STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. This week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice invited her designated successor over for dinner. She and Hillary Clinton discussed life as America's top diplomat.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): I know her quite well. We had a very good conversation. And she's going to do great.
MONTAGNE: Secretary Rice did not reveal the advice she gave to the woman named to be the next secretary of state, but yesterday she did sit down for a conversation with a reporter who's followed her years as top adviser to President Bush - NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Before we look back, I want to sort of look ahead, because you're very emotional talking about what this moment in history means - to have an African-American president coming in.
Secretary RICE: I certainly think that the election of Barack Obama demonstrates that the United States is what it says it is, which is a country in which people of modest means and across color barriers can succeed. And I think that's what it really says, and that will be a positive story for the United States.
KELEMEN: And what does it mean for you personally?
Secretary RICE: Well, for somebody from Birmingham, Alabama, it's a remarkable thing. I thought I would see it. I thought I might be 80 before I did. And so I'm glad that it's happened for our country. It shows that overcoming old wounds is possible.
KELEMEN: Did you vote for him?
Secretary RICE: I've told you a long time ago that I'm secretary of state, and I'm not going to engage in partisan behavior.
KELEMEN: Did you - you know, when you advised this team, the team came in talking about change. But I wonder if there are foreign policy achievements that you've made or foreign policy processes that you've started that you'd like to see some continuity on or advising...
Secretary RICE: I'll certainly give my advice to the incoming team, and I'll do so privately. There are obviously some things that are under way. I think that the Annapolis process will eventually lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
KELEMEN: State Department lawyers have been working in recent years to deal with prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, detainees, to get them home. Do you think the Obama administration is going to have a hard time keeping its pledge to close down Guantanamo, given what you know about this process?
Secretary RICE: Well, the president, President Bush, wanted to close down Guantanamo and said that he wanted to do so. It's not easy because there are some very dangerous people there. There are people who've said to prison officials, if I get out of here I'm going to go kill Americans as quickly as I can. Well, those are not people that you want to let out on the street.
We've had a very active program. We've reduced the Guantanamo population. We've returned a lot of people to their countries of origin. We're trying to do that in a responsible way so that we don't return people to places where there are questions about how they would be treated.
KELEMEN: Guantanamo wasn't sort of the only issue that tarnished the U.S. image. There was also the treatment of terror suspects - waterboarding, other methods of torture.
Secretary RICE: Well, you know that I'm going to have to object because the United States has always kept to its international obligations, which include international obligations on the convention on torture. The president was determined after September 11th, to do everything that was legal and within those obligations - international and domestic laws - to make sure that we prevented a follow-on attack.
KELEMEN: But are you worried about you personally, though? Because there were all these reports that you were involved in pretty thorough discussions about techniques to get information out.
Secretary RICE: I was national security advisor, and quite clearly you would expect the policies of the United States to come through the National Security Council. But I absolutely believed and was told and continue to believe that we were doing so under our treaty obligations and under our domestic laws. And in those circumstances, I really do think that the president of the United States and those responsible, in positions of responsibility, have an obligation to try and protect the American people.
KELEMEN: A lot of this - Guantanamo, all these issues - you start hearing from people, bad actors in the world, people like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. He brings up these issues at the United Nations General Assembly floor. And I wonder if you think some of this made it more difficult for you as a secretary of state to talk about human rights.
Secretary RICE: No, of course not. Robert Mugabe - to mention Robert Mugabe in the same sentence with the president of the United States is an outrage. And Robert Mugabe is simply trying to cover the fact that he's taken a country which was once one of the jewels of Africa, made it into a center of starvation and now of rampant disease that threatens its neighbors. And no, we shouldn't fall prey to any kind of moral relativism here. We ought to call it as we see it.
KELEMEN: And President Bush today issued this very strong statement saying Robert Mugabe must go. I wonder what the U.S. - what you are doing on this front, what the U.S. can do.
Secretary RICE: Well, this is one of those limits of American power. We are trying to work with the international community to bring pressure on Robert Mugabe. What have we had? We've had a sham election, and we've had a sham power-sharing arrangement talks. And we need the help of the region. When you have tyrants like Robert Mugabe or you have regimes like Sudan or you have juntas like Burma, the international community seems to lose its voice and its capability to deal with those circumstances.
KELEMEN: I understand that you've been scouting out office space back at Stanford's Hoover Institution. I wonder what your plans - what do you plan to do there? What are you going to be...
Secretary RICE: Well, I'll go back. I've been on leave from Stanford for all this time, so it's probably time to go back. I'm going to do some book projects. Obviously, I'll write the book on foreign policy, which is an extraordinary time. But it may take a little time to reflect on that. I want to write a book about my parents, who were educational evangelists and believed in the kind of upward mobility as a result of educational opportunity that I really think is at the core of who we are as a country.
KELEMEN: And you've said that we're not going to hear from you very much. I wonder if you're going to be ready for a life out of the limelight, away from the blogs that follow your hairstyles and shoes.
Secretary RICE: I think I can live without that, thank you very much. No, I'm looking forward to going back to other things. It's been a long eight years. I'm very gratified by what we've been able to achieve. I do believe that what George Shultz said is right. There is no greater honor than representing your country. It's the best job in government. But there are a lot of great jobs outside of government, including going back to the life of the mind and to the promotion of education for everyone.
KELEMEN: Thank you very much.
Secretary RICE: Thank you very much.
MONTAGNE: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in conversation yesterday with our diplomatic correspondent, Michele Kelemen.