WASHINGTON – America is ready to elect a black president, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The nation's highest-ranking black government official, Rice has said repeatedly she will not run for president despite high popularity ratings and measurable support in opinion polls.
"Yes, I think a black person can be elected president," Rice said in an Associated Press interview Thursday.
The top U.S. diplomat also said Iraq is "worth the investment" in American lives and dollars. She said the United States can win in Iraq, although the war so far has been longer and more difficult than she had expected.
She made the remarks at a time when President Bush is under pressure from the public and members of Congress to find a fresh course in the long-running and costly war, which has shown no signs of nearing an end and cost the lives of more than 2,950 American troops.
"I know from the point of view of not just the monetary cost but the sacrifice of American lives a lot has been sacrificed for Iraq, a lot has been invested in Iraq," Rice said.
Bush would not ask for continued sacrifice and spending "if he didn't believe, and in fact I believe as well, that we can in fact succeed," Rice said.
Rice was asked whether an additional $100 billion the Pentagon wants for the Iraq and Afghan wars might amount to throwing good money after bad in Iraq. Bush and Congress have already provided more than $500 billion for the two conflicts and worldwide efforts against terrorism, including more than $350 billion for Iraq.
"I don't think it's a matter of money," Rice said. "Along the way there have been plenty of markers that show that this is a country that is worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor you will have a very different kind of Middle East."
She said the first successful black candidate will be "judged by all the things that Americans ultimately end up making their decision on: Do I agree with this person? Do I share this person's basic values? Am I comfortable that this person is going to make decisions when I'm not in the room that are very consequential?"
At the same time, she said, "we should not be naive. Race is still an issue in America. When a person walks into a room, race is evident. It's something that I think is going to be with us for a very, very long time."
Rice declined to say whether she would like to see her predecessor, Colin Powell, become a candidate. Powell is a fellow black Republican.
"I'm not going to give Colin any advice and he's not going to give me any advice on this one," Rice said.
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is the most prominent black politician to emerge as a potential candidate for the 2008 presidential race. Rice was asked whether, watching Obama's rise, she thinks Americans are willing to put a black in the White House.
Rice said the Bush administration should be remembered for far more than the Iraq war. She ticked off foreign policy commitments or accomplishments including increased aid to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa and a peace deal ending two decades of North-South warfare in Sudan.
In a wide-ranging interview, Rice also said she has no reason to believe North Korea is serious about dismantling its nuclear weapons. "That's what we're testing," in disarmament talks this week that a Japanese envoy described as deadlocked.
"They're signed on to denuclearization," in an agreement last year that was never implemented. "We'll see whether or not they follow through," Rice said.
On Iran, she said a watered-down United Nations sanctions resolution against the country would have more than symbolic value. But said she has no assurances that Russia will vote for the resolution this week despite long efforts to satisfy Moscow's misgivings about sanctions.
"The Russians say that they want to prevent the Iranians from perfecting technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon," Rice said. "I take them at their word and that's why I think ... they will reflect that in their support for a resolution."
She said she is confident all U.N. members will enforce the sanctions once passed, no matter how they voted.