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Secretary of State Rice on Saddam verdict, Iraq War, Midterm Elections

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," November 6, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: The world focused on what changes await this rotunda behind me, and whether that death verdict against Saddam Hussein will have any impact at all.

Who knows that better than the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who joins me right now in an exclusive interview?

Madam Secretary, good to have you.

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

CAVUTO: First off on Saddam, your — your reaction?

RICE: Well, it's a great day for the Iraqi people.

This is a process that has gone on for a while. And it's a process that has been going on under the most difficult circumstances. When you think about threats against judges, defense and prosecutor lawyers who have lost their lives, it is really remarkable that the Iraqi people have been able to go through this process, which they ran, which was their process.

And they now have come to a verdict which, I think, shows that the rule of law is strong in Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein will be punished for his crimes.

CAVUTO: Well, as you know, Tony Blair of Great Britain had said: We are against the death penalty, whether it's Saddam or anybody else.

What do you think?

RICE: Well, this is a longstanding European Union position. The European Union is against the death penalty.

But, of course, the Iraqis do have the death penalty. And it is, of course, an Iraqi process. It is an Iraqi decision. And I think they will carry this out. There obviously is an appeals process that will take place.

One of the things that is perhaps not very well understood about Iraq is that, generally, judges and the legal profession have fairly high standing in Iraq, and have for a long, long time. And, so, there's...

CAVUTO: Well, the Sunnis don't feel that way.

RICE: Well — well, some Sunnis don't feel that way.

CAVUTO: Yes.

RICE: But there are an awful lot of Iraqis who are looking at this process, and saying that it has been fair, and that it has produced a result. And now that result will be carried out.

But this is not an American process. This is not something for Americans, or, frankly, Europeans, to comment on. I think this is something for Iraqis to decide.

CAVUTO: Because the perception among some of your critics, Madam Secretary, and the administration critics, is that, despite your saying that, it is the impression that this is an American-influenced verdict.

What do you make of that?

RICE: Oh, I — the Iraqis have run this process.

If you have watched any of the Saddam trial, if you have watched the testimonies of these people who lost family members, who found mass graves, people who have suffered at the hands of Saddam and his — his henchmen, you know that this is very much an Iraqi process. And, of course, this is only one of many trials that could be held against Saddam Hussein for his crimes against the Iraqi people.

CAVUTO: But the law is, he is hanged, if found guilty.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So — so, now the question is — let's say the second trial has the same result.

RICE: Mmm-hmm.

CAVUTO: What do you do? And if — if you hang...

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: Again, Neil, it's not what we do. It's what Iraqis choose to do.

CAVUTO: But — but I'm interested in what most predict will be increased violence in Iraq on that day.

RICE: Well, let's — let's see, because the Iraqi people know what Saddam Hussein did to them.

And he didn't just do this to Shia. He didn't just do it to Kurds. There were an awful lot of innocent Sunnis who also suffered at his hand. And, so, the Iraqis, who are in a broad process to try to bring about national reconciliation under the most difficult circumstances, where there are determined enemies of Iraqi democracy that, every day, try to thwart that process, the Iraqis have completed this trial. It's something that the Iraqi people should be proud of. And now we will see what the appeals process brings. And we will see how they choose to carry out this sentence.

But this is an Iraqi process, not an American process, not an international process. The Iraqis deserve to — to run this for themselves.

CAVUTO: Could I ask you of all the political questions? One is that this was timed right before our midterm elections.

RICE: Oh, I just — I can't even believe that people would say such a thing.

Come on. The Iraqis have been in this process. They have been losing people who have been under threat from terrorists, who didn't want this trial to go forward. Any number of judges have had to step down. These are brave people who have carried out this process.

And it is an insult to them to suggest that it was somehow timed to something American. It — it's — in fact, it's a bit self-referential for — for my taste. This is the Iraqi process. And we should congratulate them on it.

CAVUTO: On another issue of timing, Madam Secretary, last week, at this time, I was speaking to Vice President Cheney. And he had wondered aloud whether the increase in insurgent attacks was at all timed to our midterm elections. And he suspected they were.

Do you?

