WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sometimes touted as a contender for the Republican vice-presidential slot, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has aired her thoughts on race in the United States, a prominent issue in the presidential election campaign.
Rice, the top ranking African-American in President George W. Bush’s cabinet, told The Washington Times she had watched Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama’s major speech on race last week.
“I think it was important that he (Obama) gave it for a whole host of reasons,” said Rice in a transcript of the interview released by the State Department on Friday.
Obama would be the first black U.S. president if he wins the Democratic nomination and beats Republican candidate John McCain in the November election to succeed Bush.
Obama’s speech — which he gave after a storm of criticism over racially charged sermons by the black pastor of his church — spoke of a racial stalemate in the United States and a need to heal racial wounds.
While saying repeatedly she did not want to talk about the election campaign — “I don’t do politics” — and also reiterating her lack of interest in the vice presidential slot, Rice said the United States had a hard time dealing with racial issues.
“There is a paradox for this country and a contradiction of this country and we still haven’t resolved it,” she said in a detailed reply to questions about Obama and race issues as a whole before next week’s 40th anniversary of the slaying of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
“But what I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn’t love and have faith in them, and that’s our legacy.”
Rice said her own father, grandmother and great-grandmother had endured “terrible humiliations” growing up in the segregated south and yet they still loved America.
While many blacks called themselves African American, Rice said they should not be looked at as immigrants.
“We don’t mimic the immigrant story. Where this conversation has got to go is that black Americans and white Americans founded this country together and I think we’ve always wanted the same thing,” she said.
Later on Friday, when asked what Americans had learned about race since the civil rights movement, Rice told reporters: “You have to work hard every day to make the extraordinary, moving and inspirational words of our founding documents a reality for all Americans.”
Earlier this week, Rice addressed a conservative lobbying group in Washington, stoking fresh talk that despite her public protestations to the contrary, she might be interested in becoming McCain’s running mate.
Rice told the Washington Times again that she was “not interested” in the vice presidential job and she planned to return to her California home when the Bush administration ends in January 2009.
“It’s time for new blood,” she said.
Editing by Frances Kerry