Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Interview on CNN with Wolf Blitzer (Excerpts)

July 18, 2008

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.


SECRETARY RICE: Pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

QUESTION: Let's talk about Iran right now. The number three diplomat at the State Department, and indeed, the man whose office we're sitting in right now is meeting this weekend with high-ranking Iranian officials. Now until now, the U.S. position was there would be no such meeting on nuclear issues until the Iranians stopped enriching uranium, which they're still doing. Why the change?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me be very clear that the U.S. demand for a precondition for the suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing prior to negotiations stands. And in fact, what Bill Burns will do is he will go to demonstrate the unity of the P-5+1, as we call it, Russia, China, and the three European countries. He will go to demonstrate that we are unified. He will go to affirm that the United States fully backs the package. By the way, I signed the letter transmitting that package. And he will receive the Iranian answer.

He will also make very clear that there will be no negotiation in which the United States is involved until there is a suspension of their enrichment and reprocessing.

QUESTION: So is this just a one-shot deal?

SECRETARY RICE: This is. This is.

QUESTION: He will just sit in this meeting, listen, deliver his little message, receive a response and that will be it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course - of course, he will be listening intently to see if the Iranians demonstrate that they are ready to accept the condition, the demand - and by the way, it's not a U.S. demand. It is now a demand that is enshrined in three separate Security Council resolutions. And he will listen. And if Iran is ready to suspend, then the United States will be there. But it's very important to recognize that this is to reinforce a position that we have held since 2006.

QUESTION: But you acknowledge this is a change?

SECRETARY RICE: I acknowledge that what we've done is to make a step that we think demonstrates to everyone our seriousness about this process. But what has not changed is that the United States is determined to have negotiations only when Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing. That's when the United States can join.

QUESTION: This is what you said back on June 3rd: "If Iran suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, I will join my UN Security Council colleagues. I'll meet with my Iranian counterpart. I'll do it anytime, anywhere."

Now could you envisage your doing what the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs is now doing? In other words, listening in, receiving, not negotiating, but meeting?

SECRETARY RICE: We have one chance to receive the Iranian response. That's going to be on Saturday when Bill receives that response. I am prepared to go and talk to my counterpart anyplace, anytime, anywhere. But there really must be a suspension, a verifiable suspension, of their enrichment and reprocessing.

QUESTION: What about just participating in a meeting and --

SECRETARY RICE: No, no. Wolf, this --

QUESTION: -- listening in along the lines of what the Under Secretary is doing?

SECRETARY RICE: I think everybody understands, and we've talked to our counterparts in the P-5+1, that this is an opportunity for Iran. Very often we hear, Wolf, well, we're not sure that the United States is really behind this. Well, I signed the letter. Now, Bill will go to receive the response. It's a bookend. I transmitted the proposal. He will receive the response. That should give the Iranians every indication of how strongly the United States supports this package.

QUESTION: So this is really designed as an incentive to them to do, from your perspective, the right thing?

SECRETARY RICE: That's right, that's right. And it is, by the way, a very clear message also that there is complete unity on both tracks, because, of course, we've submitted this proposal to the Iranians, but we've also designated Iranian banks and other entities. Just a few weeks ago, a couple of weeks ago, the Europeans designated Bank Melli, a major Iranian bank. Major companies are pulling out of Iran like Total, which has pulled out of gas and oil deals there.

And so the world is sending Iran a message on both tracks. First of all, there are consequences for continuing to defy the will of the international community: continued economic isolation, continued isolation that is leading to an ever-worsening economic situation in Iran; and on the other hand, a pathway out, suspend and negotiate.

QUESTION: Because the Iranians are sending, sort of, mixed messages as well. They got their missile test that we all saw only the other day. They're continuing, by your account, to enrich uranium. John Bolton, who was your United States Ambassador to the United Nations, he said this on Thursday. He said, "This is a complete capitulation on the whole idea of suspending enrichment. Just when the Administration has no more u-turns to pull, it does another."

SECRETARY RICE: Look, John is a private citizen. He can say whatever he wants. But the issue here is sending the Iranians a strong message about American policy and the unity with our allies. That has been our policy since 2006.

Now, as to their missile test, we have an answer for that, too. It's called missile defense. And we have the very strong work that we are doing to secure our allies in the Gulf. We have the very strong statements the President and others have made. The Iranians know that we will defend our interests. They're not confused about that.

QUESTION: Well, the Israelis, as you know, are especially nervous right now. The Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, said on July 10th, "Israel is the strongest country in the region, as proved - and has proved in the past that it won't hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake." If Israel deems it's necessary to protect its vital security interests, would the U.S. go along with a preemptive Israeli strike?

SECRETARY RICE: I think you know, Wolf, that I'm not going to speculate on things that haven't happened. I can tell you that we have consistently talked with the Israelis. We consult about policy toward Iran. We are all committed, as the international community is committed, to a diplomatic path. The President keeps all of his options open concerning Iran. But we believe that there is pressure growing on Iran to do the right thing, as you put it.

Now, the Iranians may choose not to do the right thing. And if they choose not to do the right thing, then we'll continue to look at other measures, including potentially going back to the Security Council.

QUESTION: I want to move on to a couple other important issues. But are the Iranians still building a nuclear bomb right now?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iranians are certainly building capabilities that would allow them to have a nuclear weapons program, should they choose. So the enrichment and reprocessing is, in fact, the long pole in the tent for a nuclear weapons program. Look, the Iranians have been - it's been demonstrated to Iran, we've told Iran, if you want a civil nuclear program, if you're concerned for some reason about energy, there are plenty of ways to have a civil nuclear program as long as you don't enrich and reprocess, the so-called fuel cycle. We've supported the Russian effort to have a civil nuclear plant there where there's a fuel take-back provision. We've supported an idea that the Russians had and that the IAEA has had about perhaps assured fuel supply. It's an idea the President put on the table. There are lots of ways for Iran to have a civil nuclear program, and enrichment and reprocessing isn't necessary.

QUESTION: But you believe they're building a bomb?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am concerned, as, by the way, the IAEA is concerned because they haven't been answering the questions about their activities, that Iran is determined to acquire the capabilities, the technologies, that could lead to a nuclear weapon. And I just have to add, of course, they continue to improve their delivery systems, as we have recently seen.

. . .

QUESTION: Do you believe there are different schools, different camps, in Iran right now? There are the hardliners led by the President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, but there are others who are more receptive to working with you and the United Nations Security Council?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, far be it from me to try to read internal Iranian politics, but I do know that there are mixed voices these days coming out of Iran, that there appears to be debate about the policies of President Ahmadi-Nejad, that there are those who are publicly saying that Iran's policies are costing it in terms of isolation, in terms of its own economic troubles. And obviously, while I'm not going to spend time looking for moderates in Iran, if there are reasonable people who would like to see on Iran - Iran on another course and who would be more responsive to the needs of Iran's people, that would be worth pursuing. The way for Iran to show that, of course, is to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing.

. . .

QUESTION: Thank you very much.