Remarks by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at State Department Correspondents Association Breakfast (Excerpts)

January 5, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

MR. MACKLER: I'm working on the assumption that we're going to want maximum time for questions so if you're willing to give up your eggs or bagel or whatever -- so we're going to get started very quickly right now. Madame Secretary has graciously accepted to start right away.

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SECRETARY RICE: Well, good morning. I want to start by answering the question that I know is on everybody's mind, and that is: Did I watch the game last night despite the late hour? The truth of the matter is I fell asleep at halftime and then got up and watched the last part of the last quarter. And one of the reasons that Jim Wilkinson is a little bleary-eyed is, like most Texans, he was up celebrating late. But I just want to say to another Texan to whom I've already spoken this morning, "Hook 'em horns," or whatever it is that they say. (Laughter.)

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Let me just move a little further to the southwest and talk about Iran, where, obviously, we are moving into a period of time with Iran where I think we're going to have to -- the world is going to have to make some decisions about whether or not it is possible to get a commitment from Iran to a civil nuclear structure that does not give them the technology for nuclear weapons. There, so far, has been no demonstration that the Iranians are willing to recognize the world's just concerns about the fuel cycle and its location in Iran.

There have been all kinds of attempts. Those attempts continue, but I would just remind that we have always said that if we're not able to get satisfaction somehow through a negotiated route, then diplomacy will continue, but in a different form, which is that we would expect there to be referral to the Security Council. And I think we want not to lose sight also with Iran of other activities that are troubling, not only Iran's internal development, which continues to go in a retrograde direction, but also Iran's continuing support for terrorism, which is of very great concern as we try and tackle the problems of the Middle East and as we try and deliver on the promise that is there with the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and democratization in Lebanon, and of course, as we continue to pursue, after the elections in the Palestinian territories, the peace process.

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QUESTION: On Iran, Madame Secretary, you made a few comments and I don't -- you don't need to go over those exactly, but I'd like push it a little further, if I could. It sounds from your comments, the comments of other officials, that it's a lot of barking and there's not much biting. There's a lot of talk about going to the Security Council, but you've been saying the same thing for a year now. Do you want to draw any sharper line about how long this will go on? How much of a role are the Russians playing? Do you have to wait for them before you can take it to the Security Council?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think there's any doubt that we will want to demonstrate that we've given diplomacy a chance. And. sometimes it takes a little time to give diplomacy a chance. The Russians had a proposal that they wanted to make to the Iranians. We've supported their making that proposal to the Iranians. But let me just, if you don't mind, Charlie, quarrel a little bit with the characterization of the last year.

Let me remind especially those of you who went with me to Europe on my first trip, and I will tell you that I was expecting a thousand questions about Iraq and I got two about Iraq and a thousand questions about Iran. And the position that we were in at that point was that the United States had somehow gotten in a position where the Europeans were between or considered themselves to be between Iran and the United States, trying to mediate between Iran and the United States. It was not a very good place to be.

And so the first goal was to get a unified position between the United States and our key allies on Iran. And if you remember, that had to do with both giving the diplomacy a chance and also being prepared to support the diplomacy with a couple of relatively minor moves like allowing or -- withdrawing our objection to an Iranian application to the WTO. We've lived up to our part of the bargain. The Europeans and we could not be in closer coordination nor in greater concert about where we are in this position.

The next steps have been to, in effect, bring others into that consensus: Russia, India, China. And the Russian -- what the Russians are doing, I think demonstrates again that the Iranians presented even with another possibility, a joint technology venture where they don't have the fuel cycle but they have access not to the technology but access to a joint venture for fuel supply, but they've also not been willing to take that.

So what I think you are seeing is that you're seeing the consistent and sort of seriatim isolation now of Iran to the point that when we had the vote last November, I think the Iranians were really quite shocked that they were out there with Venezuela on their side and nobody else. That's a much better position to be in than we were a little more -- a little less than a year ago. And I think we'll continue on that course. But I don't have any doubt that at the right time, a time of our choosing, we're going to go to the Security Council if the Iranians are not prepared to do what they say they want to do, which is to pursue peaceful nuclear energy.

MR. MACKLER: Follow-up on Iran?

QUESTION: I just had two things. One, I'm struck in your opening comments on Iran, you said that it's -- we're coming to the point where it's time for diplomacy to take a different form. Do you get a sense that the EU-3 process has basically ended? Has that pretty much run its course?

And secondly, specifically on the latest threat from the Iranians to renew this research on the enrichment in, what, four days, what's your reaction going to be if they follow through on that threat? Are you going to call for emergency meeting of the IAEA?

