TOPICS > Politics

Condoleezza Rice

June 18, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, to President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. I talked with her this afternoon. Ms. Rice, welcome.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Thank you. Nice to be with you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: President Bush proclaimed President Putin to be “trustworthy.” Why did he do that? What happened? What was said or done to cause that to happen?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I was in this meeting, and I’ve been in a lot of meetings between heads of state. This was a pretty remarkable meeting for straightforwardness. It was quite clear that the men got along. It was a warm meeting; it was friendly. But nobody pulled any punches in this meeting, and the president in particular was very straightforward about things he needed to be straightforward about. Putin was straightforward right back, and I think out of that the president felt that they’d developed a kind of good working relationship in which everybody could expect everybody to say what they meant.

JIM LEHRER: So that’s what he meant by trustworthy? In other words, he could trust him to say what he meant, not necessarily — anything beyond that?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, the president is also somebody who takes people at face value unless proven differently, and I think that he believes he’s beginning a relationship with Mr. Putin; that over time he will get to know him. But he is somebody who gives people the benefit of the doubt, and we’ll see what Mr. Putin does.

JIM LEHRER: Did the president come away from the meeting with an understanding at least of what Putin’s concerns are about the ABM Treaty and the missile defense shield?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think we came away with a very good understanding, although I will say that President Putin was pretty open minded in talking about the desire for consultations and discussions, for wanting this to go to not the expert level but really the level of ministers to continue the dialogue about — as he called it in his press conference — a new strategic architecture. So, yes, he expressed his concerns, but he also said, you’ve heard what my position is; why don’t you talk to me, and President Bush had quite an opportunity to talk about how he saw this issue in the broader context of a U.S.-Russian relationship.

JIM LEHRER: So the whole — the whole dynamic of the meeting, or the whole discussion on missile defense was not that President Bush had come to hear what President Putin didn’t like about it, he was there to try to sell it. In other words, on the basis that we’re going to do this, let me try to bring you aboard?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I think I would put it a little differently. The president had an opportunity to talk about the U.S.-Russian relationship in broad terms. And he has always said that the shift from the 1972 framework to 2001 was because the United States and Russia have a different kind of relationship than the United States and the Soviet Union did.

And most of this discussion was not really about missile defense; it was about broad issues, economic relations, regional issues, about the domestic developments in Russia, and the president did talk to President Putin about freedom of the press, about Chechnya. But he talked about his vision for U.S.-Russian relations and why missile defense played an important role and the new strategic framework, it played an important role.

JIM LEHRER: Well, sitting there listening to the two of them, did you have the impression, well, they can work this out on missile defense?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I did have the impression that we’ve at least got a chance to work it out. The president has been pretty resolute about the need to address the new press. He’s also been resolute in believing that this takes a new way of dealing with nuclear deterrence, not to replace nuclear deterrence with defensive systems, but to have a new framework that has offensive reductions, that has defensive systems and it has new non-proliferation efforts.

And as a matter of fact, they spent a good deal of time talking about nonproliferation issues as well. And so from our point of view this is an opportunity to transform the old nuclear relationship into something new. I think the president made that case not just to Mr. Putin but to the Europeans as well, and I think that we have a lot to work with. Certainly in his press conference the president of Russia went out of his way to talk about the ABM Treaty but within a new architecture for international relations.

JIM LEHRER: But he also made a point of saying, don’t do it unilaterally, and that’s what — of course the same thing was said by the leaders of the European countries, don’t do anything unilaterally, if you want to do something, do it with us. Did the president, President Bush, come back from this meeting, this whole trip with a different attitude about that?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The president has always said that he’d like to do this cooperatively. He’s made that offer to the Russians, and, indeed, we’re now going to begin constructive and rather structured dialogue with the Russians about what cooperation could mean. He said to our allies that he believes that this is something that is good for all peace-loving countries. This is not for unilateral and American advantage.

This is something that addresses the new threats, that addresses the fact that ballistic missile technology is ubiquitous and can fall into anyone’s hands at any time. So this has always been a hope for a cooperative framework. That’s why we’re in consultation, but the president has made pretty clear too that eventually we have to address this threat one way or another.

JIM LEHRER: So it doesn’t really matter then what the leaders of the other country say, he’s going to go ahead, is that correct?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, of course, it matters what leaders of other countries say. The president is — has launched us on a very constructive course, I think, in changing people’s attitudes about defense. We understand that that takes some time, but he’s also said that as president of the United States he has to be able to address these threats. I really believe we’re going to bring others with us, that we are going to be able to do this in a cooperative way.

JIM LEHRER: Let me be specific. For instance, President Chirac of France feels very differently than President Bush does about the need for a missile shield, and he’s said it very openly. Did President Bush hear him out? In other words, the president came to gave his position to try to persuade Chirac; did he give Chirac the same courtesy?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely. The president is a good listener, and he heard a variety of views. He did hear the French talk about the desire for something if we moved beyond the ABM Treaty that would be structured and binding. We heard that. We heard that in President Chirac’s speech a couple of days before. But he also heard from the Spanish and from the Turks and to a certain extent from the British that people are beginning to understand that we need to move on, that there are new threats, that we need to think differently.

The polls — one of the most remarkable moments was when Vaclav Havel actually made a moral case for defense, and when the Spanish leader said, why would you not want to consider defenses, given the new threats. So there are a range of opinions in NATO; there’s no doubt about that. And the president heard the full range.

JIM LEHRER: Was there any moment, not any specific moment, I guess, but did the president come back with information — with perspective — with opinions, vantage points, whatever on this issue that he did not know before he came — before he went?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think that he came back heartened by the fact that the intellectual argument is starting to gain ground; that people are recognizing that we’re in a different world than we were in 1972. I don’t think that we expected that frankly going in. I think that the news coverage and all had suggested that there was a much harder attitude across the board in Europe. And I do think that the president began to see also that from some of the countries that are perhaps closest to these threats — like Turkey — some of the countries that have most recently experienced the Cold War, like Poland and the Czech Republic, is a different attitude than perhaps those that have become comfortable with their security, and I think that was an important insight.

