Secretary Condoleezza Rice: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for that comprehensive look at one of the most daunting problems that, I think, anyone in the international system has faced, and I’d like to return to a couple of substantive issues, but I want to ask you a question first about being Secretary of State. It’s kind of a hard job, isn’t it?
Secretary Tillerson: It’s -- yeah, it’s a little different.
Secretary Rice: Yeah. So, when I was secretary, I’d get up in the morning, and there were some things I’d see on my calendar, and I’d think, “Oh good, I’m going to get to do that,” and then there were some things that I’d would think, “I’ll just -- maybe I’ll just go back to bed.” What do you like about the job, and what do you find most challenging?
Secretary Tillerson: Well, what I like most about the job is what I’ve always enjoyed throughout my career, and it’s the quality of the people you have the privilege to work with every day. And what I’ll say about the people in the State Department, the career people as well as the political appointees: These are extraordinarily dedicated individuals, some of the greatest patriots you’ll meet anywhere, and they really come in every day with one objective in mind, and that’s to carry out the foreign policy goals, objectives of the Administration, but to serve the interests of the American people.
So what I look forward to every day is even if we’re talking about really complicated issues, like the one I just described -- and Syria is one of the most complex situations on the ground -- the level of intelligence and the level of openness for us to have a good conversation about that is what I most look forward to. And I have a bullpen area -- it used to be the Deputy Secretary of Management’s office. I absconded it, and we have nothing but whiteboards in there, and I love going in the bullpen and just whiteboarding these exercises.
What I least look forward to coming in to are those days when I have to deal with the loss of life. And whether it’s the loss of a State Department person, or the loss of military personnel, or any American citizen anywhere, those are the days that are difficult, because you make calls to family members, you try to -- people who have been taken hostage, you try to give their families reassurance, but those are the days that are really tough.
Secretary Rice: Yeah. Now, as Secretary, you face some unique challenges as well. Social media was barely born when I was secretary. Thank God for that. And we know that your boss loves social media, so what’s it like, and how do you deal with the constant pressure of social media, especially out of the White House?
Secretary Tillerson: Well, he’s world class at social media and I’m not -- and I want to confess here in the heart of the creation of this great technology, I have no social media accounts. I have never had any and I don’t intend to have any. It is a great tool when it’s used well. The President has used it to great effect by bypassing the traditional means of communicating, and he absolutely thrives on this ability to instantly communicate not just to the American people, but to our friends and allies or to our adversaries, to the entire world.
I don’t know when he’s going to do that because he -- that is just the way the President operates. So the challenge is just getting caught up because I don’t -- I don’t even have a Twitter account that I can follow what he’s tweeting, so my staff usually has to print his tweets out and hand them to me. Now, on the one hand, you can say, “Well, that’s nuts. Why don’t you get an account?” But on the other hand, I’ve actually concluded that’s not a bad system because it goes out and I don’t know it’s going to go out, so there’s not a whole lot I’m going to do until it’s out there. By the time I find out about it, there’s actually been some period of time, and dependent on where I am in the world it might be five minutes or it might be an hour before somebody hands me a piece of paper and says, “Hey, the President just tweeted this out.” There -- I already have the early reactions to that and it allows me to now begin to think about, all right, how do we take that then into -- if it’s a foreign policy issue, is it -- what is it he’s tweeting about, how do we take that and now use it?
And so it’s interesting. I get the question a lot from people about, gosh, it must be impossible to deal with that. I had to get used to it early on because it was very unconventional for all of us. But I take it and I say, okay, this is information. Let’s -- we know what our objectives are and he didn’t change any of them. This is just his way of wanting to communicate on the subject. How do we take that and use it? And so that’s what -- that’s how I deal with it, but I think I’m probably going to go to my grave and never have a social media account.
Secretary Rice: I was really struck when you talked about Syria and you talked about the way forward in Syria, leaving aside the military side, which obviously there have been some real gains, particularly in clearing ISIS from Iraq and now a leg up, at least, on ISIS in Syria. But I was struck that when you turned to political stabilization, you used a few words that most people would not associate with the Trump Administration. I want to have you talk a little bit about that. You talked about values, America’s values. You talked about human rights. You talked about the need for the Syrian people to be able to express themselves in free elections.
We would consider those parts of the values agenda, if you will, because going really all the way back to Woodrow Wilson, American presidents have believed that the internal composition of states actually does matter. And I think you’ve made a very good case that one of the reasons that we face the problem that we face in Syria is that Bashar al-Assad is a dictator who has murdered his own people and oppressed his own people.
And so pull back from Syria and talk about how, after now almost a year on the job, you see the issue of values, human rights, democracy in the -- in American foreign policy.
Secretary Tillerson: Well, it’s a great question, and it’s one that I’ve -- as an engineer, I guess I’ve had a hard time describing to others how I view it. Our American values of freedom, respect for the individual, human dignity -- all of the manifestations of the values that define who we are as a people, who we are collectively as a group of people who have aligned ourselves around these values and defines how we treat one another every day -- how you take that into the foreign policy arena.
