Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC Host: Thank you all. Well, we are very fortunate to have the UN ambassador sandwiched between all the important events. Most importantly, top of mind today: North Korea. More threats overnight from the North, telling foreign embassies—including the Russians—to start clearing out for their own safety in advance of this expected, anticipated American assault. How do we assess this young leader, this young untested leader? The rhetoric is at an unprecedented level. What some are saying is that his father was bellicose, but his father was always doing that in order to get something in exchange: food, money, you know, hard currency, some concession at the negotiating table. This seems to be rhetoric in service of…what?
Ambassador Rice: Well, Andrea, let me begin by thanking you for doing this and thanking Tina for having me, inviting me, and for that very kind introduction. I have to say one thing to set the record straight. I graduated from Stanford University and there was no way I could play on the women’s varsity basketball team at Stanford, so… I did play basketball but in high school, and out of deference and respect to the women Cardinal I want to clarify that.
Now, North Korea.
Mitchell: And there is a connection, because Kim Jung-un, we know from his childhood in Switzerland and in Bern, loves basketball. I mean, look who he just had as a visiting American.
Ambassador Rice: Indeed. What we’ve heard out of Kim Jung-un and some of the actions he’s taken in recent weeks have been part of an escalating pattern of hot rhetoric as well as provocative actions. We’ve seen this sort of pattern in the past. What seems to be somewhat different is the level of the rhetoric and the pace of the provocation.
But, frankly, it is a familiar pattern, and it’s one to which, I think, the rest of the world has become somewhat inured. But the reality is North Korea says it wants security, it says it wants economic development, and what it’s doing with its threats, with its rhetoric, with its provocations, is isolating itself more and more, impoverishing its people more and more, and taking itself further into the realm of becoming a full-scale international pariah with maximum sanctions on its doorsteps.
So, I think what would be much wiser for Kim Jung-un, as he assesses how to lead his country, is to step back and to heed what has been the call of President Obama and other world leaders to choose the path of peace. And to do what it would take to ensure North Korea's security, ensure its potential economic development, and that's uphold its international obligations and come into compliance with U.N. sanctions.
Now, obviously, thus far, he seems to be pushing the envelope. But for the United States' point of view, our interest is in reminding him and those around him of the benefits of an alternative peaceful course, ensuring that from our point of view, the United States and our allies are fully capable of defending ourselves should there be a need to do so, and not getting too jumpy when he wakes up in the morning and issues yet another provocative statement.
Mitchell: But here you have a forward-deployed army, only miles from our South Korean and American forces. And you've got him talking about using tactical nukes. When does rhetoric edge into an area where, because we have so little intelligence on his intentions, we have a real military threat on our hands?
Ambassador Rice: Well, Andrea, the most important thing to recall is that the United States is ready to do what it takes to defend ourselves and defend our allies in the region, should that be necessary.
Our aim remains, though, that there be a de-escalation of these tensions and, ideally, addressing the nuclear threat through the negotiating table. And we're going to continue to underscore that that is our intention. Our intentions are not belligerent. But, obviously, if need be, we'll do what it takes to defend our allies and ourselves.
Mitchell: Why aren't the Chinese doing more?
Ambassador Rice: Well, the Chinese have been quite interesting. I negotiate with them in the Security Council; I've negotiated multiple rounds now of sanctions against North Korea. And the resolution that we passed most recently in February was the strongest yet. And now North Korea is cumulatively facing the most robust sanctions arguably that are --
Mitchell: Can't China really pressure him to realize that he is further isolating himself, that he won't get anything for this?
Ambassador Rice: China can do more. It is implementing the sanctions that we -- that they have agreed to, that we negotiated and passed. But clearly, with the border that they have, with the economic relationship that they have, they can do more.
But what's interesting about China's stance now is that you can tell in -- by the nature of their statements, by the nature of their actions, that unlike, in the past, they also are very much of the view that Kim Jong-un has gone too far and that this now is a situation that has the potential to directly threaten their interests in the region, both economic and security.
