National Public Radio Interview with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Excerpts)

June 2, 2006

QUESTION: You've said that you're satisfied with this agreement that you got, but was there any real optimism at the table last night that this is going to work?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there was certainly commitment to the course that was set that Iran ought to be offered this set of proposals and offered a chance to come back to negotiate if they're prepared to suspend their enrichment activities, but that we also have an alternative path if Iran doesn't negotiate.

I think that people are hoping that Iran will really look at what is before it. This is a chance to end this impasse. And I wouldn't call it optimism, but obviously there is some hope that Iran is going to take the right choice.

QUESTION: Some officials who work with you at the White House and at the State Department said that the U.S. missed an opportunity in 2003, that Iran came to the U.S., wanted to talk, and the U.S. rejected that. And that was a period when the U.S. was stronger. It appears that the U.S. is coming to this in a much weaker position. Aren't you?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think coming to the table with the entire international community united around a particular course is a pretty strong position to be in. What people wanted, what the Iranians wanted earlier, was to be one-on-one with the United States so that this could be about the United States and Iran. Now it is Iran the international community, and Iran has to answer to the international community. I think that's the strongest possible position to be in.

QUESTION: Do you see yourself sitting at the table with Iranians during your tenure?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know. It depends, of course, on what Iran does. If Iran is prepared to suspend its -- verifiably suspend its program and is prepared to enter into negotiations, then we'll determine the level. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if ministers met at some point.

QUESTION: Is the bar set too high, though, to get these talks underway? I know there was an agreement last night, but was there some concerns, particularly by the Russians, that it's going to be difficult to verifiably suspend this and what it means exactly to suspend?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the bar was set a long time ago. This bar was set by the Europeans when their talks broke down. They said that Iran had to suspend before coming back. That then became the condition in the IAEA Board of Governors resolution. It became the condition in the presidential statement. And we simply repeated that condition, and so we have not raised the bar. We've simply joined in the consensus about what needs to happen.

The reason that you have to have suspension while talks go on is that you can't have the program continuing to improve, continuing to accelerate, while you're sitting at the table negotiating. They need to suspend and negotiate and that's the only way that this works.

QUESTION: European diplomats had argued that the U.S. needs to be at the table to make this work, but they've also argued that the U.S. should take regime change off the table, focus on the nuclear issue. You've done the first. How about the latter?

SECRETARY RICE: The President has always said in his freedom agenda there are no people on earth who don't deserve to be free, and the Iranian people are no different. It's clear in what we've said that we continue to have concern and to be concerned for the fate of the Iranian people and we're always going to speak for freedom for the Iranian people. We are prepared to, in the near term, deal with the nuclear issue and that's what we need to do at this point.

I think that when we start getting into questions of motives, it's really not helpful. The motivation here is to find a way out of this impasse on the nuclear program. If Iran wants a way out of the nuclear impasse, they've got a way.

QUESTION: Are the sticks strong enough or are you worried that a month from now, a few weeks from now, you're going to be back with the Russians and Chinese saying we need to pass these sanctions?

SECRETARY RICE: Both paths are robust and I'm quite certain that anything that we would do in the Security Council, of course it's going to take discussion. But we have established a robust path for Iran which is to cooperate and a robust path for the international community if it chooses not to. And that's the best place that the international system can be. But it's now up to Iran.

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