Associated Press Editorial Board Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Excerpts)

May 9, 2006

QUESTION: Well, I wanted to start off by asking you about the letter from President Ahmadi-Nejad. I mean, you've said that Iran is the single greatest threat from a state that the United States and perhaps the world faces. If they're willing to talk to us, don't we risk something by not being willing to talk to them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me address the letter first. Let me first say that we have looked at it. We've not done our own translation of it, which of course we will do and we'll look at in greater depth. But the first read of it, there is nothing in this letter that in any way addresses any of the issues really that are on the table in the international community -- the nuclear program -- in a straightforward way -- the terrorism issue. I think it would be best to say it's broadly philosophical in its character; it's 17 or 18 pages, I think. And it is most assuredly not a proposal. Let me be very clear about that. And so we'll do further examination of it, but there is nothing in here that would suggest that we're on any different course than we were before we got the letter.

QUESTION: When you say it's philosophical, is it a rant? Is it hostile or is it friendly?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm loathe to say because we haven't done a proper translation of it; and speaking a foreign language myself, I think we want to do a translation of it. But it's not concrete in any way and it does not engage the issues. It's broadly philosophical, a little bit historical and it isn't something that you can sit and say, oh, well, here's what they're trying to tell us (inaudible).

QUESTION: Is it an opening, though?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't see it that way.

QUESTION: What is to prevent the United States from taking up -- if there's an offer, however vague or general, to enter into talks, what is the down side for us?

SECRETARY RICE: Let me just be very clear. This letter isn't it. This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of that regard. But I don't want to characterize it too much more because it's presidential correspondence. I also think that we need to get a proper translation of it. But it isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in concrete ways.

Absence of communication isn't really the problem here. We, the international community, have been very clear with the Iranians what they need to do. The Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, just about everybody in the world is talking to the Iranians and communicating precisely what it is that they need to do. There are presidential statements and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions. And remember that this all started, this latest phase all started because the Iranians stopped talking. They walked out of the Paris negotiation. There were discussions going on. There were negotiations going on. And they walked out of them and decided to say they were getting nothing out of them and that led to the course of events that we've been on, including the latest enrichment tactic.

QUESTION: They weren't talking to us, though. Isn't that what they want?

SECRETARY RICE: They should want to come back into line with what the international community wants them to do and demands that they do. And so I think that's really the issue and I don't -- I think we don't want to get into a diversion of who they are or are not talking to. I think we want to keep the focus on what needs to be done.

QUESTION: I don't understand why you don't see this as an opening. Here's a country you've had very little direct dialogue with for three decades saying let's talk it over. That's not an opening?

SECRETARY RICE: This letter is not of that character. This letter is not of the "let's talk of our nuclear program" character. This letter is -- again, it's a kind of broad philosophical -- and it's about history and philosophy and religion and lots of things, but not how do we address our nuclear program, here we note what your concerns are and let's address that. That's not the character of this letter.

QUESTION: Then why send it now in the context of the UN Security--

SECRETARY RICE: I have no idea.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: I'm not going to try to judge the motivation.

QUESTION: But I mean, in the past you've characterized various things that the Iranians have done as an attempt to change the subject or deflect --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that may well be. It may be an attempt to change the subject, an attempt to throw the international community off course from what it's actually discussing. But I don't know.

QUESTION: Have you felt that the Iranians are fishing for an opening in the last few years, like two or three years ago and -- or during Khatami's time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, if you go back to Khatami's time, if you remember, we did have some discussions in the Afghan channel and Zal Khalilzad was there about Afghanistan. But I think we're -- I would characterize this even as helpful but Afghanistan is a very different situation than everything else that we -- we've said that at an appropriate time we'll active the Khalilzad channel now that he's in Iraq and, in fact, Neumann -- Ambassador Neumann has had one set of discussions with the Iranians about Afghanistan. So we're not without contact.

We, of course, also have a New York channel that we use to pass messages and so we're not without ways to talk and a lot of Americans also talk to Iranians. So we're not without ways to communicate.

QUESTION: Are you likely to really reach some conclusion tonight with the meeting of the permanent Security Council members about what to do next, or do you think the Iran issue is likely to be, I don't know, kicked down the -- for lack of a better phrase, you know, kicked down the road a bit tonight?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't think we're going to reach any -- we're not trying to reach some outcome tonight. As a matter of fact we've acknowledged we're not trying to reach an outcome tonight. We are trying tonight to have discussion of what it is we face, what tools we have, of course, and trying to get a better sense of what may be standing in the way of the next step in the Security Council. Obviously, we've said that a Chapter 7 resolution or something that makes very clear to the Iranians that the next step that the international community is taking is to compel them, in other words, to have a mandatory requirement that they live up to, that they accede to the Board of Governors' demands, IAEA Board of Governors' demands. We've said that that's what we need to do. We need to get to something that's mandatory and binding and clear.