And so we'll -- we remain in very close communication with the Chinese, with the Russians -- and, of course, South Korea and Japan—our allies in the region -- about a collective way to deal with this threat. And the reality is we are united, the rest of the world, in ensuring that this threat is contained and Kim Jong-un and North Korea are increasingly isolated, including from China.
Mitchell: Let's talk about Egypt, because there is growing concern about the role of women, the women of Tahrir Square, now not only not at the table, but being subjects -- targets of increasing violence and abuse and also what the Morsi government is doing.
Today President Morsi has tweeted that our ambassador, Ann Patterson, has called officials in the Egyptian government, if not the president himself, and apologized for tweeting out a Jon Stewart link to Jon Stewart defending and satirizing Morsi for their arrest warrant against the man, Bassem Youssef, known as the Egyptian Jon Stewart, the satirist who makes fun of Morsi.
So we are now in a position where the Cairo embassy is apologizing for a tweet to the Egyptian government. And also the Twitter feed has gone silent out of Cairo.
First of all, the complications of social media in diplomacy; perhaps this is a new challenge for the State Department. But how do we deal with the self-censorship of our diplomats in these environments?
Ambassador Rice: Well, Andrea, I'm not able to comment specifically on what Ambassador Patterson may or may not have communicated today to the Egyptian government.
But there -- it -- there have been a lot of comments out of the Egyptian government with respect to media freedom, freedom of speech, openness that we, frankly, think are worrying.
The fact is that, when things are going wrong, when women are being abused and attacked and raped in public squares, when satirists are unable to engage in harmless satire, those are issues of gravest concern to the United States. And we have and we will continue to speak out about that.
Now whether the preferred vehicle is a short-handed tweet, which is becoming perhaps a new form of diplomacy, or better, the communications in public and private that we're more accustomed to that are little bit more formal for things of this gravity, we can discuss and debate.
I think that -- I'm an avid user of Twitter and I enjoy it very much. But there are some things I will not do or say on Twitter because I think it sort of cheapens the coin of the message.
And so I do think we need to be, as diplomats, mindful of the medium as well as very much committed to getting out the appropriate message.
Mitchell: I want to ask you about the role of women in this administration. There's some criticism that among the top Cabinet positions, we no longer have a woman. Hillary Clinton is gone; you are not secretary of state.
Ambassador Rice: I'm in the Cabinet.
Mitchell: I'm just talking about the top four: Defense, State, Treasury, Justice. Is the administration -- first of all, is the White House not as committed as it should be to strong women in leadership positions, in your own experience?
Ambassador Rice: In my own experience, I think that's a completely bogus criticism, to be quite honest. I have worked very closely with President Obama, from not just the beginning of this administration, but many years before that.
I know him to be a man who is very, very, very comfortable around and very committed to having around him very strong women with opinions that they are not shy about communicating.
That's my experience; I think Secretary Clinton would tell you that's her experience. I'm sure Michelle Obama would tell you that's her experience and many of the other women who have served at the most senior levels in the Cabinet.
And I think you have to look at the Cabinet as a totality. We had a very strong Cabinet in the first term. We're going to have a very strong Cabinet, including with a large number of women, in the second term.
We're going to, Senate willing and fingers crossed, have women in Interior, women in -- at OMB, which is a very important job, and many other places. And we still continue to have Secretary Sebelius, Secretary Napolitano and many other very strong women.
Mitchell: Some other Cabinet women have told me privately that the White House holds the reins and holds them very tightly and that even Hillary Clinton, for all of her celebrity and her experience, was on a short leash in terms of policy.
She had her own agenda and her own issues and obviously was hugely successful. But that the National Security Council, the national security adviser and now his deputy as the new chief of staff, really dictated policy to the foreign policy professionals.
Ambassador Rice: Well, actually, I think the president makes policy at the end of the day. And I do sit at that principals' committee table with the other Cabinet-level national security officials, and now going in five years of doing that.
