Susan Rice: “There’s Still An Enormous Way To Go So That Women Aren’t Victimized Simply For Being Women”

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations sat down with BuzzFeed Shift to talk about everything from the progress of women around the world to hijabs at the Olympics to the crisis in Syria. Russia and China will protect President Assad “at the expense of the blood of the people of Syria,” she says.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

You’ve been at the United Nations for nearly four years. What are some things you have not been able to get done that you would have hoped to?

I feel, broadly speaking, very good about what we’ve accomplished. The one issue that is high profile that is without doubt still very frustrating is the repeated decisions by Russia and China to block any meaningful action in the Security Council on Syria. Those decisions are made at the highest levels in Beijing and Moscow. We’ve worked at every level to try to change what we think is a self-defeating course of action from their point of view. They seem for the moment determined to protect Assad at all costs, at the expense of the blood of the people of Syria.

Benjamin Netanyahu, standing beside Mitt Romney, said recently that he thought the sanctions on Iran weren’t sufficient, saying they hadn’t stopped the development of the nuclear program by “one iota.” What was your reaction to hearing that?

We work very closely with our Israeli counterparts every day on Iran. And in that context, we have worked to accomplish the important sanctions that were passed here in Resolution 1929, which is the toughest sanctions that had been imposed on Iran, at that stage, on any government, and that has been widely and warmly welcomed by the Israeli government, including the Prime Minister, as being a critical foundation for the subsequent sanctions that the United States, the European Union, countries in the region, and in Asia have imposed on Iran.

What the Prime Minister of Israel was saying was that to date, they still have a nuclear program. And obviously, that’s a fact. And one that we share grave concern about. But our view is that by continuing to ramp up the economic pressure, and making the sanctions more and more forceful, which the Israeli government joins us in wanting to see done and which we are doing progressively every day over time, that the combination of those pressures and sanctions may ultimately cause Iran to change its calculation and decide it’s too costly to pursue its nuclear program. We have always taken the view that the combination of sanctions and the opportunity for diplomacy can still potentially yield the result that President Obama is so formally committed to, which is preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But he’s also been very plain in stating that he takes no options off the table and that we’ll do what’s necessary to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.

Rice with Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin and China’s Ambassador to the UN Li Baodong before the United Nations Security Council vote on Syria on July 19, 2012. DON EMMERT / Getty Images

You are sometimes mentioned as a candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. What do you think makes a great Secretary of State?

First of all, I don’t spend much time focusing on that kind of speculation. I think it’s pretty idle and I love what I’m doing here and doing now. But I’ve been privileged to work with and for several Secretaries of State and to watch others from afar. I think having energy and vision and a consistent set of principles that one works to try to adhere to are among the things that make for a great Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has what I think is one of the hardest jobs in the world in that he or she has to juggle literally every issue under the sun. To be present and to be on point and not mess up after incredible hours of travel. And to represent the United State with skill and clarity and effectiveness. So I have great admiration for those that I’ve been able to work with, including Secretary Clinton and Secretary Albright. You can’t underscore enough how important it is to have the physical and mental vigor as well as a big picture of what you want to get done.

Speaking of Secretary Clinton and Secretary Albright, what are some of the things they’ve taught you or that you’ve learned from them?

My relationships with them are very different. Secretary Albright is someone who’s been a mentor to me from very early in my life, from childhood. I’ve only known Secretary Clinton as an adult, as a policy maker when I first served in the Clinton administration and obviously during the Obama administration. One of the things I admire most about them is that they have made it a policy, that they not only preach, but practice that they rigorously implement, to champion other women, particularly the next generation. Secretary Clinton, as a matter of policy, has made women a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy and I think that’s vitally important. Secretary Albright has a very well-known saying that there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women and she’s lived that in very tangible ways and I’ve been very blessed to be a beneficiary of that.

Rice during the U.N. Security Council members’ visit to the Ivory Coast in May 2012. THIERRY GOUEGNON / Reuters

Has there been meaningful progress in global women’s rights during your tenure? What challenges remain?

You can’t answer that question with a single answer, because the world is so large and complex and the levels of progress vary enormously from place to place. We think it’s vitally important that women be able to participate fully and actively in the choices that governments make, and therefore they have to be part of government and be elected officials at all levels. They have to be leaders in media and civil society organizations. We worry enormously and worry about trying to protect women from trafficking and violence, whether in conflict or in domestic contexts. So there’s still an enormous way to go so that women aren’t victimized simply for being women, whether they’re in their own homes or caught up in battle or conflict.

It’s the first time every country has sent women to the Olympics, but Saudi Arabia still requires female athletes to wear a hijab, which caused some controversy in the judo competition when Olympic officials wanted to ban that style of dress. What do you think of the progress of women at the Olympics?

If you watch the Olympic opening ceremonies as I did, you see people wearing all sorts of national dress and cultural dress. The point is that people are there to compete, and whatever they’re wearing, they’re all athletes. And I’m very proud of the fact that as a woman athlete myself that we see women from all over the world, from all different religions and countries and backgrounds competing. It’s certainly not perfect progress, but it’s better than in the past, which is what we need to encourage and support.

Questions have been edited for clarity.

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