RICE: Well, I suppose it's possible.

There are lots of things that have been going on in Iraq. This has been Ramadan. And, during Ramadan, there has been a historic spike in — in violence. There is a process of national reconciliation going on. There are people who would like to stop that process of national reconciliation.

I suppose there are multiple motives. But the important thing is that people are working to try and bring down the violence, whatever its cause.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you about the way the war is still perceived by the American public.

I guess not exactly news to you, in a FOX News/Dynamics poll, when Americans were asked who would be more effective at finding a solution to Iraq, Democrats win 37 percent. Republicans win 30 percent.

What do you make of that?

RICE: My job and my responsibility is to try and help conduct a foreign policy that gets American goals achieved. And we have to do that in a way that is bipartisan. And I intend to do it in a way that is bipartisan.

The American people are going to have a vote tomorrow. Everybody understands that. That's the American democracy at work. But our foreign policy, which is to work with the Iraqis, to try and create, in Iraq, something that has never existed in the entire Middle East, which is a legitimately elected government that is overcoming differences that have long been overcome by repression or violence through political means. That's not going to change. And we are going to continue to pursue those policies.

It's not hard for people to see that it's been hard going in Iraq. The American people can look on their television screens and see that it's been very hard going.

They are trying to do something very difficult. They have determined enemies that are determined to use violence to try to short-circuit the process. But the stakes are very high in Iraq. An Iraq that is peaceful and begins to move toward democracy is going to be a pillar of a different kind of Middle East.

CAVUTO: But you really see that as something that is a short-term possibility, or just totally out of the question right now?

RICE: What, a democratic Iraq? No. I think...

CAVUTO: A peaceful Iraq.

RICE: A peaceful Iraq, I think, is in Iraq's future. They are going through the most terrible violence at this particular point in time, because there are a lot of determined enemies.

CAVUTO: But the prime minister can't seem to control it. So, if he can't control it, the government can't, seemingly, even with our backing, control it, would you call this a civil war?

RICE: This government has been in power for a very short period of time. Less than half-a-year, this government has been in power.

It's the first permanent government that Iraq has had. They had a series of temporary governments. They are having a great deal of difficulty, obviously, with the sectarian violence, particularly in Baghdad. But there are really two courses of action that they are taking to deal with it.

One is that they are working toward a national impact that would resolve issues, Neil, like, how will the oil revenue be shared, so that people know what their political interests are going to look like in the new Iraq, how...

CAVUTO: So, you have faith in the prime minister?

RICE: I have confidence in this prime minister. He's tough. He doesn't — look, this is someone who will say to you: I don't agree.

We have been looking for an Iraqi leadership that wants to lead since the liberation of Iraq. We have now, in this prime minister, someone who wants to lead. He is a good partner. And they are making progress.

But, obviously, the going is very tough. The other thing that they are doing is, they're training their security forces. We are working with them on their security forces.

But they have — they have determined enemies. And they have to make, themselves, some very tough political decisions about sharing the distribution of wealth, about sharing the distribution of power. That's something we cannot do for them. This is something they have to do themselves.

CAVUTO: Could the United States, Madam Secretary, live with the prime minister who then concludes maybe separating this country into three parts is the way to go?

RICE: You know, it's very interesting. I have heard that suggestion from a lot of international — I have never heard it from the Iraqis.

The Iraqis talk about a unified Iraq. They talk about an Iraq in which Shia and Sunni and Kurds live together. Now, obviously, there are differences among the political elites of Iraq about how power is going to be shared, about how resources are going to be shared.

But it's — it's almost never, very rare, if ever, that you hear from Iraqi: Let's divide our country into three parts and administer it that way.

CAVUTO: Well, they might not volunteer that, but it might be forced on them.

RICE: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You don't see that?

RICE: I don't see that.

CAVUTO: Yes.

RICE: I see that you will have a very loose federation, because there are very big differences, for instance, in the Kurdish territories, which have a particular history and a particular ethnic character.

But we have to remember, too, that, despite the sectarianism which has broken out — and, by the way, we think broken out largely at the behest of Al Qaeda, which went down this road to produce this outcome — about a year ago, they said, we are going to stoke tensions between Shia and Sunnis. They have succeeded, to a certain extent. But...

