Roundtable with Boston Print Reporters and Secretary Condoleezza Rice (Excerpts)

May 21, 2006

. . .

QUESTION: Now that there is a permanent cabinet in Iraq, what do you see as the future for security in that country? And what effect might having a stable government in Iraq have on talks with Iran? There was a report in The Washington Post on Friday saying that there was a freeze on the talks since about March, waiting for that government to come. So now that we do have something of a permanent cabinet there that's going to be there for four years, what's going to happen next?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, it is finally a permanent government for Iraq. I mean, every other government has been elected to do something else, to either set up new elections or to set up a constitution. And so, this is the first permanent government -- first government - that is there to actually govern and to do so for the next four years. It is also a government that has heavy Sunni representation. The Sunnis have been a disaffected population, didn't participate very heavily in the January elections, for instance, and now are participating very heavily in this government. And I think that may give an opportunity for those who wish to leave the course of violence and the insurgency and now turn to politics a reason to do so.

It's not going to happen overnight. These things take time. And it will be a while before I think you see any substantial reduction in violence because a few violent people who don't mind killing innocent children or schoolteachers can continue to do that, and don't care how strong the government is. But in time, as the Iraqi people see their interests as more associated with the political process and less and less with the rejectionist philosophy, I think you're going to see the Iraqis stabilize the situation.

As to talks with Iran, we'll certainly allow Ambassador Khalilzad to meet with his counterparts if it's warranted and when it's warranted. He did so when he was ambassador to Afghanistan. His successor in Afghanistan, Ambassador Neumann, has met with his Iranian counterpart. But we need to recognize that this is really -- the only goal of such meetings is when it may have a positive effect on the security situation and we'll assess that at the time.

QUESTION: I have a question about Darfur and a question about Iran.


. . .

QUESTION: In terms of Iran and the concerns about nuclear proliferation there, I guess your predecessor, Secretary Powell, described intelligence mistakes before the Iraq conflict as troubling and a blot that will forever stain his record. What makes you any more confident that intelligence is better in terms of Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what I'm confident of in Iran is that the Iranians themselves have engaged in behavior that has made the entire international community suspicious of what it is they're up to. That's why the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is doing what it's doing, asking questions that it's asking. It's why Mohamed ElBaradei continues to report that he's not getting satisfactory answers from the Iranians. It's why, when the Russians talk to the Iranians about how to provide civil nuclear power, they talk about a so-called fuel takeback, which means that you allow Iraq to run on fuel, but you take back the fuel so that you diminish the proliferation risk that that fuel can then be used for building a bomb. It's why people are worried that after 18 years, suddenly things were discovered about the Iranian nuclear program that had not been reported.

And so the United States is not alone in being concerned about what the Iranians are up to, that they may be building a nuclear weapon under cover of civil nuclear power. And thus far, the Iranians haven't done much to build confidence that, in fact, they do want a civil nuclear program and that's what this whole debate is about, this whole controversy is about.

. . .