. . .
QUESTION: I want to ask you that question in this context. We know the President of Iran, Ahmadi-Nejad, he's denied the Holocaust on multiple occasions and he has on multiple occasions talked about annihilating Israel, wiping Israel off the map. He's actively pursuing nuclear capability. He's defying the world community. There's even a report that he is saying that there's going to be a separate set of clothing for non-Muslims in the country. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has identified him as a Hitler in our time. Does he fit this category? Is he evil in our time?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, he certainly is doing nothing good for the Iranian cause in the way that he is speaking. Every time he speaks, he reminds the world why Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon as a volatile state in this region. He reminds the world that Iran is the central banker of terrorism and he reminds the world that we need to remain united to deal with the Iranian ambitions. It's also a reminder that it's not just the nuclear issue; it's also terrorism and human rights and regional destabilization.
But I would characterize what is going on in Iran right now as something of a tragedy because you have a great people in Iran, a great culture in Iran that is being now -- is not allowed to flourish because you have an unelected few who will not allow the Iranians to have the democracy that they clearly seek. This is a sophisticated people that should be integrated into the world.
We're dealing with this problem and we're dealing with it through an international coalition. We've got a track that would take us through the United Nations Security Council if Iran does not change its behavior. There's a negotiating track that if Iran were prepared to make a strategic choice, suspend its programs and get back into the good graces of the world, there would be so many benefits to Iran. And we want that negotiating track to work.
QUESTION: And just this day test-fired a long-range missile. We have to believe them if they are talking about wiping Israel off the map and annihilating Israel. If all that's true, you know, how do we work with a world community that I think, by any objective measure, the United Nations failed the world community when it came to Iraq with corruption? I think strong arguments could be made that even France and Russia had external and even financial motives in not supporting us in the Iraq effort. How do we develop a confidence with the UN, with the French, with Russia, based on that history, especially in light of the severity of this particular threat? I mean, you know, you couple weapons of mass destruction and a person with that stated goal, I think it is a threat that is becoming unparalleled and unprecedented really.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've come a long way from a year ago when I went to Europe as my first trip as Secretary of State. And I remember, Sean, thinking, "How could it be that we've gotten into a situation where the Europeans seem to be mediating between the United States and Iran?" That didn't make sense. And we now have a situation in which Iran is facing the international system, facing the Security Council where we've had a presidential statement, facing the International Atomic Energy Board of Governors.
I think you can really see that the world has come together around the view that Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and that Iran needs to take the strategic step to change this path. And we continue to work. We have some tactical differences with the Russians and the Chinese about when and what kinds of sanctions, but we don't have really any difference that they've got to be stopped. And we'll do what we can through the negotiating track, through the Security Council, as necessary, with like-minded states outside the Security Council to impose costs on Iran if it will not change its course.
But let me just say we do believe, having spent a year now of building really a multilateral approach to Iran, that a unified multilateral approach will confront Iran with a very clear choice: suspend and negotiate or face the consequences.
QUESTION: And the consequences could be severe?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, consequences can be consequences. We know that Iran is not Iraq. We don't assume that we can treat every case the same. But the President doesn't take any of his options off the table. He also believes that it is very possible that if we pursue the diplomatic and negotiating track fully and with unity that we can show Iran that it can't afford the kind of isolation.
QUESTION: How could the world, you know, expect Israel to sit back patiently if these threats keep coming out and this pursuit of nuclear weapons keeps developing? At some point, Israel is going to have to make a determination of what is in their long-term strategic interest.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it simply speaks to the volatility of this region and to the difficulty, the trouble that it will cause if Iran does not make the right strategic choice. But I'll tell you, we've had conversations with Prime Minister Olmert yesterday. He was very supportive of the course that we are pursuing, said so publicly standing next to the President. And we stay in very close contact with the Israelis, as we do with all of our allies. And I might just mention, the Gulf States are none too keen either of the notion of an Iranian -- Iran armed with a nuclear weapon.
. . .