Rice: U.S. Will Not Negotiate with Hamas

Condoleezza Rice

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, shown here in June, offers a vigorous defense of U.S. engagement in the Middle East — yet reiterates that Washington will not negotiate with Hamas. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Image hide caption

itoggle caption Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Image

Related Interview

Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, disagrees with the Bush administration's decision not to negotiate with Hamas. Read that interview.

More from the Interview

In an interview with Michele Norris last week, Stephen Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser, saidthat the president hopes the U.S. will still have a presence in Iraq after 2009. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice elaborated on that. When asked how long U.S. troops will be in Iraq, Rice expressed a long view of the fight against Islamist ideology.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the new push in the Middle East will not include talks with Hamas.

Earlier this week, President Bush announced a plan to revive the Middle East peace process. He called for a summit and pledged aid and diplomatic backing to the Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.

"It's very hard to imagine a partner for peace that refuses to renounce violence and refuses to recognize the right of the other partner to even exist," says Rice of Hamas.

In an interview with Michele Norris on Wednesday, Rice defends the Bush administration's decision to re-engage in Middle East talks, its rationale for continued support of Abbas, its fight against al-Qaida in Pakistan and elsewhere, and its strategy in Iraq.

Can you address the criticism, which seems to be coming from many quarters now, that the Bush administration's decision to engage in the Middle East at this point is either an attempt to distract from the administration's current problems in Iraq, or to perhaps lift the legacy of an unpopular president?

This president has been engaged in the Middle East from the very beginning. It was at the United Nations, already in 2001, that he talked about the need for a two-state solution. The United States was very involved in encouraging the Palestinians to move to democracy and to have free and fair elections, which brought to power Mahmoud Abbas. It was this president that supported the disengagement of the Israelis from Gaza.

So a lot has happened in this period of time, and now we believe that there is a chance to harvest some of the developments in a positive direction. As the president said yesterday, some things have happened for the good in the Middle East; some have been dispiriting. But this is a really important time to give the Palestinian people a choice for a future of a state to live side-by-side in peace and freedom with Israel, as opposed to the dark vision that Hamas is painting for them. And so we think this is the right time to move forward on the Middle East peace.

You say that the administration has done much in the Middle East, but many believe that the administration has taken almost a hands-off policy.

Let me just review what happened when this administration came to power. The Camp David talks, despite the excellent efforts of the Clinton administration, they had collapsed. The second intifada had been begun by Yasser Arafat. Ariel Sharon had been elected in Israel, not on a platform of peace but on a platform of defeating the terrorists militarily, if necessary. We forget about the horrific suicide bombings that took place in 2002 and 2003 in Israel. We forget about the fact that Yasser Arafat was dealing with Iran to bring weapons in to the Palestinian territories. That had to be dealt with in a very different way.

We are now in a different place. We are in a place where the Israelis, a broad range of Israelis, have accepted the need for a two-state solution. One would not have thought that possible when Ariel Sharon came to power in 2001. Where the Palestinians have elected a man in Mahmoud Abbas and a prime minister, now, in Salam Fayad, who are clearly committed to a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace. We have the Arabs now far more engaged in this process than before. So now, many of the elements are there that were simply not there in 2001.

Now that the administration is planning to directly engage in the Middle East, some argue that it's almost seven years too late and that by not sitting down with Hamas — whose leaders were democratically elected — and instead, backing Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, that there could potentially be a boomerang effect, that Hamas was democratically elected in part because of dissatisfaction with corruption within the Fatah movement. Is it possible that supporting Mahmoud Abbas will instead wind up bolstering Hamas?

It's not just the United States that is supporting Mahmoud Abbas. A great number of Arabs are supporting Mahmoud Abbas. He is the elected president of the Palestinian people. Yes, Hamas was elected, but Hamas was also elected to act responsibly, and Hamas has not acted responsibly. They have refused important international agreements that Palestinians signed and have held to for more than a decade. They have refused to renounce violence. It's very hard to imagine a partner for peace that refuses to renounce violence and refuses to recognize the right of the other partner to even exist — not to recognize the other partner, but to simply recognize the right of the other partner to exist.

And so I find rather strange the notion that we should somehow try and engage Hamas, a terrorist organization that clearly has not lived up to the responsibilities of governing, rather than to work with and strengthen the Palestinian president, who shares all of the values that will, in fact, bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis — and, by the way, a leader who, in his role as chairman of the [Palestine Liberation Organization], has the mandate for negotiations for the Palestinian people.

Why not do both, though? You could argue that the art of diplomacy lies in directly engaging your enemies.

