AP Interview: Rice says she understands Iraq desire for U.S. exit | VailDaily.com

AP Interview: Rice says she understands Iraq desire for U.S. exit

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she understands the desire among Iraqis for a quick exit of American forces, but she would not promise that elections this week would hasten U.S. withdrawal.In an AP interview, she also said President Bush has done nothing illegal or unconstitutional in the war on terror. She would not comment on a report that he authorized domestic eavesdropping by a spy agency without requiring court approval.On another topic, Rice signaled that the United States has all but written off international negotiations to head off Iran’s disputed nuclear program and is waiting for other nations to come to the same conclusion.On Iraq, she said: “For a proud people like the Iraqis, nobody wants to have foreign forces on your soil. They want to take responsibility for their own future. I think that’s a healthy thing.”She praised Thursday’s national elections in Iraq as evidence of the nation’s rapid progress since the fall of Saddam Hussein 2 1/2 years ago.”We’re seeing that the political process is moving along and moving along with speed and maturity that I believe would have been unthinkable a couple years ago,” Rice said.The Bush administration has refused to set any timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq, saying that would play into the hands of terrorists.”Yes, the time is coming, but I think everybody understands that no one wants coalition forces to leave before the job is done,” Rice said.The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Friday that he will soon make recommendations about troop withdrawals below what has been the average of 138,000.Speaking from Iraq, Gen. George Casey said about 15,000 troops added to help with the election should be gone by the end of February.More than 2,100 American troops have died since the start of the war in March 2003.Rice refused to comment on reports that Bush authorized a spy agency to eavesdrop without warrants on people inside the United States.”I can tell you this: The president of the United States took an oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution and he has been doing precisely that,” Rice said.”This president has operated within the law, within his constitutional authority, within his responsibilities, and that’s an assurance that I think will stand the test of time.”On Iran, Rice said “everybody continues to hope” that the country’s new hardline leadership will resume negotiations in Europe over giving up a suspected weapons program.”I haven’t seen any evidence that Iran is interested in a deal that is going to be acceptable to an international community that is extremely skeptical of what the Iranians are up to,” she said.Rice predicted that the United States would have enough votes at the U.N. Security Council to impose international sanctions against Iran but hinted she was waiting for other nations to join such an effort.”We also recognize that it is important for others to also come to the conclusion that we’ve exhausted the diplomatic possibilities,” Rice said.The top U.S. diplomat said anew that she has no desire to be president. She declined an invitation to rule out a bid in 2008, when Bush’s term is up.”I’ve said I don’t want to be president and that ought to say it,” she said.”I’m flattered” by the speculation, said Rice, the most popular member of Bush’s administration as measured by opinion polls, but “I’ve got my hands full and I know what my skills are.”Rice took over from Colin Powell in January, becoming the first black woman to be secretary of state. She was Bush’s White House national security adviser during his first term.—On the Net:State Department: http://www.state.gov

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