And at one level, these are values that are enduring, and what I’ve said to people is you know with foreign policy if you -- when you take the values and you try to put them into foreign policy, the concern I’ve always had is policies can change and adjust, and they do. And so how do you -- if you’re doing that, your values never change. They never adjust. So our values are with us at all interactions always.
Now, how do you operationalize -- and I’ll use that word -- how do you operationalize the values? Because I think that’s getting to the heart of the question. And Syria is a great case study in my opinion of that. Going into Syria and advocating human rights, religious freedoms, women’s equal participation in the midst of literally thousands of people and civilians being killed every day doesn’t resonate very well, because the most important human right to anybody is our first one: the right to life. Life, then liberty, then the pursuit of happiness. And that’s the way I think about our values. I first have to keep people from being killed, and if I can keep them from being killed and if we can create areas of stability, then we begin to create the seeds of liberty, and then we create the pathway to a pursuit of happiness. And underneath all of that are, then, the articulation of our respect for the human dignity, the human condition, all the ways that we express these values that are uniquely American values.
And so it really is how do you create the conditions so people can actually achieve that, and the priority in Syria right now is stop people from being killed. They’re being killed. They’re being killed by the thousands. Stop that, stabilize it, start creating some conditions, and then we can begin to promote respect for people’s religious freedoms, respect for their dignity. And so it is very much -- in my mind it’s -- and being an engineer, this is the way I think it’s a process. It’s a process inside of a system, and at any point in time and depending on the country’s condition, the location, the circumstances, we’re going to be at a different place in that process. If we have a stable -- a stable government that is repressive of certain religious organizations, then we go right at that. Because it’s not that people are being killed, but they’re being persecuted; they’re being denied their own pursuit of happiness.
So it -- very much, I think in each situation, I look at it and say, what is the priority here? And the first priority is always the protection of life -- stop people from being killed. And if you do that, you begin to create the conditions where we can truly lean forward and advocate on the values themselves.
Secretary Rice: And the tools for doing the kind of work that you’re talking about, obviously when you’ve stabilized a situation, you still have to have the diplomacy, you still have to have the assistance to people. There have been concerns about the commitment to, say, foreign assistance and to having those tools that American diplomats rely on to bring stability. Jim Mattis apparently famously said that if he doesn’t have foreign assistance, he’s going to need more bullets, just to paraphrase.
Now, a couple of American foreign assistance efforts that have been just universally appreciated: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which probably, through the efforts of President Bush and then President Obama, saved millions of people from a pandemic; and then the Millennium Challenge, which tries to take foreign assistance and give it to states that are actually going to use it wisely, that are not corrupt. Can you talk a little bit about the future of those programs? And I know you’re an advocate for them. How are you doing inside the Administration and on the Hill?
Secretary Tillerson: Well, you picked two of the easiest to defend, because PEPFAR is broadly viewed, within the Administration even, as like the gold standard of success. It has produced extraordinary results and it has demonstrated it really uses the American dollar wisely. For dollar invested, if you think about it as an investment, it’s a dollar invested for the return -- PEPFAR, by any measure you want to examine it, has been wildly successful.
And the Millennium Challenge Corporation, similarly, has been wildly successful because of the disciplined process it uses. I think the debate that goes on more is not about those kinds of programs, but about a lot of other assistance programs that may not have the kind of structure around them that PEPFAR has or the kind of structure around them -- and accountability to go with structure -- that the Millennium Challenge has, and a view that America is, has been, and still is today the most generous nation on planet Earth when it comes to humanitarian assistance, disaster relief. We are always first and foremost.
But if you look at the situation with the nation’s finances, and we all know about the deficits that we’re building up all the time, I think the President has rightly asked the question of, okay, we know what we’re doing; how’s the rest of the world doing? And are you doing your share? And so that has become very much an overlay to how this Administration thinks about all means of foreign assistance, from the kind of assistance that’s provided through USAID and the State Department to foreign military sales and assistance, to international organizations at the UN and others. We will do our part, but we demand that others do their part as well. And so he has created very high expectations that we will go out and elicit others to step up and start contributing more on a proportionate basis with their ability to do so. And he famously points to a lot of nations around the world that are doing extraordinarily well. In many cases they’re doing better than we are with our own economy, yet they’re not carrying what in our view is their share of this need the world has.
So a lot of this last year and even the early part of this year is a lot of active engagement with countries around this issue. Having said that, there’s no abandonment of our recognition of these needs. And as you know and through the budget process, the budget process involves our two branches of government, co-equal branches. The Congress has their say on it as well, and the Administration has theirs. So a lot of this is, in the end, we resolve it through the budget negotiation process.
The last thing I would say about the State Department budget in particular, because it got a lot of -- it’s gotten a lot of discussion, is I like to give people perspective. The State Department’s budget is coming off of a record high -- $55 billion, largest budget the State Department ever had, and a series of about the last five or six years of one record budget after another. And what I tell people, and having run another organization that had large numbers we had to deal with every day, it’s very hard to execute -- it’s very hard for the State Department to execute a $55 billion budget. I mean, quite frankly, if you want to do it well and you want to be good stewards of the American hard-earned taxpayer dollar that you’ve been given, we do need to be able to go out and do that well. And the truth of the matter is one of the reasons we’re not struggling in 2017 is we had a lot of carry-forward money because no one could execute that size of a budget. And so there’s a lot of money that’s moving through.
