Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Roundtable Interview with the Associated Press (Excerpts)

December 15, 2008

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

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QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you expect Iran to be at all or much of a subject for your UN discussions? And can you talk just sort of generally about now three years, I guess, into the UN Security Council process, are you at all disappointed that it didn't have a more pronounced effect on Iran itself, which has seemed to have said they would just ignore no matter what you did?

SECRETARY RICE: The Iranians are paying real costs for their behavior. And it hasn't yet convinced them that they ought to change their course, but there are plenty of voices being heard inside that government that are talking about the costs and about whether or not they've made a mistake in getting themselves so deeply isolated. Just look at the state of the Iranian economy. Just look at the fact that they are unable to get now any investment from foreign companies, from Western companies, in their oil infrastructure or refining capacity.

QUESTION: Would --

SECRETARY RICE: The banks won't deal with them. This is - they're paying a lot of costs. And what I'm pleased about is that we've been able to put that structure in place and to impose those costs, because they're about to have an election. We'll see what happens in their election. But sooner or later, they're going to have to deal with the fact, particularly with declining oil prices, that these costs are going to become pretty acute.

QUESTION: That's sort of a long-term, take-it-on faith response, though. I mean, if - true, Iran is - has had to change some of its international banking operations, but there - certainly there's been no specific, measurable effect on the current regime and --

SECRETARY RICE: Anne, I just said their economy is in very desperate condition.

QUESTION: Well, they continue to reprocess --

SECRETARY RICE: They continue to --

QUESTION: -- and get closer to --

SECRETARY RICE: I said -- I said they're playing - they are paying a cost. We will see whether or not the costs that they're paying, at some point, start to change their decision (inaudible). But the - they're paying a great cost in terms of investment and the ability - Total was the last company to deal with them, and they're gone. So sometimes you have to impose the cost and see if - see when, and wait for a response to that. And I think the diplomacy has done precisely that, and we'll see what response you start to get.

QUESTION: And it is worth continuing?

SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely, it's worth continuing.

QUESTION: The P-5+1?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: But you --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, not only do I think it's worth continuing, I think the P-5+1 thinks it's worth continuing. Because this really is - the strategy here is not an American strategy; it's a strategy that Europe, Russia, China, and the United States are all signed onto. And you know, we have to remember that the Iranian refusal to stop their enrichment and reprocessing predates even the P-5+1. That's why the Europeans left the negotiations - or called off the negotiations to begin with was because the Iranians insisted on reprocessing and enrichment.

But at the same time that that - that they're doing that, we have, of course - they're in a much more difficult situation in terms of Iraq. They did everything that they could to stop the strategic forces arrangements. They couldn't do it. Their allies lost in Basra, flat out lost. The Iranians find themselves, I think, unable to operate as effectively in Iraq because we've been very aggressive against their agents.

And finally, the Iranians find themselves with significantly improved defensive capabilities all around them in the Gulf, as we have helped countries from UAE to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain improve their defensive capabilities, and by the way, Israel as well.

QUESTION: Do you think that the Iranian leadership has made some sort of a strategic decision to knock off some of the activities that you have accused them of in Iraq -- I mean specifically the Qods Force and the EFPs?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that it was getting to be a very tough business, given that we pursue them and pursue them hard. Ryan Crocker told them that, when he met with his counterpart the last time, your people are not safe in Iraq as long as they're trying to harm our people. And we've carried through on that.

QUESTION: So for their own safety --

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think it's goodwill.

QUESTION: Speaking of Ryan, is he - does he still plan to leave, or are you hoping that he stays on for a period of time?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, Ryan has served really - he's been one of the most incredible diplomats I've ever had the pleasure to know. But I know he wants to move on, and hopefully he can do that relatively soon.

QUESTION: Is that something, though, that you would like to address in your time left or --

SECRETARY RICE: We're talking --

QUESTION: -- that's something that you'd leave --

SECRETARY RICE: We're talking - we're talking to the incoming administration about it. But I just think that Ryan has served in a very, very difficult post under extremely difficult circumstances, and he's done it with skill and dedication and commitment and good humor. But he's made it clear that he'd like his time to come to a close, and I think we owe him -- the country owes him that.

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QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question on Iran and Iraq. It kind of sounds like maybe you're suggesting that you've sort of turned a corner in terms of reducing Iranian influence in Iraq, that it's a change in significance in the last --

SECRETARY RICE: Iran will have influence. They're a neighbor. They're a big state. They'll have influence. That's okay. But what we have to - and we have to have - continue to work at it, it's not done yet - but Iran was training violent special groups to go after coalition forces and go after innocent Iraqis. And it came to a head in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces defeated them. They defeated them. Now, that's a major change.

QUESTION: So if they went back to Iran, the question is will they come back? I mean, do you anticipate more trouble from --

SECRETARY RICE: No, I think the stronger the Iraqi security forces get, the harder it's going to be for the Iranians to contemplate something like that. Because it's one thing to deal with coalition forces; it's quite another to have to take on Iraqi security forces which are getting stronger every day and are battle-hardened and, by the way, becoming more effectively equipped and so forth. I think Iraq is not yet there, but they're going to be to the place that they can defend their borders. And so that's very important.

So, you know, there's still work to do. But I think you can argue that they didn't fare well. And when I say that their influence -- when I talk about how hard they worked to undermine the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement, I think you see that the Iraqis are quite an independent state and quite an independent people. And they'll do what they see in their best interest. And that's probably ultimate - by the way, the best bulwark against Iranian influence in the region - Iranian - malign Iranian influence in the region.

Geostrategically, Iraq has always been the Arab world's bulwark against undo Iranian influence in the Gulf and in the Middle East as a whole. The only problem was it was Saddam Hussein, and from time to time he would instead - yeah, he would go to war against Iran, but from time to time he would do something like absorb Kuwait, or use weapons of mass destruction, even against Iranians, and threaten its neighbors and be unable to keep control of its north so the PKK was running wild on the border against the Turks. And what has now happened, geostrategically, is Iraq is rebuilding itself as a strong Arab state. But it's a multi-confessional democracy where Shia have a decent chance for political expression -- that's a first in the Arab world - where they aren't going to use weapons of mass destruction or even posses them, where their neighbors are reengaging them - and I want to reemphasize, the Egyptian Foreign Minister had not been to Iraq in 30 years. And where Iraq is still a bulwark now geostrategically against Iran, but with all - without all of the downsides of Saddam Hussein. And that's a fundamentally different Middle East. And yes, as a - you know, you get - international politics doesn't just take place in a vacuum. The structures of the international system matter. And a Middle East with that Iraq at its center is different than a Middle East with Saddam Hussein's Iraq at its center.

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