US ‘looking for ideas but commitment to Iraq remains’

ASIA INTERVIEW

The impact of the US mid-term polls and US-Asian ties were some of the issues raised in an exclusive interview Straits Times US Bureau chief Derwin Pereira had with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Excerpts from the interview:

DO YOU see a Democrat-controlled Congress and the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld having any bearing on the Bush administration’s Iraq policy? Will the US stay the course? It is not at all unusual that in the second half of a president’s term, there will be a change in one or more Houses in Congress. So, the American people clearly were voting for change as the President said. But the American people were not voting for anything less than a success in Iraq.

And the President has made it very clear that we will certainly make adjustments to our policy, we will certainly look to new ideas, for instance, from the Baker-Hamilton Commission.

He believes, along with Secretary Rumsfeld, that it is time for a new leadership… Mr (Robert) Gates will come with fresh eyes. But the American commitment to the goals that took us to Iraq remains.

Are you suggesting that the US will stay the course?

The United States will certainly keep after the goals that took us to Iraq because it is too important to our own security. Iraq has to be successful for America to be secure.

Is Iraq forcing America to pay less attention to other world issues, such as the rise of China?

No. Iraq is very important but it is part of a broad foreign policy. You can go around the world and look at American engagement on any number of issues. We are going to Apec, where we have strong relations, strong ties, with our Asian allies. I was just in Asia in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test. Now we are going to go back for the six-party talks.

We are also dealing with the Iranian proliferation issue. So we are dealing with a lot of challenges in the Middle East, in proliferation.

But we also have a very positive agenda. This President is very active in free trade. We have many free trade agreements we signed, including with Singapore. We’ve got the Doha Round that we are pursuing actively.

How will a Democrat-controlled Congress affect the President’s push for free trade?

It is true that it will be a hard fight on free trade issues. But it has been a hard fight on free trade issues for some time now. And the President will continue to make the case that the United States of all countries cannot close off to the international economy.

Americans prosper more when we have open economies and open trade. As long as it is free and fair trade, Americans have every reason to believe that we are completely competitive in matters of free trade. You will see him continue to make that case.

Beijing is rapidly making friends, signing deals with African and Asian neighbours. President Hu Jintao is set to make another round of trips in Asia and elsewhere. What do you think of China’s growing power and influence worldwide, and how is the US dealing with it?

I don’t see any of this as zero sum. Why can’t China have friends in the world?

It’s better than China having enemies in the world. There was a time when we worried about the opposite, that China would be a destabilising factor in the world. So I would rather see a China that is trying to reach out, that is, trying to have friendships around the world.

We have excellent relations with China. We are working on a number of issues together. Now China has to be responsible in its engagement with the world because it is a big power.

It is not just a developing country. It is a big power with lots of influence. So we say that it needs to be a responsible stakeholder, meaning that it needs to take responsibility for issues like North Korea and Iran.

It needs to take responsibility in Africa, not just to take resources but also to contribute to the development of Africa so that people’s lives are better. But a China that is responsible and active in the world would be a great benefit to the international peace and security.

There are some in the US who think that China might not emerge as a benevolent power. What are your views on that?

It is partly the responsibility of countries like the United States and China’s neighbours to create conditions in which China will be a positive force in the international community. There are some aspects of China’s external policy that are not very positive.

We have had difficulties with intellectual property rights. We are concerned, as many of China’s neighbours are, about military build-up of Chinese forces. China, of course, is in domestic transition and needs to respond to the natural desires of its people for human rights or religious freedom. So China is a country in transition and there are a lot of aspects of Chinese development that are not yet settled.

But I think on the whole, the relationship of President Bush and the Chinese leadership has been positive.

I was very glad to see the visit of Prime Minister Abe to China because we would like to see a better development of relations between China and Japan as a part of getting a more peaceful North-east Asia.

The US is building alliances in response…

We have them. The United States has alliances. We have an excellent alliance with Japan. We have an excellent alliance with South Korea. We have good friends throughout South-east Asia.

We have nothing to fear from an active China as long as it is operating within the rules of international trade and politics.

The US has said that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable. But can it stop it? Who does the US see as a bigger threat – North Korea or Iran?

Not only has the United States said that it is unacceptable, so has China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, and now the entire international community…Yes, I think we can stop it.

I think that if the international community, when it speaks with the kind of resolve that it did with Resolution 1718, can help create conditions in which diplomacy can lead to a good outcome. We are very much looking forward to the resumption of six-party talks but the talks have to lead somewhere.

But diplomacy has not really worked with North Korea. What is the best option? It hasn’t yet. But we have not tried diplomacy under the conditions that we now have, which is we now have a Security Council resolution that actually punishes North Korea for having launched nuclear tests and that actually puts constraints on North Korea’s ability to fund its programme, to get materials for its programme.

It also put sanctions on luxury goods for the regime that likes to have luxury goods when many in the country are facing starvation.

I am hopeful that diplomacy with the North Koreans, in a situation where they see what the alternative is, will be more successful this time.

There are concerns in the region that without Robert Zoellick, no one is keeping an eye on Asia and Asean. How and who is doing it?

People are keeping an eye on Asean and Asia. We are all spending a lot of time in Asia. I was just in North-east Asia, in South-east Asia this summer. We have diplomats right now in North-east Asia. The President will be in Hanoi for Apec. We are working on a replacement for Zoellick. He is a fine diplomat and will not be easy to replace.

What is the purpose of President Bush’s trip to Singapore and Indonesia? When he goes to Hanoi, he will take the opportunity to visit a good friend in Singapore who we have broad cooperation on a wide range of issues and a place he would like to be in Asia. In Singapore, he plans to talk about his vision for the region.

And of course, going to Indonesia, a country with a large Muslim population, a country that has made the transition to democracy and is really an example of what tolerance can be. Indonesia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, and people are living in peace.

What role has Singapore played in the global war on terror? Does the US still view South-east Asia as a second front in the war on terror?

Certainly, South-east Asia is a front in the war on terror just like other places. There are terrorist organisations that operate in South-east Asia. We have excellent cooperation in counter-terrorism. Singapore is among the best. It is a stalwart in counter-terrorism cooperation. It has right values and sees terrorism as a threat to free people. We have a similar view on this. Singapore has also been stalwart in the Proliferation Security Initiative. It has been very active in enforcing the initiative. We can’t have a better partner than Singapore.

If you had a choice between becoming commissioner of the National Football League and being the president of the most powerful country in the world in 2008, what would you choose and why? No contest. No contest. The commissioner of the NFL is a much better job. You get to go to all the football games. Unfortunately, the commissioner of the NFL decided to step down when I was still Secretary of State. So, it looks like I will have to wait. I do have enormous admiration for people who run for office. But it is not what I want to do.

Not many women have been considered as serious contenders for the presidency. So why do you choose to pass?

It is a very good question. You have to want to run for office. I don’t think that people who have been persuaded to run really should run. Ours is tough…It takes special talent. I have now been around enough presidential elections that I know what it takes, and I know I should go back to Stanford.

NO BETTER PARTNER THAN SINGAPORE

“We have excellent cooperation in counter-terrorism. Singapore is among the best. It is a stalwart in counter-terrorism cooperation. It has right values and sees terrorism as a threat to free people. We have a similar view on this. Singapore has also been stalwart in the Proliferation Security Initiative. It has been very active in enforcing the initiative. We can’t have a better partner than Singapore.”
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE on US-Singapore cooperation

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