Transcript: Condoleezza Rice on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' October 10, 2004:

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: The two presidential candidates are spending time preparing for their final debate on Wednesday. Two new tracking polls have President Bush up by four points, while another poll has Senator Kerry up by one.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld rallied the troops today in Iraq. He told American soldiers violence in that country will likely increase before elections next year. Two car bombs exploded today in Baghdad.

And Afghanistan's first presidential election was held Saturday. Millions cast ballots amid some reports of violence. All of the opponents of President Karzai charged fraud, saying an ink-stamping system to prevent people from voting more than once didn't work. Results won't be known for several days.

It's been a big week for foreign policy, with that explosive report from the chief U.S. weapons inspector, more terror attacks in Iraq, and elections in Afghanistan, all played out against the tight presidential race here at home.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

And, Dr. Rice, welcome. Always good to have you with us.


WALLACE: Let's begin with the Afghan election. As we said, millions of people voted, including women, and that was certainly a wonderful sight to see. But all but one of the 16 candidates has charged fraud. Was this election legitimate?

RICE: This election has been said to be by the U.N. and Afghan Election Commission an election that clearly has — will the reflect the views of the Afghan people.

This was an extraordinary day for Afghanistan yesterday. You saw the pictures of people standing on these dusty roads. They had to extend the election time up in Bamian province up in the snow because people came out to vote in such great numbers.

Clearly, there were some technical difficulties with the ink system, which was intended as, by the way, Chris, as a back-up system to having punched the cards. And the people who run the election say that this process was well taken care of by mid-day and they did not believe that it fundamentally affected the outcome of the elections.

I think you will see that there will be a mechanism to resolve these concerns within the context of the Afghan election law. But this was an extraordinary day for the Afghan people, and this election is going to be judged legitimate. I'm just certain of it.

WALLACE: So this election — you think these results will stand?

RICE: I think the results will stand.

Obviously, there are technical difficulties sometimes even in the mature democracies when it comes to elections. And people have the right to challenge. And they should challenge.

But there is a mechanism for resolving those challenges, and the United Nations and the Afghan Electoral Commission have said that they do not believe that these technical difficulties fundamentally would have changed the nature of the election.

WALLACE: All right. Let's move on to Iraq. There's a story in the Los Angeles Times today that says insurgents are trying to get chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, and in fact, the risk of an unconventional attack is greater than it was before the invasion. True?

RICE: We know that the terrorists have always wanted to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, chemical or biological. And they'll certainly keep trying.

But, of course, we're doing everything that we can to make certain that they cannot get them in their hands. There are efforts under way, intelligence efforts with the Iraqis, as well as with our own people, to see that that does not happen.

It's obviously a risk. But I think to say that this was a greater risk than before Saddam Hussein was out of power simply doesn't face the fact that Saddam Hussein had an insatiable appetite for weapons of mass destruction. He had an unflinching hatred for the United States. He had every reason to cooperate with our enemies. This was a gathering and growing threat, and it was time to take care of it.


WALLACE: Well, you've anticipated just where I wanted to go with this conversation.

Charles Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector, made his final report to Congress this week, and here was his central conclusion. Let's listen.


CHARLES DUELFER, CHIEF U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We did not find stocks of either chemical or biological weapons.

DUELFER: Active nuclear weapons program, no.

DUELFER: I still do not expect that military significant WMD stocks are hidden in Iraq.


WALLACE: Haven't the prime reasons that all of you, from the president on down, gave for taking this country to war, haven't they turned out to be wrong?

RICE: Chris, the president said at the time that Iraq was a gathering threat and that, in the post-9/11 environment, we had to deal with threats before they fully materialized.

Now, the entire world — the former administration, the Clinton administration, certainly intelligence services around the world, our own and others — thought that he likely had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Because we invaded the country, because we were able to interview the scientists and get the documents that Saddam Hussein refused to get to the United Nations, we now know that he did not have those stockpiles. But at the time, everyone believed that that was the threat.

What we learned in the Duelfer report what that there was another kind of grave and growing threat, and that was that Saddam Hussein was sitting there gaming the system, that he was undermining the sanctions, that he was amassing a huge fortune, that he never gave up his ambitions for weapons of mass destruction. He was keeping in place the expertise. He was keeping in place some of the materials.

He intended that, when the world looked the other way, when sanctions were lifted — and he was actively undermining them, they were eroding — he intended to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction programs. He would have been free to do so, and then we would have faced an even graver threat, a Saddam Hussein freed of international constraints with all of his ambitions intact for the Middle East.

It was time to take care of this threat. You were never going to break the link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. It was only a matter of time. And it is a pre-September 11th way of thinking to say, "Well, we would have just waited to see whether we could have kept these imperfect sanctions in place."

WALLACE: But let me ask about it, because I think a lot of people are concerned about what we were being told before the war and what turned out to be true. Let's look at what you said in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

In September of 2002, here's what you said about one aspect of Saddam Hussein's WMD program: "We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iraq of high-quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs. We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

But Charles Duelfer said this week that there was no active nuclear program going on in Iraq, and here's what he had to say about the tubes. Let's watch.


DUELFER: It is my judgment that those tubes were most likely destined for a rocket program.


WALLACE: Dr. Rice, all the talk about the nuclear program, all the talk about aluminum tubes was wrong.

