A Resolute Condoleezza Rice

By Maria Bartiromo

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been at George W. Bush's side since he was sworn in as President in 2001, first as National Security Advisor and now as the nation's top diplomat. Like the President, she has been pilloried for not adequately recognizing the al Qaeda threat before September 11 and for helping to lead America into a quagmire in Iraq after the attacks. But her resolve has never wavered, and her poise has rarely been pierced. Both those qualities were on display during a lengthy and compelling discussion at the State Dept.

China's scramble to become an economic superpower has come at a price: shoddy, sometimes lethal goods being sent around the world. Do you worry that China has come too far too fast and that it could lead to destabilization or even economic catastrophe?

When you talk to Chinese leaders, they are aware of some of the downside risks, particularly for China itself. They are concerned, for instance, about having to create 25 million jobs a year just to keep pace. They're concerned about people moving from the countryside in great droves into already overcrowded cities. I think we all have to be concerned about environmental degradation in China. One of the reasons the President has been adamant that any climate-change effort would have to include China is that China's greenhouse-gas emissions are going to grow out of sight if there's not a way to help wean it off a carbon-based energy supply. And, of course, we have to be concerned and vigilant, as we are with products from any country, about the quality and safety of goods.

What's our relationship with North Korea?

We are working very hard within a six-party framework to bring about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The North Koreans have begun to fulfill obligations from the Feb. 13, 2007, agreement, having invited the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] there. It's my hope that the shutdown of the reactor is the next step.

Is it safe for U.S. businesses to be pouring billions of dollars into Russia?

We talk to the Russians all the time about the importance of the rule of law, about the importance of not changing contractual terms once they have been made...but it's an assessment every business has to make. On balance, it's obviously a better story than it had been in the past. In the oil and gas sector, we have had concerns about the tendencies toward nationalization of some of the industry, and we've made those known to the Russians.

Has anti-Americanism around the world abated? Has it hurt our business interests?

Whatever people think of certain policies that we had to undertake in difficult circumstances after September 11, there's great admiration for America. It's still the place where people like to send their kids to school, where people want to start a new life. Sometimes we overstate the degree to which America is not popular, even if sometimes our policies are not.

Will you serve as Secretary of State until the end of the President's term, and if so, what are your plans for the future?

I don't have any plans to do anything but be Secretary of State and try to complete the very ambitious agenda that the President has laid out. After that, I'll go back to Stanford [where she served as Provost]. I'm actually on leave. I'll probably think some, write some, speak some, and hopefully teach some.

Will Vice-President Cheney serve out his term, and if he were to step aside, would you accept the Vice-Presidency?

Oh, the President has a perfectly good Vice-President. I fully expect he's going to be Vice-President till there's a new one.

Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?

I don't know what I'll do long-term. I'm a terrible long-term planner. I was supposed to be a music major and concert pianist, and here I sit. I love serving on corporate boards, and I find American business and our corporations to be the engines of innovation for this country and, therefore, an engine of innovation for the world. One thing I've tried to do is to institutionalize the public-private partnership. The government can't do it all. When you talk about winning hearts and minds around the world, we are but a small part of what most of the world encounters about America.

What will your legacy be?

It's too early to think about legacies. Today's headlines are rarely the same as what history's judgment is going to be. If I look back, though, what I'm most glad we did is to put the promotion of democracy at the center of American foreign policy. I'm a firm believer that unless America stands for the fact that every man, woman, and child deserves to live in a system that permits them a say in who governs them, that permits them to educate their boys and girls, to be free from the knock of the secret police at night—unless we stand for those very basic human rights, no one will.

But in the Middle East, we had a policy of exceptionalism. We somehow argued that stability was what mattered. And I know when you look at the Middle East today, you say: "Whoa, it's not very stable." Well, it wasn't very stable before, either. It was a false stability in which dictators like Saddam Hussein put 300,000 people in mass graves, where Syria occupied Lebanon for decades, where healthy political forces were squeezed out because authoritarian regimes gave them no place to develop. Instead, al Qaeda become the expression of politics in the Middle East. So I am very proud that this President has put democracy at the fore.

Maria Bartiromo is the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell.

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