(Transcript courtesy of the US Department of State )
SECRETARY RICE: Good evening. Well, I have just concluded my last ministerial as the Secretary of State for the United States. And I had a chance to participate, obviously, in the discussions of the important issues before us, but also for a moment to reflect with my colleagues on the extraordinary eight years that I have spent here, first as National Security Advisor accompanying President Bush to various summits, and then as the Secretary of State over the last four years through several ministerials, as well as NATO summits.
I said to my colleagues that as someone who remembers very well coming here in 1990 when we were in the midst of ending the Cold War, and when questions were being asked – well, if the Warsaw Pact is going out of existence and the Cold War is ending and Germany is unifying, will there be any purpose for NATO. And to see how this alliance has prospered and grown and reformed and renewed itself is truly a great joy.
I took note of the fact that it is an alliance that now has 12 of its 28 members who were former captive nations. They have really invigorated this alliance. They have reminded us of our purpose in securing democracy as well as securing – as well as our security. I was pleased to note that nine of those countries have come into the alliance during President Bush’s term, including the Baltic States, which was, of course, a very important step forward for this alliance.
The open door policy of this alliance continues. And when you listen to the testimony and testimonials of the states around the table about how the prospect for NATO membership and the process of readying for neighbor – for NATO membership has helped them with their internal reforms, to overcome old differences, to put in place new democratic structures, to keep a solid coalition and constituency for reform internally, I am also very gratified by the fact that I think this open door policy is well established in NATO.
In that regard, we did not take up the issue of a decision on MAP for Ukraine and Georgia. A lot has transpired since Bucharest. We reaffirmed Bucharest and all of its elements, but what we did do here, which is very important, is to empower the commissions – the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Ukraine Commission – to intensify their work in helping these states to make progress toward the Bucharest goals and aspirations.
I noted, too, that this is an alliance that has transformed its capabilities and has transformed its mission, that it is now assisting new democracies whether in the tough circumstances of Afghanistan, a country that we must remember has had almost 30 years of civil war and one of the poorest countries in the world. NATO’s mission there is difficult but necessary, and it is a mission to which this alliance is greatly committed.
And we also, of course, are helping to train Iraqi military officers. We are helping with planning for relief in Darfur. And we had a wonderful Mediterranean dialogue in which we sat with the foreign minister of Israel – foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt and Morocco to talk about the Mediterranean region. And finally, this is an alliance that now regularly invites other democracies from around the world like Japan and Australia, South Korea to come and discuss with it the issues of common security.
And so this is a remarkable alliance. I think it is the most remarkable alliance in human history. It is a voluntary alliance of great democracies committed equally to security and to liberty. And I said to my colleagues that it had been a great privilege to be with them, but as I leave, I know that this alliance is not just in great hands and great shape for now, but that this is an alliance that is going to go well, well into the future. Thank you and I’ll take a few questions.
MR. MCCORMACK: The first one, Sue Pleming from Reuters.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what are you hoping to achieve by your trip to India in terms of reducing Indo-Pakistani tensions? And secondly, did the United States provide a warning to India in the month before the Mumbai bombings that you believe that they were – they would soon succumb to – have an attack?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, on the issue of my trip to India, as the President said, I am going to, of course, express solidarity with the Indian people. This was a horrible attack. It was, of course, also an attack that killed American citizens. And it is therefore of very great concern to the United States. It underscores the importance of getting to the bottom of what happened, both to bring those who perpetrated this terrible crime to justice, and to try and prevent further attacks of this kind. And in that regard, I want to consult with the Indian Government further about what we can do to help.
I’ve already noted that everyone should cooperate fully, and Pakistan in particular needs to cooperate fully and transparently. I was pleased to see the statements of the Pakistani Government that they intend to do so, but that is the nature of my trip to India.
As to the reports that I have seen, as you have, I don’t really know the source of them, and I’m always reluctant to speak to unnamed sources who are speaking on background, because one never knows what they’re talking about. That’s one of the problems with the unnamed source issue. But we obviously – we try to pass information to countries all around the world if we pick up information. But I’ll tell you, having been on the receiving end of information sometimes which one could constitute as, quote-un-quote, “warnings,” they are often difficult to act on, sometimes not very concrete. And I would just note that the problem with terrorism is that information is useful, but it isn’t always something that can prevent.
