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Rice Briefing on Bush's Trip to England

Aired November 13, 2003 - 13:17   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCOHR: Let's go now to the White House. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is briefing reporters in advance of the president's trip to Great Britain. Let's listen in.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: ... to the Iraqi people. They are clamoring for it. They are, we believe, ready for it. And they have very strong ideas about how that might be done.

And that's why Jerry Bremer really came back here. They're getting ready for a December 15th deadline. When we talked -- Jerry and I talked, it was very clear that with an, essentially, two-week hiatus coming up -- the president going abroad, then Thanksgiving, secretary of defense traveling in Asia -- it was important to get some reaction on the U.S. side to some of these proposals, because the Iraqis are trying to move and we'd like to move with them.

QUESTION: But in September, officials had argued repeatedly that what needed to happen first was that you had to write a constitution, have some sort of referendum on the constitution, then have elections before sovereignty could be granted to an Iraqi government.

I take it now there is more flexibility on the administration's part.

RICE: We're trying to be flexible and responsive to the fact that the governing council and other Iraqis believe that that timeline is probably longer for a permanent constitution than they believe accords with their ability to take on certain responsibilities and functions. And so it's the timeline on the permanent constitution that's really extended.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, could you concede, I guess, what appears to be the obvious, that a big part of the reason why you want to expedite the transfer of power is because the security situation has gotten so bad and so out of hand and that you feel the need to give Iraqis more power and really to get the U.S. out of there is really...

RICE: It's not a matter of getting the U.S. out of there. It's a matter of recognizing that the Iraqis want to take more authority and responsibility. We believe they can take more authority and responsibility.

They are taking -- the response to the security side is the increase in Iraqi security forces, not the political side -- but to increase the number of security forces. Because the kind of dangers that are being faced there, the kind of security circumstances and challenges that are being faced on a daily basis, are going to be better dealt with by Iraqi security forces with us in support of them than by our coalition forces alone.

RICE: And I was asked the other day, "What makes you think the Iraqis will be more competent in dealing with foreign terrorists and with Baathists?" And one answer is they will know that they're Baathists and that they will know that they're foreign, which is already a very big step ahead.

So the response to the security side is to increase the number of Iraqis involved in their own security. Of course, the more stake that Iraqis have in their own political future, the better.

But we believe that the few who are trying to keep Iraq from moving forward and progress need to be exposed by Iraqis as doing that.

You had a situation November 1st where these terrorists were threatening school children. Now, I can't believe that any Iraqi thinks that this is appropriate behavior. These are the same people who were torturing and maiming their fellow Iraqi citizens and they're being exposed for who they are.

But the response on the security side is to increase the number of Iraqis in security.

QUESTION: The president, on the way back or during the Asian trip, was talking about how surprised and happy he was that the Asian leaders were so supportive of the situation in Iraq. Given that, how disappointed are you that Japan is not going to send troops?

RICE: Well, Japan has said that it wants to think about the timing of doing that. We understand that. And we feel fully supported by Japan, believe that they're doing what they believe they can do at this point in time.

Japan is, after all, the largest donor -- largest single donor in --bilateral donor for the reconstruction. And so we're very pleased with what Japan is able to do and understand that countries have to make their own determinations about when they can do what.

QUESTION: Can you outline, beyond the issue of security, what areas would you expect the Iraqis to take more authority and responsibility in? And how rapidly does that happen compared with the previous timetable?

RICE: Well, there wasn't a very clear previous timetable. What there was were there were some steps that were going to be taken, but no real timetable. The first real demand for a timetable came out of 1511. And that's the December 15th timetable.

And so, this is a timetable that's being built anew. Fortunately, it's being built in the context of knowing what Iraqis are already doing. The ministries, I think, have come much further along in running the day-to-day affairs of the country than probably most people thought possible.

We've had a couple of those ministers here. They, of course, do it with the help of CPA advisers. They do it with the help of the CPA in general. But they're really running those activities.

I think you probably will see the Iraqis more involved in decisions about how the -- about setting the priorities, for instance, on reconstruction. They've already been involved in those discussions in the broadest sense. But for their tradeoffs to be made, I assume they would be involved in making some of those tradeoffs. They've been very involved in an economic plan.

So there are lots of activities that they're already taking; expect them to take more.

QUESTION: Does the president bring to his meeting with Blair any particular issues that need to be decided on, in terms of the case of a turnover in Iraq? And will he address the concerns expressed by some British officers in Iraq that the United States is not listening to them enough?

RICE: Well, I was just with Foreign Secretary Straw and with their representative, Jeremy Greenstock, their counterpart to Jerry Bremer, and I think that the sense is that the coordination is really quite good there.

And of course, we've been working with the British, in military terms, since the beginning of this war, not to mention in the planning while leading up to it.

So I don't think there are problems of people not listening to the British. The British have very good experience. They have been doing very well in the south. And if there is more that they would like to say, I'm sure we would be more than happy to hear it. And so, if there are more mechanisms for hearing British input, I think everybody wants to hear it. They're very experienced.

O'BRIEN: We have been listening to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, briefing reporters in the White House press room. We're going to continue to monitor it.


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