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Condoleezza Rice is the National Security Advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush. She spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels in Washington on Feb. 26.

NATHAN GARDELS: Angela Merkel, the opposition leader in Germany, met with you and received red-carpet treatment from the administration. France has been referred to as ''unfriendly.'' What is the feeling in the White House these days about the current French and German leaders and the reliability of ''old Europe''?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We are concerned that the debate at the United Nations has been allowed to slip into one about delay, about more time. It seems to be about ''checking'' the efforts of the United States, Great Britain and Spain rather than stopping Saddam Hussein.

We've been down this road before. In the 1990s Saddam was able to split the Security Council, to placate, to deceive. Now, suddenly, there seems to be a lot of support for Resolution 1284, passed in 1999, which was supposed to get inspectors back into Iraq. But France abstained then!

We fully expect in the next week or so that Saddam will begin to do what he has always done: a little bit of progress here, a little cooperation there. He'll destroy this missile. Find this or that bomb he couldn't find a few weeks ago when he was supposed to declare it. He will play every game in the book to try to buy time.

Those who let him buy time are putting off the important decision the Security Council needs to take to, once and for all, affirm that it is a powerful force for peace. We have to rid Saddam of his mass destruction weapons because he himself has decided he will not voluntarily do it.

GARDELS: This transatlantic crisis is not the normal contretemps of recent decades. Isn't it qualitatively more serious?

RICE: It is very unfortunate. If we had a chance for a real peaceful resolution of this, it would have been through unity in the Security Council to make Saddam Hussein the issue. Unfortunately, he has read that he can continue to play members of the Security Council off against one another.

Every once in a while we need to go back and remember what it is that has made the transatlantic bond strong: that is, a commitment not only to security but to values. The most important value is that people have a right to live in freedom, not tyranny. The Iraqi people deserve that right just as much as any European or American.

GARDELS: So the transatlantic damage is not irreversible?

RICE: I certainly hope not. But it is going to take some work.

GARDELS: Perhaps it is time to shift focus from the debate over inspections and even beyond the war itself to post-Saddam Iraq. What is your broader vision for Iraq?

RICE: If we do have to use force, the world will see a United States -- and we believe a coalition -- that is dedicated first and foremost to the immediate betterment of life for the Iraqi people. The first to benefit in a post-Saddam world will be the Iraqi people themselves.

This is an educated population, a people who are quite capable of getting on the road to democratic development. The United States will be there to support them in doing that.

In the immediate aftermath of any hostilities we are most concerned that humanitarian needs are taken care of. We are working with all kinds of non-governmental organizations and the official relief agencies to pre-position humanitarian aid and food supplies. We have already made available tens of millions of dollars for this purpose.

We would also be devoted, as soon as possible, to getting the administrative structures of the Iraqi government back up and running so that the Iraqi people can begin to take control of their own lives.

Most Iraqi citizens are going to have a tremendous future in a post-Saddam Iraq. Members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle, of course, cannot have a future, but most Iraqis will regain their country.

We are hopeful that, if we do indeed use military force and begin the march toward a post-Saddam Iraq, that Iraqis outside Saddam's inner circle will understand that their future is not with Saddam and his regime. We hope they will not carry out orders to use weapons of mass destruction or burn the patrimony of Iraq in the way the oil fields of Kuwait were burned.

In a broader sense, an Iraq that is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, where the territorial integrity is preserved, where there is a road to democratic development would be a tremendously positive factor for the region as a whole -- a region that is beginning to hear very strong voices from Bahrain to Morocco for political and economic reform. In fact, the Arabs themselves are now talking about an ''Arab charter'' for such reforms.

Not least, with one of the great threats to the region and one of the great supporters of terrorism gone from the scene, a great impetus would be given to the prospect of Middle East peace. The Palestinian people would able to more effectively pursue their dreams of a democratic state.

GARDELS: Is this a ''battle for the Muslim world'' that will change the Middle East?