Hamas is a little more than an enemy of the United States. Hamas, of course, is a terrorist organization — listed by Europeans as a terrorist organization. And we saw what Hamas did in Gaza, when they threw people off of buildings and then knelt to pray. The violence in the Palestinian territories, and Gaza in particular, is directly related to Hamas activities. So to somehow engage Hamas and to reward that activity would make no sense. And I would just note that Mahmoud Abbas has said that this is not a time to engage Hamas. He wants — of course he wants the unity of the Palestinian people, but he wants unity of the Palestinian people based on a platform of peace, based on a platform of international respectability. And yes, it has to be a platform that also is based on reform of institutions of Fatah. That has to be done.

In asking the question, I certainly wasn't talking about rewarding Hamas or other terrorist organizations or any kind of rebels. But if you're trying to solve the thorniest foreign policy problems right now, is it possible to do that without sitting down with groups that mean to do us harm — with Hamas, with the Iraqi insurgents? How can you do that without, at some point, engaging them?

Every situation is different. With Hamas, we certainly would not do so. They're a terrorist organization, and they're devoted to the destruction of Israel. There's not much to talk about. With Iraqis, some of whom, at one point, believed that the United States was in occupation, some of those people have turned.

What is happening in Anbar, the province that was once said to be given over to al-Qaida, is really quite remarkable, where you have Sunni sheikhs and maybe even some who, at one time, were associated with the insurgency turning to fight al-Qaida, to take their streets back. And in fact, we are cooperating with those people against the common enemy — that is, al-Qaida.

We have found reasons to talk to Iran about a limited agenda. For instance, [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker] has met with his Iranian counterpart, will likely do so again. Iran is a part of the Neighbors' Conference, as is Syria, to talk about security in Iraq. So this is not an ideological problem, to talk with those with whom we have differences —you're right, that's what diplomacy is — but you have to recognize that it makes sense to talk when there is a sense that this may, in fact, have some benefit, it may have some outcome that is favorable, and when one has the proper leverage to try and bring about that favorable outcome.

I'd like to turn, if I could, to the National Intelligence Estimate. It concludes that al-Qaida is trying to find ways to build ties or build relationships with Al-Qaida in Iraq. When you look at the conclusion of that report, it's hard not to draw the conclusion that the U.S. faces a greater terrorist threat now than it did in the past.

I just don't think that that's true. It's clear: al-Qaida is trying to adapt; it's trying to change. It's not the organization that attacked us on Sept. 11 in terms of its field generalship, in terms of where it does its training, in terms of the financial ties that is has. It's not surprising that they're trying to adapt and to reconstitute.

But we are stronger, too, in the way that we can resist them. We are stronger, too, in the allies who are fighting them — fighting them actively in Afghanistan, fighting them actively in Pakistan, fighting them actively in Saudi Arabia. They don't have the kind of umbrella of protection that they once had by the simple silence and incapacity of so much of the world to deal with them.

But it's hard to argue that this is an organization that's on the run. Al-Qaida in Iraq did not exist before the U.S. invaded Iraq, and the National Intelligence Estimate finds that al-Qaida regenerated itself in Pakistan. Could you argue that we are, perhaps, engaged on the wrong front, that we're fighting the wrong war, that we should be focusing more on Afghanistan than Iraq, where we could truly strike at the heart of al-Qaida?

We have to focus on all of these fronts, because — just to be totally accurate, [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi], who was the founder of Al-Qaida in Iraq, was in Iraq prior to the war. That is very clear. But the Al-Qaida in Iraq that has emerged has emerged as an enemy of the Iraqi people. And the Iraqi people are fighting back against it.

It's a little bit like saying that, well, if we just left them alone and only tried to go after them in one place or another, they wouldn't show up in other places. This is a worldwide movement that has franchises, in a sense, in different places. And you have to fight them in all of those places.

Now, as to Pakistan — yes, we're concerned about the northwest frontier, the ungoverned areas of Pakistan that, by the way, have been ungoverned for the entire history of Pakistan. What is different now though is that the Pakistani government, I think, having gone through a period when they were trying to find some political solution, recognizes that they are also going to have to fight these people.

And you see more active Pakistani Army raids against the terrorists in that region. You have seen more active cross-border raids by the Pakistanis in that region. And I think you're going to see much more aggressive Pakistani tactics, because what we're seeing is that these terrorists in the federally administered tribal areas are not only trying to plot and plan against the United States, but clearly have their designs on Pakistan, as well. And you're seeing Pakistan fight back; you're seeing Afghanistan fight back; you're seeing Iraqis fight back; [the] Saudi government fight back.

Yes, this is a very tough fight. And I remember very well when the president made his speech, just a few days after the Sept. 11 attack, that he said this would be a generational struggle against these people, because you have to go after the proximate cause. You have to go after these networks. You have to go after their leaders. You have to go after their financing.

But you also have to go after what produced them. And this ideology of hatred was in place and infecting much of the Middle East long before the United States had to liberate Iraq. So the notion that, somehow, this ideology of hatred emerged because we were in Iraq is simply not right.