And I can tell you that we all have a voice. We all have input. The president is very solicitous of the views not only of the members of the Cabinet sitting around that table, but those around the wall, who may be our deputies who also have insights and experience. And he puts the recommendations together and ultimately makes a decision.
And I have not ever felt that, on the most critical issues, that my voice hasn't been heard. It doesn't mean that I've been on the winning side of every issue, but I've always felt that my perspective was taken seriously, that I had a full opportunity to air it and that the issues were weighed and debated in an open and transparent way.
Now, you know, different presidents and different administrations model their national security architecture in different ways. And we do have an active and energetic National Security Staff and National Security Council but I found that process to work to the advantage of the President in terms of his ability to get the information he needs to make the best decisions.
Mitchell: Would it be better for you, for instance, to be the National Security Advisor? To be the last voice at the table before the President makes that decision? Is that a more powerful job than being Secretary of State?
Ambassador Rice: It is a powerful job and I am the UN Ambassador and very happy serving in that role and I am going to keep doing that as long as the President would like me to. But both the Secretary of State, and the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of Defense, obviously, are huge heavyweights in the decision-making process. And I think it is wrong to say that it’s, you know, one position has more heft or impact than another. It is a function of many different factors, including the nature of the individuals in the job. I will let Secretary Clinton speak for herself but in my experience she had great influence as well as great impact.
Mitchell: We heard her here today saying “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” And I was in Beijing when she first said that in 1995. Do you think that that focus on women’s rights as a central component of American foreign policy will be marginalized with a man, John Kerry, as Secretary of State? Will it be less impactful around the world than having had Hillary Clinton?
Ambassador Rice: I don’t think it will be marginalized or less impactful. But obviously I think Secretary Kerry would be the first to admit that in some ways he can never fill Hillary’s heels. That’s his own language. I mean, when Secretary Clinton goes around the world and speaks with personal experience and passion about women’s rights, that’s a particularly powerful thing and it is a unique thing.
But in terms of policy focus and substantive commitment, one, I know John Kerry to be very much committed to these issues and he’s spoken on it and already begun working on it in very tangible ways. But also it is not about an individual. These issues have become deeply integrated into the substance and the fabric of our foreign policy and national security decision-making. Not because we are doing somebody a favor or because it is a nice thing to do but because as Secretary Clinton said here this morning, it is integral to our success as an economy, as a world leader, as a proponent of our interests and values that women and our concerns, and our interests, and our voices be fully integrated into all aspects of our decision making, foreign and domestic. It’s not an option, it is not a luxury: it’s a necessity.
Mitchell: And we have Afghan women and men speaking here last night. What do we say to the Afghan women who are so concerned that the progress that they have made, which is considerable—with our help, with their own incredible courage—that that is fragile. That once US troops leave and there is a war weariness here at home, a budget weariness, but once we leave, once the election takes place, that they will be either targeted or that laws will be changed. That their access to political and economic and social life will change.
Ambassador Rice: I would say two things. Regardless of the number of US military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan now or five years from now, at the end of the day it is the Afghans themselves, and the Afghan women, and Afghan men who are going to have to ensure the progress that has been made. Military presence doesn’t ensure the rights of women in and of itself.
Having said that, though, the United States is going to be actively engaged in Afghanistan, not just on a military dimension, but on a diplomatic and social and development dimension for years to come. We have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. Our forces will cease their combat operations. We will have a residual training presence to be agreed with the Afghan authorities. And we will still have some military presence after the end of 2014, but more importantly we will have a robust diplomatic and development presence and we will be very much engaged in trying to not just preserve the gains that have been made in Afghan society, particularly for Afghan women, but trying to ensure that, in partnership with the Afghans, that they are deepened and sustained.
Mitchell: Susan Rice, our UN Ambassador. I know you have to go, but thank you very, very much for taking the time.
Ambassador Rice: Thank you for having me.
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