Janine Zacharia / Bloomberg | July 4, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she’s “proud” of the U.S. decision to wage the Iraq war and insisted that the world is not more dangerous than it was when George W. Bush took office.

“We’re now beginning to see that perhaps it’s not so popular to be a suicide bomber. We’re beginning to see that perhaps people are questioning whether Osama Bin Laden ought to really be the face of Islam,” Rice, 53, said in an interview to be broadcast this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff.”

“And I am proud of the decision of this administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein,” said Rice, who was Bush’s national security adviser at the time of the March 2003 invasion. As of yesterday, 4,107 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq and more than 30,000 were wounded. She said the Iraq war has been “tougher than any of us really dreamed.”

Rice, who backs the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, said she “thought it was great” when the Democratic race came down to a woman and a black man. “I didn’t think it was surprising,” she said.

People abroad are “fascinated” by Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Rice added when asked what effect Obama’s candidacy is having around the world.

“But I’ll tell you something. Ultimately, whoever is elected president of the United States will represent the United States, not as a black president or as a woman president or as a black secretary of state or as a woman secretary of state, but the United States of America,” Rice said.

North Korea

Rice, with only seven months left as secretary of state, has a wide diplomatic agenda, trying to make progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a North Korean nuclear disarmament deal while trying to persuade Iran to accept incentives to abandon uranium enrichment, a process, once mastered, that could lead to a nuclear bomb.

While Rice was in Asia last week, North Korea submitted an inventory of nuclear plants and material to China, and the U.S. moved to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Bush administration was hammered by conservative critics, including House Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who called the deal “cause for profound concern.”

In the interview, Rice cited as progress that the North Koreans were “putting themselves out of the business of making plutonium” even as many U.S. sanctions remain in place.

“So with all due respect to those who look at this deal and say somehow North Korea has gotten a great deal, I think one can say that this is a really good step for non-proliferation,” Rice added.

China

On China, Rice said the Chinese were being “somewhat more helpful on Darfur.” Demonstrations over China’s support for the Sudanese leadership in Khartoum as it wages war with rebel groups in the Darfur region, as well as China’s rule in Tibet and its treatment of the Dalai Lama, could overshadow the Olympic Games, which open in Beijing August 8.

Rice reiterated that Bush plans to attend the games, even as some human rights activists have urged him to boycott the event. “The president has been very clear that the Olympics is a sporting event and he’s going to go to it as a sporting event,” Rice said. In Beijing earlier this week, she said she’d be keen to watch some Olympic basketball and track-and-field competitions.

Iran, Pakistan

Asked if she thought it would be a mistake for Israel to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran over its nuclear program, Rice said the Israelis have been willing to work with the U.S. on a diplomatic solution.

“They, too, believe that it’s possible to deal with this diplomatically. But we better have really robust diplomacy in order to deal with this threat because the Iranians are making progress,” she said.

Rice said she believed Iran, which the administration has accused of funneling weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, had “vulnerabilities” in Iraq that the U.S. could exploit. She did not specify what they were.

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