CAVUTO: And we didn't foresee that?

RICE: No, we — we — you could see it happening. But, frankly, the bombing of the Golden Mosque seems to have had a more deleterious effect on the society than one might have thought.

CAVUTO: Right.

RICE: But let me just note that, despite those differences politically, this is actually a society in which a Shia will tell you, "Oh, I'm married to a Sunni," in which tribes are mixed, Sunni and Shia.

CAVUTO: So, why doesn't that get out, Secretary? I mean, the vice president seemed to intimate with me last week that it is a question of media bias, that the bad news gets reported; the good news does not.

RICE: Well, it's easier to report on the daily violence than it is the quiet political process that's going on underneath.

I think it's — I don't know how to characterize what the media chooses to — to report. But I do think it is harder to show local councils coming into being. It's harder to show the inner workings of the parliament on any given day.

CAVUTO: So, when you're at home, and you're flipping around...

RICE: Yes.

CAVUTO: ... what are you watching?

RICE: On television? You mean other than sports?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Well, there are alternatives to that.

RICE: There are alternatives.

Look, every day, I talk — practically every day, I talk to our ambassador in Baghdad. And I talked to him this morning. What was on his mind? What was on his mind was getting the Iraqis — helping the Iraqis to conclude their national law on oil, which is going to be critical to the sharing of power.

What was on his mind was that he has been working with General Casey and with the Iraqis on a post-Ramadan security plan for Baghdad.

My point is that, yes, the violence is terrible. And, yes, innocent people are dying. And our troops are certainly sacrificing. But, every day, Iraqis get up, and they try to work through the particular challenges that they have on that day.

This is a government that is functioning, that is making decisions. They have really hard decisions to make. And they have got to make them rather quickly. But, if you look at where Iraq was three years ago, this is a political system that's maturing, and maturing rather rapidly.

CAVUTO: The political system could change a lot in this country tomorrow. And the feeling seems to be, Madam Secretary, that, if Democrats take the House and/or Senate, there will be a clarion push: Get us out. Set a timetable.

What do you say?

RICE: I'm going to wait until the elections are over. And, then, I will deal with the circumstances as they come.

I think that the president has been very clear that the commitment to Iraqis, the commitment to a — an Iraq that is stable and democratic is obviously a moral commitment to them, given our role in the liberation of Iraq.

But it's also an issue for American security, because an Iraq that abandoned to the likes of Al Qaeda, or abandoned to the likes of terrorists, is going to be a problem for regional stability in the Middle East.

Our neighbors, the Saudis, the — their neighbors, the Saudis, the UAE, the Jordanians and others, are expecting that American commitment to Iraq is going to be solid, because they view a stable Iraq as key to regional security and stability. And, so, from our point of view, that policy has to be — has to be pursued. But, as far as what happens tomorrow, that is not — not my concern.

CAVUTO: All right.

Nevertheless, despite the controversy over the war, Madam Secretary, it's amazing to me that, when Americans are asked, on this subject, would you like to see Condoleezza Rice run for president....

RICE: Oh, goodness.

CAVUTO: ... they overwhelmingly say, yes. And matched up against Hillary Clinton, depending on the poll, you — you beat her.

What do make of that?

RICE: You know, I — I don't play fantasy football either.

(LAUGHTER)

RICE: It's not going to happen.

Look, I am — I know what I'm good at doing. I know what I want to do. And I want to try and do my very best in this job over the next couple of years to...

CAVUTO: How about a running mate?

RICE: How about a running back?

CAVUTO: Running mate?

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Running back.

(LAUGHTER)

CAVUTO: Everything goes back to football with you.

RICE: Yes.

CAVUTO: But let's say the Republican nominee comes to you and says, "Madam Secretary, I need you"?

RICE: I know where I'm going after this. I'm an academic at heart. I will go back to Stanford, unless someone needs someone to go into sports management. That, I might consider.

CAVUTO: But someone approaches you and says, "You — "I need you on my ticket," you would say no?