RICE: That is a misnomer. Nobody is battling for the Muslim world. What we understand is there are ever stronger voices out there saying what we believe: The rights to decide your own future, to live without fear of arbitrary government, to be able to educate your children -- girls and boys -- are non-negotiable demands of human dignity. These are universal values. We want to help those voices emerge and be strengthened.

GARDELS: Isn't this democratization wave, though, likely to wash over America's less-than-democratic allies in the region as well, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt?

RICE: There are people who value reform in almost every country of the region. The Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia has been talking, as I mentioned, about an ''Arab charter'' for economic and political reform.

This is not something to be feared in the region. It is something to be desired. The whole region, so wealthy in economic and human resources, has been held back by years of hatred and conflict. It is time the Middle East be the vibrant and prosperous region it can be.

GARDELS: You were a player in American policy that led to the collapse of Soviet empire and brought democratization to Eastern Europe. Do you see this current push as a similar, parallel historical process of expanding democracy?

RICE: Yes, I see it as a continuation of historical process that has been affirming across the globe that people want a say in their own lives. Democracy and economic liberalization are desired by all.

It is interesting that you bring up Eastern Europe. Because, of course, the Eastern Europeans -- those most recently freed from tyranny -- have been some of the strongest supporters of trying to create conditions in which freedom can be extended to the people of Iraq.

In all the discussion about the threat of Saddam Hussein -- goodness knows there is a big threat with mass destruction weapons and the links to terrorism -- it is important not to lose sight of what is happening to the Iraqi people. I really do believe that one of the reasons we are getting such strong support from the Baltic states, from Poland and Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria is that they know what it is like to be denied freedom.

GARDELS: The United States has decided on an ''interim administration headed by an American'' to rule postwar Iraq instead of a provisional government of Iraqis.

Recently Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein, a member of the Iraqi National Congress who heads the royal family in exile, told me:

''Occupation by the United States is unwarranted and unwise. Once Saddam and his weapons are gone, the military is no threat. Iraq's population does not need to be 'de-Nazified.' Iraq is not Germany or Japan, but France after World War II -- a country that has been liberated. Truly this occupation idea is inadvisable. In a flash it will turn the Americans from liberators into occupiers. The best thing is for them to leave as soon as possible.''

How do you respond to the opposition of the Iraqi opposition to your plan?

RICE: The United States intends to stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer. We have no desire to be an occupying power. All that we want to do is to make certain that the territorial integrity of Iraq is preserved, that sectarian violence does not break out and that the immediate humanitarian concerns of the Iraqis are taken care of. We want to get the country on the road to reconstruction and a democratic future. We want to be sure that process is begun, and we want to be certain it will be finished.

Everyone in this administration, especially the president, wants to see the Iraqis in control of their own future absolutely as soon as possible.

GARDELS: Who will control the oil in post-Saddam Iraq?

RICE: The oil and other resources of Iraq are for the Iraqi people. That is to whom it belongs and that is whom it should benefit. The big change will be that instead of oil revenues benefiting Saddam Hussein and building palaces for this horrible regime, instead of funding terrorists or financing the development of mass destruction weapons, the resources of Iraq will be turned to the use of the Iraqi people. That is the only way it should be, and that is the only way the United States wants it to be.

GARDELS: If a post-Saddam Iraq is part of the broader vision of democratizing the region, will U.S. troops remain stationed there for as long as 50 years, the way they have been in Germany and Japan since World War II?

RICE: Again, it is not ''our'' vision for democratizing the region that this is about, that we will impose somehow. It is about democracy as a universal value that all people want being given the opportunity to take root.

Of course, there will be a period during war termination, as the war is winding down and stability is being reestablished, in which our coalition forces will be the most active.

We will stay in Iraq as long as necessary to ensure this opportunity, but, really, not a minute longer. Our hope is that after that period, the international community will take an active role.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 2/26/03)