So right now I’d say we’re in a dynamic situation where we’re not -- we’re not in a position of being unable to meet, we believe, the most critical needs out there. But it’s coming and we’re trying to plan ahead and we’re trying to elicit more burden-sharing from others around the world.
Secretary Rice: Thanks. One final question before we let you go. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about where you started your remarks: North Korea. We’ve got false alarms going off in Hawaii. We’ve got people talking about war coming on the peninsula. At the same time, we’ve got the North Koreans and the South Koreans deciding they’re going to march together in the Olympics.
Do you have a sense at all that the rhetoric that we’ve used, the fact that perhaps the diplomacy is not as front and center as some of the talk about our military options, that we might be driving a wedge with our South Korean allies? I know when I was secretary and trying to do the Six-Party Negotiations, the North Koreans loved to drive a wedge to pick off the Chinese or pick off the South Koreans or pick off the Russians, and it was really important not for the United States to get isolated.
So how should we read these initiatives between the North and South? And tell us about the diplomacy, because I think we’re all in agreement, nobody really wants war on the peninsula, on the Korean Peninsula, despite the seriousness of the North Korean threat.
Secretary Tillerson: Well, our diplomacy efforts, which began really last February, the first week I was -- after I was sworn in, I was with the President in the Oval and the very first foreign policy challenge that he gave me was he said you’ve got to develop a foreign policy approach to North Korea. And so we did and we worked that through the interagency process.
And what we -- I labeled it the peaceful pressure campaign; the President has since relabeled it the maximum pressure campaign. But it is -- and I know people say, “Ah, we’ve tried sanctions in the past. They never work.” We’ve never had a sanctions regime that is as comprehensive as this one, and we’ve never had Chinese support for sanctions like we’re getting now. Russia is a slightly different issue. But the Chinese have leaned in hard on the North Koreans to the point -- part of this approach was to help the Chinese come to the realizations that North Korea for the last 50, 60 years may have been an asset to you; they’re now a liability to you. And I mean, it’s because of how events can play out on the Korean Peninsula. If China doesn’t help us solve this problem, there are a lot of follow-on effects, and China is well aware of those.
So I think the diplomatic efforts are about unifying the international community around this sanctions campaign, which has been extraordinarily effective. As President Moon himself told us on the phone call -- and I would tell you, we have probably -- the level of communication that goes on between ourselves, South Korea, and China on this issue is pretty extraordinary. People would probably be surprised at how often we are on the phone with one another a week talking about this. Moon said the reason the South Koreans came to us was because they are feeling the bite of these sanctions. And we’re seeing it in some of the intel, we’re seeing it through anecdotal evidence coming out of defectors that are escaping.
The Japanese made a comment yesterday in our session that they have had over 100 North Korean fishing boats that have drifted into Japanese waters -- two-thirds of the people on those boats have died -- they weren’t trying to escape -- and the ones that didn’t die, they wanted to go back home. So they sent them back to North Korea. But what they learned is they’re being sent out in the wintertime to fish because there’s food shortages, and they’re being sent out to fish with inadequate fuel to get back.
So we’re getting a lot of evidence that these sanctions are really starting to hurt. And so the rapprochement of the North to the South, now they’re on to the playbook that you know as well as anyone. And the playbook is, okay, we’re going to start our charm offensive to the rest of the world and let them see we’re just normal people like everybody else. We’re going to engender some sympathy. We’re going to try to drive a wedge between South Korea and their allies. And we spent an extraordinary amount of time yesterday in the group discussion hearing from Foreign Minister Kang of South Korea about how they’re not going to let that happen.
So we understand what this is about, and we’ve been supportive of this rapprochement, because the other element of the diplomacy is we’ve been waiting for Kim to decide he wants to talk. We’ve been very clear, and our channels are open. And as I said yesterday in my press avail, he knows how to reach me if he wants to talk. But he’s got to tell me he wants to talk. We’re not going to chase him.
So this may be their early effort to break the ice; we’ll see. Nothing may come of it, but -- we are supportive of that, but I would tell you that among the allies in the region, but equally with China, I don’t think we have ever been as unified against this threat. Because China knows the potential consequences of this, to unintended consequences that could come later. And in diplomacy, where you’re dealing with someone across the table like this, and when we get to that negotiating table -- and I’m confident we will -- I want to know that Secretary Mattis has a very, very strong military option standing behind me. That will give me a better position from which to try to solve this.
As Secretary Mattis and I told our Chinese counterparts when we were across the table from one another in a security and strategic dialogue, I said to my counterpart, Yang Jiechi -- I said, “State Councilor, if you and I don’t solve this, these guys get to fight, and we don’t want that. And neither do you.”
So we are highly motivated. It is a long process. It’s taken a lot of patience. We’ll see. But we are committed, as is everyone in the international community, to a denuclearized North Korea. And we’re going to stay on that until we achieve it.
Secretary Rice: Thank you very much, and all the best. We certainly hope you succeed. Thank you very much.