So the real problem we have with terrorism is that terrorists can be right once and we have to be right 100 percent of the time. And in that regard, I have some not just sympathy, but empathy for what the Indian Government has gone through.
QUESTION: But did you pass on specific information that there was increased chatter as you had before 9/11?
SECRETARY RICE: Sue – Sue, I don’t know who this source is, and so I don’t know what they’re referring to. As I said to you, I’ve been on the other side of this, and I’m not going to respond to whether there are – chatter or whatever. But I just know that the problem is that information is not knowledge, and that’s one of the problems that we have. And I know that the Indian Government is looking hard at how it might have more effective counterterrorism responses, how it might better use information. We’ve been through in that United States; it is a tough business, particularly for a democracy. And so I have to tell you, I have a lot of empathy for what they’re going through.
MR. MCCORMACK: Next question, Anne Gearan of AP.
QUESTION: James Blitz, Financial Times.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
MR. MCCORMACK: Actually, that’s not Anne.
QUESTION: Oh, hi. Anne Gearan with the AP.
SECRETARY RICE: We can – we’ll get Mr. Financial Times – (laughter) – in just a second.
QUESTION: Thanks. Madame Secretary, are you concerned at all that in compromising on the MAP question and also on – apparently, on the question of renewed contacts between NATO and Russia, that the United States looks as if it’s signing on somehow or is placating Russia? And in the end, was it more important to you to go out on a high note, or not to go out on a sour note with NATO, than it was to avoid that appearance?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, Anne, you know me. I don’t at all mind standing my ground. But I thought this was a good position for the alliance to be in. The first is that on the gradual reestablishment of contact with Russia, reengagement with Russia, that was actually the position of the United States coming in. I think you will remember, when I spoke in the briefing room, I talked about the United States having no in-principle objection to reengagement with Russia. It was a question of on what questions, in what form. And I think the idea of working through a kind of informal contact with the NATO-Russia Council is not a problem for us.
I think that the Secretary General will report back to the NAC before any formal program of engagement with Russia, such as was the case before the invasion of Georgia, is put into place. And so I think this is the perfectly logical place to be.
You would note, of course, that I’ve met myself with Sergey Lavrov a number of times. The President has met with President Medvedev. This isn’t an issue of isolating Russia, but it is an issue of what kinds of contacts are appropriate. And I think this is a completely appropriate thing for the alliance to do.
As to MAP, again, we did not take up a decision about MAP. A lot has transpired since Bucharest. We did want to reaffirm the Bucharest decisions, and we have done that. But I think the really important thing here is that everyone knows that this is going to be a long process. And the practical steps that we can take within the Georgia – the NATO-Georgia Commission and the NATO-Russia Commission to help these states progress toward the goals of Bucharest, I think that’s the new element here. And we’re very pleased that that was accepted by the alliance.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Why don’t we go back to –
QUESTION: Thanks very much. James Blitz, Financial Times, thank you. I just wanted to follow up that. What is the message that Russia should take from this? People have used the phrase, “It’s not business as usual.” Can they take the view that this is now business as usual? And do you exclude the possibility that President Medvedev could be invited to the 60th anniversary summit at Strasbourg/Kehl?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m not going to prejudice that decision since I – the President and I won’t take it. So I think we will leave that one.
I don’t think that this is in any way business as usual. An informal session of NATO ambassadors is not the kind of extended and highly articulated program of contacts that have been characterized – characteristic of the NATO-Russia Council. We’ve had some technical discussions. I think that’s also appropriate.
Again, this isn’t an issue of isolating Russia. It’s an issue that this united, unified alliance says to Russia that what they did in invading Georgia was unacceptable to the alliance. That has been very clear. We have also, by the way, I think, through our unity, essentially denied Russia its strategic objectives: The Georgian Government is intact, Georgian democracy is intact, the Georgian economy is recovering. Yes, Russia is sitting in South Ossetia and Abkhazia with the resounding support of Nicaragua and Hamas. So I frankly don’t think this has been a very good outcome from the point of view of Russia. And what it’s gotten Russia is a lot of scrutiny about what the various relationships ought to be. The only reason we’re having a discussion about phased re-engagement with Russia is because Russia’s invasion of Georgia cut off what had been a highly articulated program of engagement. So no, it’s not business as usual.