RICE: I don't have any desire. And I wouldn't be very good. You know, anybody that you have to persuade to go into electoral politics shouldn't do it.

CAVUTO: Well, some of the best ones were persuaded.

Let — let me ask you a little bit about Fidel Castro. Today, you might have heard that his foreign minister was backing away from the prediction that Castro would return to power, I think, in December.

RICE: Yes.

CAVUTO: So, he appears to be a lot sicker than we earlier thought.

RICE: Well, clearly, a transition is under way in Cuba, one way or another.

I don't have any information on the health of Fidel Castro. I think we don't know. But a transition is clearly under way. And what has been a longstanding dictatorship is — is obviously going to come to an end sooner or later. I think our role and our goal has to be insist that the Cuban people will have a real opportunity for a true democracy, that there wouldn't be just the transfer of power to another member of the regime, but that the Cuban people will get to do what people throughout the Western Hemisphere are now doing. They will get to select their leaders. There will be free and fair elections, in which they can select their leaders.

And that's what we're talking...

CAVUTO: So, you think things would be better post-Fidel, even with his brother?

RICE: Well, I — no, I think what there cannot be is simply the transfer from one to another.

CAVUTO: I see.

RICE: The Cuban people deserve to elect their leaders, just like everybody else in the hemisphere is electing their leaders.

And, so, when there is a transition, whenever that comes, it has to be the goal of the United States and the goal of the international community to insist that the Cuban people get to make a choice.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you, switching gears a little to North Korea: Is there a limit on how many tests we will allow them?

RICE: Well, one was enough, from — from our point of view, which is why we worked with a coalition of states, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea in particular, to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which is a Chapter 7 resolution, to which China agreed, that sanctions North Korean behavior for the tests, and deals with the risk that there might be a leakage or an effort to transfer nuclear materials out of North Korea.

So, I certainly hope that they would not test again, but they crossed a threshold when they tested.

CAVUTO: But they keep flaunting you, Secretary. You had said recently Iran would "suffer greatly" if it uses sophisticated missiles and anger the — "suffer greatly" is what I'm quoting.

RICE: Mmm-hmm.

CAVUTO: And, yet, they keep doing these tests. In other words, they keep these military exercises going, as if to push you.

RICE: Oh, I don't think that either Iran or North Korea is confused about the military balance and about the threat to their own security, were they to try, somehow, to harm American allies or American — American interests.

CAVUTO: So, what do we do when they fire off missiles next week, week after?

RICE: Well, North Korea, I would assume that they are not going to do, because they did that, and it ended them, the missiles and the nuclear tests, with sanctions, very heavy sanctions, and with sanctions imposed by China, which has been their supporter.

As a result, I think we see that, since the international community spoke with one voice, the North Koreans have now said they are ready to return to negotiations.

We are going to work. And, in fact, there are two diplomats, undersecretaries, today in the region, working to make sure that, when we return to the six-party talks, they could actually be productive talks.

But I think you see the North Koreans responding now to the international community's resolve.

CAVUTO: I know you don't like to ask things political, or deal with them.

RICE: Right.

CAVUTO: I just want your opinion on Hillary Clinton and whether she commands the respect of the troops.

RICE: I — look, I am not going to talk about individual — I — I know...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Well, you have been very complimentary of her in the past.

RICE: I know — I know — I know Senator Clinton.

CAVUTO: Does she?

RICE: I know Senator Clinton.

I think highly of her. Not only do I think highly of her, but, in fact, I know her well, because she was a Stanford mother.

(LAUGHTER)

RICE: And...

CAVUTO: That's right. There you go.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: And I know her. And I know her daughter. But it's not for me to comment on — on political candidates.

CAVUTO: Quick Super Bowl pick?

RICE: Well, until yesterday, I would have said Chicago and...

(LAUGHTER)

RICE: ... and New England.

CAVUTO: It's looking a little...

RICE: It's looking a little different.

CAVUTO: All right.

RICE: Yes.

CAVUTO: Maybe the Colts.

All right.

RICE: All right.

CAVUTO: Madam Secretary, very good seeing you.

RICE: It's a pleasure.

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