UNITED STATES

Condoleezza Rice cancels Rutgers commencement speech after protests

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:43am

Former US secretary of state Dr Condoleezza Rice pulled out of delivering the commencement speech at Rutgers University in New Jersey, following protests by students and faculty over her role in the invasion of Iraq.

Rice was the face of foreign policy under president George W.Bush, serving as national security adviser from 2001 to 2005, and later as secretary of state. She was a leading hawk in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.

Rice said her role in the festivities had become a "distraction".

"I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way," she said.

Rutgers president Robert Barchi's selection of Rice in February was met with protests by staff and students. A group of faculty members passed a resolution urging the university to rescind its invitation, saying Rice played "a prominent role in the administration's effort to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.

In April, students staged a sit-in, holding signs that accused Rice and other Bush administration officials of war crimes.

Bush's administration cited its belief that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's government held weapons of mass destruction to justify the decision to go to war, but such stockpiles did not exist.

Supporters of the war argued that intelligence available at the time concluded Iraq held the banned weapons and noted that even some countries that opposed the invasion agreed with the assessment.

Rice said she was "honoured to have served my country. I have defended America's belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas". She was due to speak on May 18. Rutgers did not immediately announce a replacement.