ABC Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Excerpts)

March 13, 2005

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

. . .

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn to Iran. An Iranian envoy was quoted overnight saying the United States is hallucinating if it thinks Iran will give up its nuclear program. Is that just bluster or is Iran going to the Security Council?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we finally have the spotlight on Iran and what Iran needs to do, and I'm sure that's uncomfortable for the Iranians because they've tried to make this a discussion about what the United States needs to do, they've tried to make it a discussion about splits between the United States and its European allies, and what we've forged with Europe is a common front, a common approach to dealing with Iran that says Iran must not develop a nuclear weapon, that Iran's international obligations must be upheld, and that means they cannot develop a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power. It says that if Iran is not willing to live up to those obligations then we will -- there will be a supported referral to the Security Council. I'm sure it makes the Iranians uncomfortable that this united front now puts the spotlight back on what Iran must do.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How much time do they have to accept this deal?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we don't have a timeline here. But given that this has gone on for a while, I would think that if Iran intends to make this strategic choice that they would want to do so sooner rather than later.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There is a report in the London Sunday Times today that says Prime Minister Sharon of Israel has given initial authorization for a unilateral attack on Iran if this diplomacy fails, and it quotes an Israeli security source saying, "If all efforts to persuade Iran to drop its plans to produce a nuclear weapon should fail, the U.S. administration will authorize Israel to attack." Is there any truth to that report?

SECRETARY RICE: The United States administration is not going to authorize anything here. And clearly we have a diplomatic path ahead of us. The United States has now, with the European allies, put forward, I think, a strengthened now diplomatic hand for the European 3 to play. It really now is up to the Iranians to do what they need to do. Obviously, the President of the United States always has his options open, but we really do believe that this can be resolved diplomatically.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But he hasn't given Prime Minister Sharon a green light?

SECRETARY RICE: No, of course not.

. . .

MR. MCMANUS: Secretary Rice, let me switch to Iran for a moment. The administration has now given the Europeans an endorsement for offering the Iranians incentives to -- positive incentives if they stop their nuclear program. But you haven't put a timeline down. You've been very careful not to put a timeline down. They're still working on nuclear weapons so time is not on our side. Are you giving a signal that the Europeans have an indefinite amount of time to work on this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't think anyone wants an indefinite amount of time. This has been going on for some time. And the question is: What are the Iranians going to do? Are the Iranians going to finally demonstrate that they intend to live up to their international obligations? I would think they would want to do that sooner rather than later, given that everybody in the world appears suspicious now of Iranian activities.

But we had said some time ago that we supported the diplomacy that the Europeans were involved in, that this needs to have a diplomatic solution. What the President did this week was to make that support more active by withdrawing our objection to a couple of things that the Europeans would like to offer in a package to the Iranians. So there's no change here in terms of supporting diplomacy. We've been supportive of it all along. This just makes it more active.

And I think, Doyle, it gives a more common approach, a more common front. The conversation had started to turn to what would the United States do. This puts the spotlight back on what will the Iranians do.

MR. MCMANUS: I kind of noticed though that you didn't get any closer to a timeline. How long should we wait to get a positive answer from Iran? Is a year too long?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this is a negotiated -- a negotiating process. Look, the Iranians are in suspension at this point in time and that's important. But everybody understands that there has to be a permanent arrangement in which the Iranians forego the means by which to develop nuclear weapons, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Madame Secretary, according to the Times of London this morning, Israel has drawn up secret plans for a combined air and ground attack on targets in Iran if diplomacy fails to halt the Iranian nuclear programs.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not privy to Iranian -- or to Israeli planning. But I will just say that we believe in the United States, the President believes, that there is an opportunity to resolve this diplomatically. And we have many other steps at our disposal -- the UN Security Council, a number of other steps within the Security Council.

The President, of course, doesn't take any options off the table, but I think he's made very clear that from our point of view this is a problem that can be resolved diplomatically.

MR. SCHIEFFER: But so far Iran seems to dismiss the offers that we have made as "too insignificant" to talk about.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iranians, I am quite certain, are uncomfortable with the notion that they have failed to split the United States and Europe on this matter. They now have a united front. And by the way, the Russians too have, in the way that they've structured their Bushehr nuclear reactor deal with the Iranians, demonstrated, we believe, that they also do not believe that the Iranians should have this kind of activity. That's why they would provide fuel and take back spent fuel rods.

So the Iranians are facing a common front. Everybody told President Bush when he was in Europe -- President Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder, Prime Minister Blair, President Putin -- Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. And so the Iranians now have to demonstrate that they are not going to seek a nuclear weapon.

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MR. RUSSERT: Will we allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb?

SECRETARY RICE: We and our European allies are now united publicly in a concerted effort to make sure that Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon because it isn't acceptable because it would be so destabilizing to a region that is already very troubled. And what we were able to achieve over the last few weeks is a really clear common purpose and common approach with the European Union 3 so that Iran knows that it really has only one choice, and that is to live up to its international obligations not to develop a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power.

MR. RUSSERT: It will not be allowed, period?

SECRETARY RICE: The Iranians can't have a nuclear weapon and that's what everyone has said.

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