Interviews

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 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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