Secretary Rice Responds to Calls For Withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Iraq

Published November 23, 2005

| FoxNews.com

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Nov. 22, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells FOX News she’s encouraged about the political future of Iraq. In a conversation with FOX News Chief Washington Correspondent Jim Angle Tuesday, Secretary Rice said she is even optimistic about a new call for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Madam secretary thanks for joining us.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to be with you.

ANGLE: Let me ask you first. All of the Iraqi factions have been meeting in Cairo and, like politicians here in the U.S., they are talking about when it might be possible for the American troops to leave Iraq.

One Iraqi official predicts that it could be as early as the end of next year. For the first time it seems that Iraqis are contemplating the moment when they will be able to stand on their own.

RICE: It’s a very good thing, first of all, Jim, that Iraqis from across the political spectrum are meeting and discussing their future. It’s worth noting that this is a society that has lived by the gun, by violence, by coercion, and now they’re talking about a political way forward and that’s very important.

And it’s not at all surprising that they would be contemplating a future in which American forces, or coalition forces, are not needed and certainly not needed in the numbers that are there now because their own security forces are visible to the Iraqi people.

When we talk about clearing territory of insurgents, we mean clearing a city like Mosul. When we talk about holding territory, we mean Iraqi forces being able to go in and provide security for the residents. And then, of course, there’s a matter of building institutions and reconstructing the economy in these places.

But Iraqis are seeing their security forces on the streets. They’re seeing their security forces in their cities, and of course they’re starting to contemplate when they might be capable of doing the job.

ANGLE: They’re not setting arbitrary dates, talking about the development of their forces and so forth, but some critics will surely see this as the Iraqis going much further than the administration has and setting a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

RICE: Well, of course, this conference was many voices across the political spectrum. The Iraqi government requested the United Nations that the multi-national forces be extended because they didn’t believe that they are yet capable of having the Iraqi forces carry out the security functions.

But we should be very clear. The president has said that as soon as Iraqi forces are ready, we want to see a reduction in our own forces. I think those days are coming and coming fairly soon, when Iraqis are going to be more and more capable of carrying out the functions to secure their own future.

ANGLE: If the Iraqis ask us to leave and we’re not quite convinced that they are ready to take our place, will we still go?

RICE: Well, of course, it’s a sovereign government. But I would give the Iraqi government credit for wanting to be able to really make the place secure. They understand that they have a couple of problems.

They do still have insurgents. Many of whom, they believe that the political waters that have perhaps fueled that are being diffused by the now very active Sunni participation in the political process. And so they hope to separate out the hard core Saddamists from people that might have gotten caught up in supporting the insurgency and now might be able to be part of the political process.

But of course there’s a foreign terrorist element too, the Zarqawi network, that would like to use its terrorist activities in Iraq and other places to help form their caliphates. And that we have to be sure is taken care of.

But I’m quite certain that the Iraqis want this place to be secure and that this is going to be a joint decision on when we leave.

ANGLE: You know there was one puzzling reference in some of the communiqués out of Cairo and that was a reference, the Iraqis sitting down and talking about this, a reference to the country’s opposition having a legitimate right of resistance. Now are they talking about military resistance or political resistance?

RICE: I would note that that line is followed quickly by a call to condemn terrorism and a call against violence. Iraqis understand that blowing up innocent school children is not somehow a legitimate form of resistance.

They understand that if they want their security forces to be strong that going in and blowing up a line of policemen is not legitimate resistance. And, of course, they understand that the multi-national forces are there under a U.N. mandate.

So what I read into this was this tremendous gathering of Iraqis from wide part of the political spectrum who wanted to acknowledge that there is a political right to opposition, even resistance...

ANGLE: To give the Sunnis a sense that they can speak up?

RICE: And that they were being understood. But that violence and terrorism are really not a part of Iraq’s future.

ANGLE: You know, one of the interesting things about this, I know that no one wants to predict when the American forces can leave because it’s hard to predict events, but what are the conditions other than the readiness of the Iraqi forces that would enable the forces to leave without leaving Iraq as a haven for Al Qaeda and terrorists like Zarqawi?

RICE: Clearly, you want the Iraqi forces to be able to hold territory against the terrorists. You don’t want the terrorists to be able to control large parts of Iraq or even important cities in Iraq. That’s why the activities in Mosul and Tal Afar have been encouraging, because there you have gotten the American forces have to help to clear out the insurgents. The Iraqi forces have been able to hold the territory and now they can — they can move toward building a better future in those places.

So a part of it is that you want them to be able to make certain that bad forces can’t come back. Obviously, they also need to be able to start to give the Iraqi people a sense of security and a sense that the political system is not under threat.

We know of many cases around the world where unfortunately cowardly suicide bombers or cowardly terrorists can take on innocent civilians. They’re unfortunately an easy target. But where the political stability of a country is still really not in question. And I think that the Iraqis need to move to that place.

ANGLE: Madam secretary, thank you for your time.

RICE: Thank you very much.

ANGLE: Good to see you.

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