NBC's Editorial Board Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Excerpts)

May 8, 2006

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QUESTION: I would love to know more about this letter from Ahmadi-Nejad and what you think he is doing in trying to approach the White House so publicly at this time, and as a second issue, what you think the relationship is between him and the Ayatollah and the other clerics.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I won't try to judge the motivations for the letter and I certainly don't know the ins and outs of internal Iranian politics. We choose to treat the Iranian Government as the Iranian Government and to respond accordingly.

We've gotten the letter. We've not had a chance to do our own translation and of course we'll do that, but an initial reading of the letter would suggest that there is nothing in it that addresses the major issues between the United States and the rest of the world and Iran on the other hand. So not concrete issues on the nuclear side or on any of the other issues that we face. It's very philosophical, I would say. But again, I think we want to take a harder look at it, look at the actual translation and get a better sense of what's there. But that's the initial reading.

QUESTION: Well, could I just follow up asking we believe we've read that Angela Merkel and other leaders think that it's time for talks between the U.S. and Iran. Where do you stand on that now?

SECRETARY RICE: I think what it's time for is for Iran to recognize that the international community is on one side of this divide and that Iran is on the other side of the divide. We have a presidential statement in the Security Council. We've had Board of Governors resolutions. We're talking again in the Security Council about the world's just demands that Iran return to the negotiations having suspended its enrichment activities. And so that's really what needs to happen. I don't think there's an absence of communication. That's not the problem. The issue is: Is Iran prepared to actually take the step that it needs to take? And we haven't had any indication that they're prepared to do that.

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QUESTION: Does it -- if I can just follow up. Does it make it harder right now on Iran to have this dissonance with Russia? Was the timing of the speech at all difficult given that we are now negotiating to try to get Russia onboard with our Iran policy?

SECRETARY RICE: I have to assume that the reason that the Russians are working on Iran is that Russia also doesn't want Iran with a nuclear weapon; that it is in Russia's interest to stop Iran from acquiring the technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon; that they're not doing it for our interest, they're not doing it for the sake of the United States, they're doing it because the idea of an Iran, which by the way is physically a lot closer to them than to us, with a nuclear weapon is something that they want to avoid.

And I think we still are more than capable of speaking our differences and still working on common issues. The Russians have never been shy about speaking their differences about the United States. The things that they said about the color revolutions and the role of the United States in them -- it hasn't stopped us from discussing Iran or the Middle East with them, and I would expect that our continuing to say -- and again, the Vice President's speech is just another statement of things that we've been saying and saying and saying -- that it's not going to have an effect on the discussions that we're having on Iran, which are discussions where we share the goal of not having Iran get these technologies and be able to break out to a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: What are you hoping to achieve two months from now with the Russians when you go to St. Petersburg?

SECRETARY RICE: St. Petersburg will be an interesting summit and let me start by saying that I know that there are those who say that the United States should not go or that there shouldn't be a G-8 or all of those types of things. I don't see anything that would suggest that Russia is going to become more democratic by isolating it from institutions in which those democratic values are sustained, so the Russia-NATO Council or the G-8. So to the degree that there's any sense that perhaps the G-8 shouldn't go on or we should not participate in it wholeheartedly, I think it's the wrong direction.

I do think that the G-8 will -- the G-8 is scheduled to deal with energy policy and we will talk about energy security. That will be a forum to air our concerns, our interest in stable energy supply. I'm quite certain that the leaders will talk about the various regional issues around: the Middle East, Iran, probably because of Japan's presence there and China the situation in Northeast Asia and North Korea. And of course, they will undoubtedly reiterate their desire to cooperate on some other humanitarian issues that the G-8 has talked about each time they've been together, whether it's AIDS policy or Africa. So I think that's the agenda.

What do we hope to achieve? We hope to continue to build the relationship between these eight leaders on a common agenda and it really -- what it really does is it gives the leaders a chance face to face with really almost nobody else in the room to just talk about issues. That's really the greatest thing about the G-8. It's not the communiqué that comes out afterwards. It's not whatever proposals come out of the G-8, although a lot have come out of the G-8 over the years. But it really is the opportunity for them to sit, and they sit for long periods of time with basically no staff, to just talk about the issues before them. And I think that's well worth doing.

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QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I'm curious as to what extent that the exceedingly low popularity numbers of the President affect your job. In other words, how does his popularity domestically affect U.S. stature abroad and your trying to get things done on behalf of the Administration.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't see any effect at all. I mean, when people come to talk to me or when they come to talk to the President, you know, Chancellor Merkel wasn't thinking about what the President's poll ratings might be; she was thinking about what's the President of the United States prepared to do on Iran or what's the President of the United States asking us to do on the future of Iraq. That's the nature of the conversations. Because everybody knows the influence and power of the United States if it decides to exercise it and nobody believes that this President is going to somehow pull his punches for domestic reasons or for political reasons. And so they know that what they -- what he thinks is best is what he's going to do. And so what people come to try to ascertain either from him or from me is what's he going to do and how are we going to do this together. And that's the nature of the conversation so I really haven't seen an effect. The conversations don't appear to me to be any different than the ones that we had after 9/11 when the polls were way up, so the conversations are pretty much the same.

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