It’s also the case when one talks about Georgia and Ukraine, Bucharest clearly set the terms, clearly talked about the eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine. And a lot has transpired and not just – let’s be frank, not just in terms of the invasion of Georgia, but also a lot has transpired in those two countries. And I think we all want to concentrate on helping to solidify and consolidate their democratic governments. And to help them to do that, I do think that the engagement through the commissions will help them, and most certainly the engagement through the commissions will help them to answer a number of the questions that countries have about how to move them forward in accordance with Bucharest.
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. One last one. Why don’t we – Steve.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Steve Erlanger from The New York Times. And if I can, good luck.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: But first, if I can ask you, you’re a scholar of Russia and you spoke with pride of the expansion of NATO under the Bush Administration. Do you also recognize the sense of encirclement Russia feels? You know Russia began in Kyiv and Kievan Rus. You know it lost its empire. You know it feels diminished. Do you also feel some responsibility for that feeling on the part of the Russians, which I think you recognize as sincere? And – or do you think it’s just old-fashioned thinking and they need to get over it? Or is there something more that the Bush Administration could have done or should have done to ease that entry into a different world?
SECRETARY RICE: Steve, first of all, I have acknowledged and acknowledged in the speech that I made that the ‘90s were very, very difficult for Russia and Russians, and that we in the West and Russia did not see the immediate aftermath of the Cold War in the same way. Russia saw humiliation and deprivation and a pretty chaotic environment. I was in that Russia in -- every year between 1991, when I went back to Stanford, and 19 – and 2000, I think, with the exception of 1997.
And so I recognize that Russia was going through a difficult period after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union – fully acknowledge that. But what I can’t accept is that somehow the United States and our allies created a circumstance in which Russia should have, could have, felt encircled. Rather, what we tried to do was to reach out every hand of friendship – and I include, by the way, the Clinton Administration in this and the Bush Administration – try to reach out every hand of friendship that we could possibly reach out: the formal expansion of G-8, the efforts to support Russian accession into the WTO; the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, the beginning of EU-Russia talks. I could go on and on and on.
The whole idea here was that a Europe whole, free, and at peace had a place for Russia in it. It was to be based on a common understanding that the 19th century was over, that this is not about competition and conflict and domination, but rather about cooperation in a framework in which one treats one’s neighbors, even if they were once a part of the Soviet Union, as equals in the international system, not as subjects somehow, not as states to be a part of some sphere of influence, but rather, as equals; and that in treating them as equals, one would welcome good relations between the United States and those states that are on the periphery of Russia, between Europe and those states that are on the periphery of Russia, and that we would cooperate on everything from counterterrorism, to counternarcotics, to counterproliferation, to the Middle East, to North Korea, to Iran, and so on and so on.
So I have to tell you, on this one, yes, as a Russianist, my conscience is clear. I think we did everything that we could to try and welcome Russia, a new Russia, into the transatlantic space. I still think that that is the future. I believe quite firmly that there is no Soviet Union with pretensions of an alternative course for the development of human history, so it’s not an ideological conflict. I do believe that Russians have become accustomed to the travel and to the openness and the contact with the world that has been the benefit of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I have no quarrel with the strengthening of the apparatus of the state, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the liberties of the Russian people, of the freedom of the press, of a judiciary that is free and independent. And so I still think that there is a future out there with a Russia that is more in the nature of what President Medvedev himself described that can see its interaction with the rest of the world not in zero-sum terms, but in terms of true cooperation and friendship.
I know that from time to time issues like missile defense have been a problem. But again, we should be cooperating on missile defense. And so I believe very strongly that we had the right view of how to bring Russia in, and I still think that it is the right view. And again, I – it’s the Bush Administration, but it was the Clinton Administration before us as well. And so I’m hopeful that that Russia will still attain.
Thank you. Thank you.