Our view is then that's a Chapter 7 resolution. The Russians, they seem to be a bit concerned about that. I think we want to get to the bottom of why that is and see what we can do to move it forward. But I absolutely don't expect an outcome tonight and really hope that we -- what we're not going to do is get ground down in textual analysis and negotiation of text because the reason the ministers are in our meeting is that we felt we needed to step back from all of that. The political directors can do that. The perm reps can do that. But at this level we need to step back and see how people think we're going to resolve this situation. If, in fact, we're not going to move in a way that we are talking about, then what are other people's ideas about how we are going to move?

QUESTION: Are you going to ask the Russians then not to stand in the way of some kind of sanctions regime that's outside the Security Council, sort of the backup plan that you've been working on?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're never -- Anne, the idea here is that we're obviously going to pursue the work in the Security Council. If we start to get to a place that we get ground down in the Security Council and we can't move forward and the Iranians are continuing to move ahead, we are prepared to look outside with likeminded countries to see what steps might be taken on a parallel track. And by the way, it doesn't have to mean that you're not continuing efforts in the Security Council. They can work in parallel.

But I don't think there's any doubt in our minds that we have to bring some pressure on the Iranians to understand that there will be a cost for their continued defiance of the international system, that they're not just going to get away with defying, defying, defying all the way up to continuing to improve their nuclear capabilities in dramatic ways by the end of the year next year, that that's not (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can you explain how Vice President Cheney's remarks about the Russians late last week help you persuade the Russians to assist us at the Security Council?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've been having the dialogue with the Russians with the Vice President for the last couple of years where we have been expressing concerns about the democracy or the halting of certain democratic evolution inside Russia, whether it's the press or the judiciary or the NGO law. I think I was probably the first to, at the time of the Ukraine gas crisis, to say that the Russians were using their gas as a political weapon. And so the Vice President hasn't said anything that we haven't been saying to the Russians for quite a long time now, and we've been able to work on areas of common interest. The Russians from time to time say things about our policies that we don't particular like either, and we manage to continue to work on issues that are of common interest.

And I don't see what we are doing in the Security Council as a gift from the Russians to the United States or to the EU. The Russians don't want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon. Of that I'm quite certain, especially an Iran that lives much closer to Russia than it does to the United States. So I assume that what they're doing to try and prevent that outcome is because they believe it's in their interest, and so we're going to have areas of difference. We've had them before and what the Vice President said I think has been on the table for quite some time.

QUESTION: Did you know in advance that he was going to make those comments?


QUESTION: You didn't object?

SECRETARY RICE: Not only did I not object, I've said those things.

QUESTION: Yet the Vice President said those things in Vilnius. It's a different situation. Doesn't it represent some stepping up?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Russians didn't much like it when I said it in Ankara either. You know, the venue isn't the issue. This has been a series of concerns that we've had about Russian policy and in particular using your energy supply as a bludgeon against other states to bring them into line is just not the way that you -- that this should work. And we've been saying that and the small countries around Russia have been very concerned about it and we've been very concerned about it.

But the Vice President's speech also said the other half of what we've been saying, which is that we continue to work with Russia on areas of common interest and we hope those areas of common interest are going to grow. This is a good relationship on many different fronts, but we have some serious areas of difference.

QUESTION: The Iranians have had (inaudible) sanctions for many years and haven't really modified their behavior. Do you think they'll be more successful this time and doesn't it give you nothing but a military option in any event?

SECRETARY RICE: I think there are many diplomatic steps ahead of us. The Iranians cannot afford the kind of isolation that the international community could actually bring about if it chooses to. Iran is very dependent on its integration into the international economy, both for its ability to get products or its ability to sell products. These are people who travel. They have diplomatic relations around the world. This is not North Korea. The North Koreans in some ways relish their isolation and this is not the case with Iran.

And Iran is a great country with a great culture and a great people and it shouldn't be isolated. And nobody wants to isolate the Iranian people, in fact. It's the regime that's isolating Iran from the international community. So no, I don't think that we are by any means out of diplomatic options. We're just beginning. And if Iran cannot bring itself to build a civil nuclear capability without the proliferation risk that the fuel cycle would bring, then I think it's going to find itself more and more isolated and less and less capable of delivering for what is a very sophisticated population that -- that will not be very pleased with the outcome.

QUESTION: One last one on Iran. If Iran is bound and determined to build a weapon and you think they are working toward, is there really anything that either the United States alone or in concert with others can do to stop them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, the issue is at what price are they prepared to do that, and I don't think that the -- that they will ultimately be able to afford the price. And that's what we have to establish, because the Iranians would like to make this about civil nuclear power and their access to civil nuclear power. We have said very clearly nobody would question Iran's even right to have civil nuclear power. They can do that. But because of their history, no one trusts them with civil nuclear power derived from a full fuel -- from a fuel cycle on their territory, because the breakout potential from having the fuel cycle on their territory for a nuclear weapon is simply too great and it can happen despite the current inspection regime. And so nobody is prepared to let them have that.

So if they are prepared to have a civil nuclear energy program that is along the lines of the ones that the Russians have offered them or that the Europeans have offered them, then this is finished, the deal is done. And that's really the question here. Are they going to insist on having the fuel cycle that gives them breakout potential for a nuclear weapon? And by the way, if all they really want is civil nuclear power, then why are they insisting on this fuel cycle that has this breakout potential? That's the construct.

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