Rice: 'We Will Get Bin Laden'

ByABC News
March 17, 2005, 12:55 PM

March 17, 2005 — -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made her most extensive comments yet on the continued hunt for Osama bin Laden.

On her first visit to Afghanistan, Rice today praised President Hamid Karzai's efforts to crack down on the country's heroin trade and applauded the country's steps toward democracy.

She later spoke to ABC News' Jonathan Karl about global terrorism, disarmament talks with North Korea and her future political ambitions.

The following is a transcript of the interview.

JONATHAN KARL: [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf recently said about eight to 10 months ago they came very close to getting Osama bin Laden. What was he talking about?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I don't know the specific circumstances to which he was referring. I read those reports, as well. We are going to continue the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and I think there will probably be times when we are closer, and times when we are further away, but the point is that his world has gotten smaller. He can't operate in Afghanistan. He is having more and more trouble. Al Qaeda is operating along the northwest frontier because the Pakistanis are now fighting there in ways that they were not. And it's also important not to just focus on Osama bin Laden but, of course, on the field generals that have been put out of commission like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah and others. So this is a network, it's an organization that has to be brought down, whose financing has to be cut off, whose territory has to be made smaller for operation. Eventually, I'm quite certain that we will get Osama bin Laden, but my own view is that until we do, there is really no point in talking about whether we have or have not come close to getting him.

KARL: So does it not matter much anymore if you already have caught these field generals. Does it matter?

RICE: Of course it matters. But I remember, Jon, very early on, when the president made that first speech to the Congress, that we talked about the fact that we shouldn't use Osama bin Laden's name too much. And I think it was only used once in that speech because we wanted to make the point that, while of course he is an important symbol of the organization -- in fact, at some point, probably had a lead operational role -- that what we wanted to do was to make al Qaeda ineffective -- the organization, its networks, its tentacles into different part of the world. And if you look at today as opposed to more than three years go, you have a worldwide net of intelligence and law enforcement that is breaking up al Qaeda in many, many countries of the world. And so it's not that we wouldn't want to get Osama bin Laden -- I really look forward to the day that phone call comes -- but it does mean that there is more work to be done than just the capture of Osama bin Laden.

KARL: So do you agree with President Musharraf when he says the trail has grown cold?

RICE: I don't really know how to judge that. The intelligence operation, our allies like Pakistan, are constantly in search of him, but the point here is that as much as we continue to focus on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the territory in which he can operate, the ability to communicate with his field generals, with his organization, has been severely diminished. And I think we need to focus on that.