RICE: The intelligence at the time — and, Chris, it is the fact, that you can only act today on what you knew yesterday, not today on what you know now.

The fact of the matter is that the intelligence was showing that Saddam Hussein was trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons programs. The tubes were one part of that story.

But even the Department of Energy, which believed that the tubes might be for something other than nuclear weapons, believed that he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear program.

We also, Chris, were doing this in the context of 1991, when we severely underestimated how far along Saddam Hussein's nuclear programs were. The president of the United States does not have the luxury to underestimate a tyrant like Saddam Hussein.

WALLACE: But let's talk about the intelligence about the aluminum tubes, because you alluded to it. According to The New York Times, top Energy Department officials told your staff a year before you made the comments about the aluminum tubes that they seriously doubted that they were for developing nuclear weapons. They thought they were for small artillery rockets.

And George Tenet, who was CIA director at the time, says he made it, quote, "clear to the White House that he thought the nuclear weapons program was much weaker than the program to develop other WMDs."

RICE: Well, we all thought that the nuclear program was not nearly as far along as biological and chemical, because we believed he had stockpiles of biological and chemicals. And no one was arguing that he had a nuclear weapon.

But the intelligence assessment was that he was reconstituting his nuclear programs; that, left unchecked, he would have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year; that if he got foreign assistance, it would be very much quicker.

And George Tenet and I talked about those tubes. And while the Department of Energy believed that they might be for something else, there were other members of the intelligence community that believed they were for nuclear weapons programs. They were, after all, on the nuclear suppliers prohibited group.

RICE: The point is...

WALLACE: May I just pick up on that? Because the point is that when you made that statement in 2002, you said, "High-quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs."

But that wasn't the information that you knew that a lot of people thought...

RICE: Chris, we knew, I knew that there was a dispute in the intelligence community about these tubes...

WALLACE: But you didn't tell that to the American people.

RICE: We did not learn the nature of that dispute until the NIE was being produced almost a month later.

George Tenet had believed at that time that these were for nuclear weapons because the specifications were so great, because the expense of getting them was so great, because people who built — by the way, we learned later — rocket motors also didn't think they were probably for rocket motors.

So, yes, there was a dispute. But when you are facing intelligence that says Saddam Hussein, who was close to a nuclear weapon in 1991, who is a hater of the United States and a threat within the Middle East, is by the end of the decade going to have a nuclear weapon unless he is checked, you have to take that seriously.

And, yes, disputes about aluminum tubes eventually became clear. And we acknowledged those disputes. But you cannot...

WALLACE: You publicly acknowledge...

RICE: We publicly acknowledge those. If you will notice that, as this went forward, first of all, the information was available in a white paper, a public white paper. And secondly, Colin Powell in his presentation acknowledged that there was a dispute.

But you cannot, Chris, you cannot, if you are a policy-maker, simply sit and second-guess this or that piece of intelligence. You have to look at the overall judgment of the intelligence community.

And that overall judgment was that this was someone who was reconstituting his programs and who would likely have a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade.

WALLACE: I think that's a fair point. And I want to play something for you that the president has said repeatedly in this campaign and said again on Thursday about his decision to invade Iraq. Let's watch.


BUSH: Based on all the information we have to date, I believe we were right to take action. And America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison.


WALLACE: Now, I completely take your point that you can only make your decisions on the intelligence you had at the time. And the entire world thought at the time that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

But the president is saying something different there.

Does he really mean that if you all knew at the time you were making the decision that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, had no program to reconstitute him, had no collaborative relationship with Al Qaida, as we all know now, that he still would have gone ahead and taken the country to war?

RICE: Well, Saddam Hussein, of course, did have contacts going back a long way with Al Qaida and he was a harborer of terrorists. That's why he ended up on the state sponsor of terrorism list of the United States. This was not someone who was unknown to terrorists or where terrorists didn't operate. For instance, Zarqawi operated in Baghdad, and we know that.

But, Chris, if you look at the totality of Saddam Hussein, you look at somebody who's a unique case. We went to war against him in 1991 because he was a threat in the region. He invaded Kuwait, was sitting in Kuwait well within striking distance of Saudi Arabia. He was shooting at our aircraft as they tried to patrol the no-fly zones to keep his forces under control. He was a threat to his neighbors and continued to be a threat to his neighbors. He was someone who did have relationships with terrorists.

And he was someone who had an insatiable appetite for weapons of mass destruction. He had the means, he had the intent, he had the money to do it. You were never going to break the link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

And now we know that, had we waited, he would have gotten out of the sanctions, he would have undermined them by both trying to pay off people on the Security Council and doing what he could to keep his expertise in place.

WALLACE: So very briefly...

RICE: And we would have faced a much bigger threat down the road.

WALLACE: So very briefly, the answer to my question: if you knew everything you knew now...

RICE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because Saddam Hussein for 12 years was a major and growing threat to the international community. It was time to take care of him. And this president, post-September 11th, was not going to let threats continue to gather.

WALLACE: Dr. Rice, thank you.

RICE: Thank you.

WALLACE: Thanks for answering the questions so straightforwardly and talking with us today. Always a pleasure to see you.

RICE: Pleasure to be with you.

WALLACE: Thanks a lot.