Interview with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice

The Situation Room - April 14, 2009

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BLITZER: First officer of that boat hijacked last week urging President Obama to do something about these pirate threats. Shane Murphy calls it a crisis and says the United States should be at the forefront of ending it.

Let's bring in Ambassador Susan Rice. She's the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: All right, what do you say? Is the U.S. government now going to take specific steps to end this piracy off the coast of Africa?

RICE: Well, the U.S., Wolf, has been in the lead for many months in trying to tackle the challenge of piracy off the coast of Somalia. And it really has three essential elements.

First is prevention, trying to shrink the space in which the pirates can effectively operate. We have something called Combined Joint Task Force 151. And other members of the global community have committed naval resources to this area.

And, so, we have a broad global effort to try to take back as much of that water as we can from the pirates. But that's a major challenge, and it's one that we're all going to be investing more in.

The second is interdiction, when the pirates actually get on a ship, to bring it back safely and rescue the crew members. And we saw a brilliant example of that by our own Navy over the weekend.

And then the third element is holding these pirates accountable and bringing them to justice. And we will have the opportunity to do that for the remaining pirate that took our ship. But that's something that we're working on all over the world in various justice systems.

BLITZER: All right.

RICE: But, Wolf, as you know, the real challenges is on land in Somalia.

BLITZER: Well, I wanted to raise that point, because Russ Feingold, the senator from Wisconsin, the chairman of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he says this.

He says: "For years, Somalia's growing instability was neglected by the Bush administration and the international community. The new administration must not make the same mistake."

Do you agree with him?

RICE: Well, I certainly agree that the real challenge is trying to help build some functioning state capacity in Somalia, which, for many, many years now has been a totally failed state.

That means strengthening the very fragile transitional federal government which is based in Mogadishu that is trying to fight against Somalia's extremists. It's a broad-based government that's brand-new, that deserves and is receiving American support.

BLITZER: Because we spoke -- excuse me for interrupting -- with Congressman Donald Payne, who was just in Mogadishu.

RICE: Yes.

BLITZER: He just got out literally within the past few hours. He spoke to us here in THE SITUATION ROOM from Nairobi, Kenya.

And he says, you, the Obama administration, should be engaged in a dialogue with this new regime in Mogadishu.

RICE: We are, Wolf.

This is a government that we think holds some promise, fragile as it is. And we need this government to succeed, both to stabilize Mogadishu and -- and bring in the other elements of the country, places like Puntland and Somaliland, which have developed rather autonomously on their own.

But we also need this government to succeed because there are large parts of Somalia, particularly in the south, where extremists have quite free rein and are engaged in terrorist training activities that are of grave concern.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears to North Korea right now.

Before the North Korean missile launch, the president of the United States was very firm, saying, there will be serious, grave consequences if they go forward.

They went forward. Now, finally, days later, there's a statement emerging from the U.N. Security Council. You didn't get the resolution you wanted. The Russians and the Chinese are still refusing to go along with increased tough sanctions against North Korea.

What's going on?

RICE: Well, Wolf, actually, after a week's worth of very tough negotiations, what we emerged with is a very strong, unanimous binding statement that condemns the launch by North Korea.

BLITZER: But it was a statement by the president. It wasn't a resolution, which would have had a lot more teeth.

RICE: Well, actually, Wolf, a resolution in this instance wouldn't have had the teeth that we sought.

We had long said we would have preferred a resolution. But what we got is a statement with teeth that is binding on all members of the council, and that entails strong additional sanctions by strengthening the existing sanctions regime. We will add companies, entities and goods that will be sanctioned.

BLITZER: Did you get the Chinese to promise sanctions? Because they're the key to this problem with North Korea.


RICE: That's exactly right, Wolf. And they went along with these sanctions.

And they have committed, along with the Russians and others, to join us in making these sanctions effective by the end of the month.


BLITZER: What was their argument, why they didn't want a formal resolution?

RICE: Let me just finish the thought.

This is major progress, because, a week ago, a number of countries on the Security Council were arguing about whether we should even express concern.

The debate here, Wolf, was about tactics, not about goals. China and Russia and we and Japan and South Korea and others share a strong desire to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, verifiably.

The issue we were working on is how much pressure would be productive -- we all agreed there needed to be consequences and some measure of pressure -- and how much would be counterproductive and drive North Korea further away from any binding commitments.

We think we struck a very good balance, a strong unanimous statement with consequences that condemn the violation, demands that there be no further launches, and makes it clear that North Korea can't get away with launching a satellite and claiming that they are doing it in a peaceful fashion...


BLITZER: If they do it again, what do you do? What happens?

RICE: Well, first of all, this action today demonstrates that there are consequences for their violations.

The United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and others are eager to try to resume the progress that had been achieved in the six-party process and achieve an end to proliferation in the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

There are a number of steps we can take, Wolf. The Security Council and the multilateral track is just one. We have bilateral measures we can take and other countries can, too.

BLITZER: All right.

RICE: The aim, though, is to get to a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Good luck, Ambassador. Thanks very much for coming in.

RICE: Good to be with you.

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