Interview with Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on Meet the Press

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
Washington, DC
February 20, 2011

MR. GREGORY:  Ambassador Rice, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS

AMB. SUSAN RICE:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you specifically, as we go to the map, to talk about Libya.  This appears to be the most violent crackdown where there isn't a whole lot that's actually known.  In Benghazi, the eastern city, Human Rights Watch is reporting widespread government crackdowns, violent, the number of casualties unknown at this point.  What can you say about what the U.S. government knows about what's happening inside Libya?

AMB. RICE:  We're very concerned about the reports of violence and attacks on civilians.  We've condemned that violence, David, and our view is that in Libya, as throughout the region, peaceful protests need to be respected.  They need to be able to exercise their universal rights that people around the world share, and those rights include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly.  And we will stand up in support of those universal rights everywhere.

In addition, David, what we're seeing across the region is a yearning for change, a hunger for political reform, economic reform, economic opportunity, greater representation.  And we support that very strongly.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, but let--we're going to get to that.  But I want to--specifically in Libya, is Colonel Gadhafi killing protesters?  Is he ordering his troops to go out there and violently crack down?

AMB. RICE:  From what we can tell--and, as you know, the journalists are banned and...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

AMB. RICE:  ...and we are relying on reports from Human Rights Watch and other observers--there has been less violence, very little so far in Tripoli, although that may be changing.  In Benghazi, in, in the coastal areas, we're very concerned about reports of security forces firing on peaceful protesters.

MR. GREGORY:  Let, let me ask you about Bahrain.  We go back to the map and look at some of the scenes out of that country just over the causeway from Saudi Arabia, and also where the U.S.  Fifth Fleet sits.  The, the main center square in Manama, the capital, security forces have withdrawn from there.  The United States has to be exerting a certain amount of influence to get the government there to step back and step away from a violent crackdown.

AMB. RICE:  Well, we've been very clear with our partners in Bahrain that they ought to exercise restraint, that there's no place for violence against peaceful protesters there or anywhere else, and we've condemned that violence. We've had outreach from President Obama, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Clinton and other senior officials, urging that restraint and encouraging what is now transpiring, which seems to be the pullback of the military forces and now a real effort to engage the opposition in a broad-based dialogue that will enable the people's aspirations to be discussed and, we hope, respected.

MR. GREGORY:  Can the government as it now stands survive, in your view, in Bahrain?

AMB. RICE:  Well, David, I wouldn't want to be in the business of predictions in, in this very volatile environment, as we've seen change so rapidly across the region.  But what we're encouraging Bahrain and other governments in the region to do is to recognize that this is a yearning for change and reform that is not going to go away, that it needs to be respected, and that they need to get ahead of it by leading rather than being pushed.

MR. GREGORY:  You know, the, the--among our Arab allies, according to diplomats that I talked to, they criticize what they see as inconsistency on the part of the administration with regard to some allies vs.  other allies, and then adversaries.  The Economist magazine framed this very difficult choice for the president this way, I'll put it up on the screen:  "By his actions," the magazine writes, "in Egypt, Mr.  Obama has put other authoritarian allies on notice ...  He thinks that even pro-Western autocracies that fail to reform deserve to die.  But how much reform?  And when will he decide they are dying?  Will Mr.  Obama abandon gradual reformers such as King Abdullah or King Mohammed as soon as enough people turn out on the streets of Jordan and Morocco?  How many people are enough?  To judge by the gale rattling the Arab world this week, he may have to answer such questions rather soon."

AMB. RICE:  Well, David, for years, and indeed in--throughout the course of this entire administration, we have been saying to our friends and partners in the Arab and Muslim world that there needs to be a process for, for reform, that there are conditions that are inherently unstable:  a youth bulge, high unemployment, a lack of political openness.  And we have pressed publicly and privately for the kind of change that is necessary.  Now, we don't see this as, as antithetical to our interests.  We support the legitimate aspirations of people all over the world, including in the Arab world, to have representative governments, to have governments that respect their universal rights.  And we don't see a dichotomy or a--an inconsistency between beginning to respond to those aspirations and our interests...

MR. GREGORY:  But can't you see how our allies are confused about where we're going to push, where we're going to support reforms, or where we're going to push them out of power?

AMB. RICE:  No.  We've been very consistent across the region.  The message is the same:  No violence; respect the universal rights of people to assemble, to protest, to speak, to, to form political organizations; and, and, and get ahead of reform, recognize that there needs to be lasting political change and lasting economic change.

MR. GREGORY:  But you can't say it's been consistent.

AMB. RICE:  It has.

MR. GREGORY:  The, the president pushed Mubarak to leave office.  He has not done that in Bahrain, he has not done that in Saudi Arabia, he has not done that in Jordan.

AMB. RICE:  No, no, no.  David, David, look, each of these countries is different.  Each of these circumstances will be decided by the people of those countries.  We are not pushing people out or, or dictating that they stay. What we're doing is saying consistently across the board there are universal, universal human rights that need to be respected.  There are aspirations and, and demands for reform that are, are legitimate and need to be addressed very urgently.

MR. GREGORY:  Let, let me follow up on Egypt.  One of the big stories that has come out of there in the protests was what happened to our colleague from CBS News, Lara Logan, who was attacked by a mob, sexually assaulted, according to CBS News.  And I know that the administration has been pressing the Egyptian military and the government to get to the bottom of this.  Are you satisfied that you have any real answers as to what was behind this?

AMB. RICE:  David, first of all, we're all horrified and outraged by what seems to have been a horrific attack against Lara Logan, and we've condemned it.  And we are doing everything through our embassy and with the Egyptian authorities to ensure that, that we know as much as can be known about this, and that those who are responsible are held accountable.

MR. GREGORY:  But no answers yet that you're satisfied with?

AMB. RICE:  Not--no, not yet.

MR. GREGORY:  Let--the, the other question in Egypt--and again, where criticism comes from our allies--is that the U.S.  publicly and privately pushed Mubarak to go without a real sense of what would come next in terms of democratic reform, even a democratic process, since there's not an identified opposition leader as of yet.  The USA Today reported the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized opposition force, and they write this: "In the scramble for power among groups of various political identity after last week's ouster of Mubarak, the Brotherhood--an Islamist group that has held as many as 20 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament in recent years--is vowing to increase its influence on daily life in Egypt.


PRN: 2011/030