When the president talks about a generational struggle — we sat down with national security adviser Stephen Hadley last week, and he talked about Iraq in the long term. And he asked the question, is it possible that the U.S. would be engaged in the long term in Iraq? [And he responded,] "I hope so," which was surprising to many people when they heard him say that. In the long term, where and how will the U.S. be engaged in Iraq?

We have many tools of engagement. It's not just our military forces, although we will have developed certain ties with Iraqis, with their armed forces, that I hope would emerge and remain over the years. But of course —

But that statement, "I hope so." Many people are saying it's time to withdraw from Iraq, not to talk in a hopeful way of being more engaged.

To think that the United States would undertake such a consequential decision as to liberate Iraq from the horrors of Saddam Hussein — and we forget what Saddam Hussein meant to that region. This is somebody who caused two major wars, who used weapons of mass destruction, who continued to drag us into Middle East conflicts. So having decided to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein, it would indeed be irresponsible for the United States to not be a part of the Iraqi evolution toward a foundation for a democratic and stable state. We owe that to Iraqis; we owe it to the region; but we owe it, most important, to ourselves and to our own security.

The United States continuing to engage in Iraq, continuing to engage in this region, is an absolute sine qua non for a stable Middle East and for the protection of our interests. Will we engage in Iraq the way we are engaged in Iraq now? No. No one believes that that is the long-term nature of America's engagement. But are we going to step back from an Iraq in which we have been so involved, in which so much American treasure, both human and other, has been spent? No. The United States should remain engaged in Iraq, because an Iraq that makes the transition — difficult as it may be — to stability, to greater democracy, is going to be an anchor in a different kind of Middle East.

And the link to what happened to us on Sept. 11 is not whether Osama bin Laden had a base in Iraq; that isn't the issue. The issue is that it is the same ideology of hatred that caused people to fly airplanes into our buildings on Sept. 11, that causes the al-Qaida to franchise in Pakistan and in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia — and even some of the elements that you are seeing in places in Europe, continuing to plot and plan against our way of life. So the link is that these are the people who came to our shores on Sept. 11 and brought great damage to the United States. That ideology of hatred grew out of a Middle East that had a deficit of freedom, that had a deficit of hope. And if you don't deal with that underlying problem in the Middle East, then we are never going to deal with terrorism in a way that is permanent and concrete.

Right now, we're hoping that [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] can help lead Iraq to a better place. Yet, when we heard the president speak about Maliki earlier this week, his support for him seemed to be somewhat tepid. Is he — yes or no — at this point, does the White House see in him a true partner and someone that is able to lead the country forward?

Of course he's a partner for the United States. This is a man who gets up everyday and maybe does the most difficult job in the world. But he can't do it alone. And the president also spends a good deal of time with the other major power brokers in Iraq.

Jalal Talabani, the Kurd who is the president of Iraq — and by the way, had you told me that the symbol of Iraqi unity would be a Kurd — one would have wondered what we were talking about. In fact, Talabani is a very important figure. Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni leader of the largest Sunni faction, the other Shiite leaders, like Adel Abdul-Mahdi and people of that party, the SCIRI party — these are people who also have to do their part to make Iraq stable.

And so, it's not just a matter of what Maliki can do. It's a matter of all responsible political leaders in Iraq giving everything that they can to a unified Iraq. And so we spend a lot of time with these other leaders, as well.

I just have one very quick last question. You mentioned weapons of mass destruction and what is owed America. Many Americans believe that they were misled by statements made by this administration about the objectives that were laid out in Iraq. At this point, does the American public deserve an apology from this administration, from you directly?

The American people should just look at the estimates of what Saddam Hussein had before this war. The president and his advisers, and indeed briefings to the Congress, were on the basis of those estimates of what the Iraqis had: that they had reconstituted their biological and chemical weapons capabilities; that they were working toward a nuclear capability; and — knowing that that nuclear capability had been much further along in 1991 than anybody had thought — that Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction.

Now, there is a lot of rewriting of history here, and I really have to ask how many experts on Iraq really thought there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If you go back and you look at what the intelligence agencies — not just of the United States were saying, but of the world — if you look at what the United Nations was doing in sanction after sanction, resolution after resolution, demanding that Saddam Hussein come clean about his weapons of mass destruction.

But I want to make one other point. Yes, there was an issue of weapons of mass destruction. But it was also an issue that this was a regime that, having used weapons of mass destruction, was also one of the most brutal regimes to their own people and to the region. We were in a state of constant war with Iraq after 1991: Saddam Hussein's air force shooting at our planes trying to patrol no-fly zones; Saddam Hussein making Swiss cheese of sanctions that had been brought against him; Saddam Hussein murdering 300,000 of his own people; and Saddam Hussein consistently threatening his neighbors that had brought us into war against him in 1991, that had brought us into military conflict against him in 1998. The idea that this was somehow a benign force that the United States then stirred up by finally dealing with Saddam Hussein is simply ahistorical.

This full transcript of NPR's interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contains minor edits for clarity.

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