and Great Britain and others who are talking about the spread in liberty and freedom, where we find ourselves is, on the side of human history and on the side of those who are pursuing democracy.

Now democracies have their troubles too. Just because you're a democracy, doesn't mean that you're perfect. Everybody has a long journey.

The United States has had a particularly long journey, given our heritage of slavery, but indeed we have made enormous progress, and of course, we continue to have problems of poverty and some that are linked to poverty and race.

But I would stand and ask anyone, whether they think that the United States of America has made a little progress on the racial front; of course we've made enormous progress on the racial front and that is an important lesson to countries that are just beginning their struggle for multi ethnic democracy.

JON SOPEL: But do you think that Katrina showed that the United States maybe is still a racist society.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: A racist society, what Katrina shows is that there are still pockets of poverty and race that are particularly difficult to access. But look around you. When you come to the United States, look at the number of CEOs who are black. Look at the number of political leaders who are black. Look at the fact that the last two Secretaries of State were black and ask yourself, how many countries in the world that are multi ethnic societies can say that.

JACK STRAW: It's a better record than the UK. We're proud of what we've been able to achieve in the United Kingdom, but we've had fewer black cabinet ministers, fewer black leaders. There's a generation coming on, so we actually have a lot to learn. Can I just say this on Katrina because it's a matter of public record that there has been criticism within the US about this, but it's not for us outside to criticize. I'd just say two things. I mean one is, this was devastation over an area the size of the United Kingdom.

The second thing, I was very struck by an editorial, which I think was in La Monde, in the French leading newspaper, saying to those people who were being rather haughty about what had happened in America, hang on a second, remember what happened during the great heat wave two years ago in France, I was there at the time, when thousands upon thousands of French people, elderly people, perished in that. Sometimes you have these unexpected events, and it's difficult to cope immediately with them.

JON SOPEL: Madam Secretary you invite me to ask an obvious question when you're talking about the number of black CEOs there have been, there have been a number of, two black previous Secretaries of State, what about a black President, woman President.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (laughs) I, there will be one, I'm certain of that.

JON SOPEL: Yeah, three years.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: No. Well I don't know who else, who might run in three years but ...

JON SOPEL: Are you not running.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: No, I'm not running. I don't have any interest in, in running for office. Unlike my good friend here Jack Straw, I don't intend to stand for office.

JON SOPEL: I'm sorry this is, this is a parlour game that is played by British journalists, and he knows it all too well. Is that a categorical ruling out, come what may, under no circumstances?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: No, I, I don't know how many ways to say, to say no.

JACK STRAW: (overlaps) ... they set the rules of this parlour game and they always win.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That's right.

JON SOPEL: So that's a categorical ...

JACK STRAW: Sounds like it to me.

JON SOPEL: Yes.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I want to be Secretary of State and then, I think it's well known that I think I have a future in sports.

JON SOPEL: Yeah, but look at the reception you got down here. They absolutely adored you down here. You got a fabulous, tumultuous welcome and yet we see President Bush languishing in the polls, problems over Supreme Court nominations and all the rest of it.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The, the President, the President is doing just fine. The President is doing what the President needs to do. He just met with President Obas a couple of days ago. I was on the phone with him yesterday about the Syrian matter.

JON SOPEL: (unintelligible interjection)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Oh, this is, this President is someone of great spirit and who knows that he's doing the right things and I'll tell you something about the President. He's not going to be thrown off by, by polls. What he will do is to pursue America's interest but also pursue America's values. He feels it very deeply and he's fortunate by the way, to have a good partner in Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

I think that the two of them have really made a difference over the last several years, as they have turned the tragedy of terrorism, first in the United States but also in London, to show that when you fight back against terrorism, when you fight back in a tough way, but also when you fight back from principle, and when you realize that you are taking on a struggle of the ages, an ideological struggle, then you can mobilize people, and you can mobilize the international community and I think the two of them have really done that.

JON SOPEL: And Jack Straw, you've clearly enjoyed your visit to Alabama. Are you looking forward to welcoming the Secretary of State to Blackburn. Showing her the delights of Blackburn Rovers on a wet, Wednesday night in November.

JACK STRAW: I'm looking forward to showing her the wonders of Ewood Park. Brilliant football team, which beats Birmingham, Birmingham City, England ...

JON SOPEL: Not Birmingham.

JACK STRAW: Not Birmingham, Birmingham City, two nil, with goals by Dickoff and Bellamy ... (interjection) To show the delights of Blackburn.

JON SOPEL: But he went on about cricket to those school kids didn't he.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I know, I know, and when he told them that it took five days, there was just stunned silence.

JACK STRAW: Well I'm looking forward to this football game. But yes I, I am looking forward to showing Condi Blackburn, which has these odd connections, really interesting connections with the South, cos it was on the cotton from the South, slave cotton, that Blackburn's prosperity was initially founded. We've had to go through a similar transformation, not the same, but a similar set of transformations to Birmingham, Alabama.

JON SOPEL: Okay, both of you thank you very much indeed.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Thank you very much

JACK STRAW: Thank you.

JON SOPEL: Thank you for joining us on the Politics Show, I'll be back with more a little later. But now the politics in your region.

End of interview


NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


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