NBC’s Meet the Press Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Excerpts)

May 21, 2006

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QUESTION: Jim Hoagland says in today's Washington Post that the President's slipping poll ratings don't stop at the water's edge; they have consequences all around the world. Russian President Putin behaving differently. Iranian -- the Iranians, when we said you will not build a nuclear bomb and there may be sanctions against you if you do that, this was the response from the Iranian President: No UN Security Council resolution could make Iran give up its nuclear program. "The Iranian nation won't give a damn about such useless resolutions."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's high talk, but I'll say this: Every time we get close to a vote in the UN, there's an Iranian diplomat in every capital trying to stop it. And so I assume that they do have concerns about the kind of isolation that the international community can bring on Iran.

Now, we're trying to show Iran that there are two courses. They can go down the course of pursuing a nuclear program in which the international community has no confidence that they're not covering activities toward a nuclear bomb or they can accept a course in which they have civil nuclear energy, acceptable program in the international community, and the benefits of integration into the international community.

But the Iranians know that sanctions, that international action, can, in fact, be quite damaging to them and that's why they work with all their might to avoid being referred -- worked with all their might to avoid being referred to the Security Council. They failed in that and now they're trying to forestall sanctions. So I assume that the Iranian President is simply posturing on this because I think the Iranians do know how devastating this could be.

QUESTION: Would the United States offer security guarantees, promise not to bring about a regime change in Iran, if the current government agreed not to build a nuclear bomb?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I just want to set the record straight. I haven't been asked by my colleagues if the United States will grant security guarantees to the Iranians, so the notion that there's some split between the United States and Europe on this is simply wrong.

QUESTION: Well, will you?

SECRETARY RICE: Secondly, it's a little strange to talk about security guarantees when the question is Iranian behavior here. And yes, the nuclear issue is important, but let's remember that this is a state that threatens to destroy Israel, that is a central banker of terrorism, that is engaged every day in supporting Hezbollah and rejectionist groups in the Palestinian territories, that has stirred up violence in the south of Iraq, including, we believe, in terms of technology that may be contributing to violence against our soldiers. It's certainly strange to talk about security guarantees in that circumstance.

And I would say one other thing. I've never quite understood it. If this is a civil nuclear program and it's supposed to give energy, what is with security guarantees? I thought this was supposed to be a civil nuclear program.

QUESTION: But in reality, if you're asking someone to stop developing a nuclear bomb, and they in turn say through other diplomats at the UN, guarantee you will not topple their government if they do that, you won't do that?

SECRETARY RICE: I thought the Iranian position was that they weren't developing a nuclear bomb. I thought the Iranian position was that they wanted civil nuclear power. So --

QUESTION: But you say they are.

SECRETARY RICE: So, well, let's pursue the QUESTION: Do they want civil nuclear power? But, Tim, the United States is not, first, being asked about security guarantees. And secondly, it makes no sense in a context in which Iran is a central banker of terrorism and a force for instability in a region of great importance to us.

QUESTION: New York Times reports, however, that we're going to have a negotiation with North Korea about a peace treaty even though we said we wouldn't negotiate as long as they had nuclear bombs.

SECRETARY RICE: No, what the -- I think the New York Times is referring to is there is an agreement between the six parties that not only will we insist on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, that is, that the North Koreans have to make a strategic choice and actually a verifiable choice to dismantle their nuclear programs. And of course, at some point in time it's going to be very important to talk about the context on the Korean Peninsula. That is the state of war that exists between the parties to the Korean conflict out of 1953 and the North Korean state. But that's a very different set of circumstances. Clearly, North Korea hasn't made that strategic choice and they're not at the table.

The Iranian situation, let's just remember what we're talking about. We're talking about the international community's demand that Iran change its course on the kind of nuclear program that it is pursuing and that it can then have certain benefits in the international system. This is not about Iran and the United States. This is an issue between the international community and Iran. And to the degree that the Iranians try to make this a tussle between, a disagreement between, the United States and Iran, they are really not going to find very fertile ground because we are united with our allies in what needs to be done.

QUESTION: Would it be easier to deal with Iran and this issue if, in fact, we did not have the complication of Iraq? And the reason I'm asking that is we went before the world and said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, our very best intelligence says that, and that's the rationale to go in. And now the world and many in this country are saying: What evidence do you have about Iran? And are you being distracted by Iraq and are your options being limited in dealing with Iran because of the difficulties we have in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's remember first of all that the United States didn't go and say Iraq is a problem on the WMD side. There were resolutions within the UN Security Council that suggest everybody knew and believed that there was a WMD problem with Iraq.

But that aside, we are also in very good company in being concerned about what Iran in doing in terms of its nuclear program. This isn't the United States alone that has concerns about the potential that the Iranians are using civil nuclear programs to cover military nuclear programs. That's why the Russians structured their Bushehr civilian nuclear reactor with what's called a fuel take-back provision so that there wouldn't be proliferation risk. It's why the International Atomic Energy Agency is asking the questions of Iran that it is about its program. So I think we have pretty good unity on the concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: And Iraq has not limited your options?

SECRETARY RICE: I do not think Iraq has limited our options. Iraq and Iran are very different places. Quite apart from what is going on now, the circumstances that led us to do what we did in Iraq are very, very different than the circumstances we face in Iran.

QUESTION: But Iran is clearly a much more serious threat than Iraq.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly wouldn't say that. We went to war with Iraq, let's remember.

QUESTION: But they didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

SECRETARY RICE: No, Tim, let's remember that in 1991 we found that their weapons of mass destruction programs were far further developed than anyone knew. There was then a long period under UN Security Council resolution where they would not answer questions about extremely dangerous programs.

QUESTION: But in terms of a threat to the United States, what we found in March of 2003 is that Iraq was not nearly the threat that Iran is now.

SECRETARY RICE: Tim, of course you know what you know at the time.


SECRETARY RICE: And when we made the decision to go into Iraq, everybody believed there were weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam Hussein was also a tremendously destabilizing force against whom we had gone to war. Iran is a dangerous state today because of its nuclear ambitions but also because of its activities in the region, and we're dealing with that through a concerted international effort in which we have as tight coordination and agreement with our European allies as I've frankly ever seen on any issue.

QUESTION: Will George W. Bush leave office as President of the United States with a nuclear-armed development program in place in Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is certainly our view and the view of our allies that the world cannot accept the Iranians' current position. We can't allow Iran to move steadily toward nuclear weapons because it would be tremendously destabilizing in this already volatile region.

We have a lot of tools at our disposal. We have three tracks: the UN Security Council track which we will pursue; we have the negotiating track which we will pursue -- and by the way, the United States will support that track and support it fully; and we have the whatever states, likeminded states may wish to do outside of the Security Council with financial measures and the like.

QUESTION: So the military option is off?

SECRETARY RICE: The President is not going to take any option off the table, but we believe that this is something that can be resolved diplomatically. We have many steps yet to take and Iran can really not stand the kind of international isolation that could be brought upon it if we don't -- if they don't find a way to change course.

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