JIM LEHRER: But, but what I’m getting at is the president did not — is not going to change anything that he believes about the ABM Treaty and missile defense shield, as a result of anything he heard on this trip.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The president has said that he is going to listen. I think we did come back with a clear understanding of where the Russians see threats coming from to their security. They talked a lot about their southern border. They talked a lot about the instability in those areas. And you begin to see that this is a country that really does have a very troublesome border to its south. That gave the president an opportunity to talk openly with President Putin about the Iranian issue and to ask, really, why, given the concerns about extremism, there would seem to be this budding relationship with Iran, and they had a pretty candid and interesting discussion about that. So I do think he gained perspective, particularly on how Russia views the threats to it.

JIM LEHRER: What about the global warming issue? Same set of questions I could ask you. The president had a position on the Kyoto Treaty. Most of the European countries had a different position. Did the president hear them out or did he go to persuade them to come to his side?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The president heard everyone out, and I think he understands that the political situation in Europe on this issue is somewhat different than the political situation in the United States, and he heard that in greater detail. He also heard, though, how some of them are addressing their energy problems, and why, for instance, under a European bubble, France’s reliance on nuclear power makes it much easier for France to contemplate Kyoto-like targets or why Britain, very reliant on natural gas, is able to contemplate Kyoto-like targets.

So I think he got an appreciation for something that he knew in his gut, which is that energy policy and environmental policy are very much linked. It’s a good thing, because in our energy plan, there are a lot of elements that could very much help with the global warming problem if we pursue them. So I think the president got a very good sense of how the Europeans think about this politically, why it’s so important to them, and he addressed it quite sensitively.

JIM LEHRER: Did he come back thinking, well, maybe I should have waited before I firmed up my position on Kyoto, until I had talked to them about it?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think that the president came to this understanding, hoping that they would understand that this was a position that he had already taken in the campaign. That it was a position that he held even more strongly after finding that we had both an economic problem and an energy problem. And I don’t think that he believed that he needed to wait to understand the effect of Kyoto on the American economy, on American workers, and on American energy supply. I’ve said that we perhaps could have been more graceful in the way that we restated our opposition to Kyoto, that we could have talked to our allies before we sent the letter to the Hill. I think we all feel that way.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. In general terms, what do you make of this idea, now that the president is back, the trip is over, and everybody, mostly in Europe, commentators are saying, oh, well, the president exceeded expectations. That apparently they didn’t expect him to do very well, or he did better than they expected. What is that all about, from your point of view?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: This is a man who almost always exceeds expectations because he is very good at what he does, and somehow, going to Europe, the Europeans were doing to him what I think tends to happen with every American president, is there’s a little bit of skepticism. As the president said, and I heard him open almost every conversation with this, I’m from Texas, people didn’t really know what to expect, and I can understand, he would say, that there might have been some nervousness about me.

When they’re in the room with him and when they see that he’s not only knowledgeable about the issues, but that he’s a good listener and that he’s somebody who can get along personally without trying to just cover up differences, it’s a very impressive thing to see. He’s a nice person to be around, but he sticks to his guns, and I think we’ve known that about this president at home. I think that our allies now know it about him abroad, and, you know, if you’re going to have a friend in the United States, you want it to be a friend who will stick to his guns. You want it to be a friend who is going to mean what he says. And so I think they found President Bush to be a man of his word.

JIM LEHRER: So in some ways, does low expectations work to his advantage?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I don’t know if it’s low expectations. What works to his advantage is that when he walks into a room and he engages people and he begins to lay out his views of the issues and he does it from principle and from values and you can see that he really means it, it’s just very impressive.

JIM LEHRER: Is he going to continue all of these dialogues that he started on this trip? I mean, is he going to be able to pick up the phone now and call Putin and call Chirac and call these folks and keep the thing going?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I’m certain that he will. As a matter of fact, this morning the president talked with Prime Minister Aznar of Spain, he talked with Prime Minister Blair, and talked with the Polish president, Kwasniewski. And I think he, in doing all of that, was simply saying, thank you for the way that you treated me. I think with, particularly with Kwasniewski, he was able to also talk about his talk with Putin. And that was important to the Poles. You know, so many times Poland has been over its head. The superpowers have talked about Poland. And to call the president of Poland and say, here’s what I said to Putin, here’s how it went, was, I think, very special for them.

JIM LEHRER: What about the general point that… President Bush made a big point of the fact that he had close ties with Mexico. He wanted to put a lot of emphasis on the hemisphere and a lot on Asia and didn’t mention Europe a lot to begin with. A lot of people were thinking, oh, my goodness, this is going to be a non-European-directed president. Where do we sit tonight?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The president has always known and the administration has always known that the Europeans are pretty special as partners. We, with the Europeans, enjoy most of the wealth in the world. We, with the Europeans, share very important common values. And when we go global, so to speak, the Europeans are usually our partners. And so no one was trying to diminish the importance of Europe.

The president was making a statement that, without diminishing the importance of traditional, key allies, there has tended to be a neglect in our own hemisphere of the NAFTA partners and also South America. And so he did choose, as he said, to show that he believes a good foreign policy begins with the neighborhood, but it didn’t mean that he doesn’t understand the importance of Europe. And I think that when he went there and he declared America to be a European power, to be permanently in Europe, and reached out also to the Russian president to say, your future also belongs with Europe, that that was something that they found quite impressive and maybe somewhat reassuring.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you very much.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: A pleasure to be with you.