Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview that nuclear-armed Pakistan is the one place in the world “I worry a lot about.”
Rice also says it’s “becoming clearer” to the Obama administration that the United States needs to get tougher with its adversaries after the Iranians “bit off” the hand of friendship that President Barack Obama originally extended.
She confides that the “great weight of evidence” indicated that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks, and asserts that the Israelis “will defend themselves” if Iran acquires nuclear weapons – while acknowledging that an attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities is “easier said than done.”
Rice also was national security adviser during President George W. Bush’s first term before succeeding Colin Powell to become secretary of State in his second term. Her book, “No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington,” has just been published.
Rice sat down in New York for a wide-ranging Newsmax.TV interview with Newsmax Chief Washington Correspondent Ronald Kessler. She was asked why, with the Iranians seemingly determined to develop nuclear weapons, the United States shouldn’t make an effort to take out their nuclear facilities.
“Obviously, the president of the United States should always keep that option on the table,” Rice says.
“President Bush kept that option on the table. But it’s easier said than done with Iran. The Iranians have made certain that population centers would be implicated in any such attack, and many have always wondered that that might push the Iranians and their regime closer together rather than separating them.
“So instead everyone has tried increasingly tough diplomacy with the Iranians, and now with some of the weaknesses in that regime we can always hope that there’s a good chance to bring it down.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Kessler that Israel would bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities if the United States did not. Rice comments: “For the time being the Israelis have decided to try to let diplomacy work. But diplomacy has to work and it has to be tough diplomacy with teeth.
“I don’t have any doubt that the Israelis will defend themselves if the Iranians look as if they really are about to cross that nuclear threshold.
“There is some not bad news – it looks as if there are problems in the Iranian nuclear program. But pressure on the Iranian regime is an absolute must, because the unintended consequences of an attack by Israel on Iran, the very fact that we talk about something like that, shows how extremely crucial this issue is.”
Rice agrees that the Obama administration has been abandoning its’ “touchy-feely” approach in dealing with America’s adversaries.
“I think there is an evolution in the administration’s policy,” she tells Newsmax.
“The United States of America is not going to be popular. That’s the wrong goal. The United States has to be respected, and it has to be predictably there for its friends and tough on its enemies.
“I think that’s now becoming clearer to the administration. They reached out a hand of friendship to the Iranians at the beginning. The Iranians essentially bit it off.
“So now you see efforts to do many of the things we were doing, which is strengthening the sanctions against the Iranians, and if the Iranians were implicated in trying to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, as I fully believe they were, really rallying the world around that, because we know what kind of regime this is. It’s not a regime that can be dealt with except from a position of strength.”
Rice was asked about the threat that extremists could seize control of the government in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
“It’s well known that we have talked with the Pakistanis about nuclear safety,” she responds. “We have with a number of countries. I think that’s really the way to handle this.
“There is generally a view by people who have studied Pakistan that the military is quite in control of their most dangerous weapons. But Pakistan is a very unstable place, and if I worry a lot about one place, it’s really Pakistan and the depth of extremism in some of those institutions.
“But there’s no indication that I know of extremists having that kind of scope to threaten the nuclear safety of the country.”
Turning to the revolutions that have already toppled or are threatening to topple several regimes in the Middle East, Rice says: “I’m very grateful that thanks to President Bush, we put ourselves on the right side of this issue. We tried to get our friends to reform before their people were in the streets, because when people are in the streets revolution and reform are not pretty.
“We have to be true to our values. We have to recognize that authoritarianism isn’t in the final analysis stable, and keep working with those more democratic forces to try to help them move forward.
“The main thing is that President Bush was committed from the very beginning. I do think there was some slowness to recognize what was happening in the Middle East with the [Obama] administration but they seem to be in the right place now.”
As for America’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan and the possibility of seeking negotiations with the Taliban, the former secretary of State says: “Eventually there will probably have to be some kind of reconciliation of elements of those who fought the government. That’s true in almost any war.
“But you have to be awfully careful in Afghanistan because right now the Taliban is still heavily dependent on and infiltrated by extremists, many with blood on their hands whose goal is to overthrow the Afghan government. So I think you want to do that from a position of strength, not weakness.
“The first order of business should be to strengthen the Afghan security forces, and then some kind of reconciliation talks might make sense. But you don’t ever negotiate with an enemy from a position of weakness.”
Rice addressed the assertion in her book “No Higher Honor” that Vice President Cheney pushed to show complicity by Saddam in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I think the vice president was reading a lot of raw intelligence, and there are always nuggets here and nuggets there that are enticing toward a story that had some plausibility, that Saddam Hussein might indeed have had something to do with 9/11.
“But the great weight of evidence by the intelligence folks and everything I saw was that he didn’t.
“That didn’t mean there was no link between Iraq and the war on terror, because all of this had come out of the instability of the Middle East and the freedom gap in the Middle East. And Saddam was certainly as responsible as anyone for the conditions in the Middle East that led to this kind of explosion of terrorism.”
Kessler pointed out that Saddam admitted after his capture that Iraq planned to resume its WMD program and develop nuclear weapons.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Saddam would have said that,” Rice says.
“The link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction was not a theoretical link. We know that he had sought a nuclear weapon and was about a year from developing a crude nuclear device when he was thrown out of Kuwait in 1991. We know he had used chemical weapons against his own people and the Iranians.
“And so his intent to maintain this link to WMD I think is unassailable. What we didn’t find were stockpiles. He had obviously not reconstituted as the intelligence said, but he maintained the infrastructure, he maintained the scientists, and he certainly maintained the intent.”
Rice wouldn’t say whom she would prefer to see as the Republican presidential, but did declare: “Someone will emerge and we’ll have a good nominee and I’ll support the nominee because I’m a loyal Republican.”