SECRETARY RICE: John, this kind of makes the point that I was making about the now concert that we have with the Europeans. We didn't even have to say anything. It was the French and the Germans who were out telling the Iranians don't do it because that would be a serious problem for any further negotiation. And you know, I think I assume private messages are perhaps even more direct. And so I think that you are getting -- when the Iranians make these threats, they end up isolating themselves, not frightening people into playing by their rules.

And so I think we are exactly where the rest of -- where everybody is on this. They shouldn't do it because it really will be a sign that they're not prepared -- we've been prepared to let the diplomacy work, but they're not prepared to actually make the diplomacy work.

In terms of the next phase, you know, all that I'm referring to is that we've always said that when it's clear that negotiation has been exhausted, that we'll -- we have the votes, there is a resolution sitting there about the Security Council (inaudible). We obviously would like to bring as many people to that assessment as possible.

And so as you know, I will not give you a timeline on when that's going to happen, but I do think that the Iranians are digging their own hole of isolation deeper and deeper. It is dug even deeper by the fact that their President seems to keep reminding people of why Iran could never be trusted with nuclear technology. I think it was the Russian Foreign Minister who, when Ahmadi-Nejad blasted forth with his first thing about Israel should be wiped off the map, who said that the Iranians had just given those who wish to go to the Security Council another reason for doing so. So we don't have the problem; the Iranians have the problem. And we'll see whether they have a way to get out of it or whether we go to the Security Council

MR. MACKLER: Follow-up on Iran?

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, doesn't isolation make them more dangerous or doesn't isolation make North Korea more dangerous, or do you think Bush Administration policy adequately reflects the danger of forcing them -- forcing the two of them on the nuclear issue to the wall? Is there another way to go about this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the way, Barry, is for them to give up these nuclear ambitions. Look, the North Koreans do not have to be isolated. There is a -- it's a North Korean choice to be isolated, not American policy to isolate them. There is a six-party Statement of Principles that makes very clear that when the North Koreans are prepared to give up their nuclear ambitions, that the United States, as well as the other parties, are prepared to engage them and engage them in a major way. So if they choose isolation, I don't think it is a result of American policy; it's a result of choices that the North Koreans made.

Now again, in terms of danger, of course, you know, they're a dangerous regime. But we should also not misinterpret the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. There is a significant deterrent to North Korean activity there. Their illegal activities have drawn sanctions from us because the President's not going to let North Korea counterfeit American money without action. And I would just note to you that there hadn't been much uproar from anybody else about the fact that we are engaged in trying to constrain those illicit activities.

In terms of Iran, again, the Iranians are digging their own isolation. The United States, mid -- you know, March or so of last year said let's give the diplomacy a chance to work. Let's actually even put some things on the table so that our European allies have greater chips to play in the negotiation. The Iranians haven't taken the deal. So I don't know what other course you have when you have states that will not take the opportunity to end isolation, but I think the North Koreans, in particular, there is every opportunity for a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world.

Now, that doesn't speak to, you know -- we have no illusions about the nature of the North Korean regime. We have no illusions about what is happening to the North Korean people and about the need to speak out on those issues. But if the North Korean regime would be prepared for greater openness, for greater engagement and to denuclearize, I think you would see a totally different situation.

MR. MACKLER: Andrea,I think you wanted to follow up.

QUESTION: If I can just follow on Iran, for a moment. Do you or does the President believe that the time for diplomacy has been exhausted with Iran? And if not, what are the indicators that that time has arrived? Otherwise, as Charlie pointed out, there's been an awful lot of saber rattling on the part of the United States over the last year and we've seen Iran do nothing but walk away from, for instance, the Paris agreement and you've had a hard-line President that's just been elected.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, I think the point, Andrea, is that the last several months, the last nine months or so, has been used to build a consensus about the Iranian problem. Now, it's very interesting, I remember all the stories that everybody wrote about American unilateralism -- let's just go out and do it. This is a case in which we've carefully built a consensus about the Iranians. The European-American consensus is very strong. Others are coming to that consensus. That puts you in a very much stronger position when you actually do decide to go to the Security Council. That's not saber rattling. That's diplomacy.

Now, it's not a matter of diplomacy ending. It could be a matter of the negotiations this -- you know, diplomacy also includes what you do in the Security Council. So I think that what you're seeing is that people want the Iranians to decide whether or not they're prepared to live with a civil nuclear structure that does not raise proliferation risks or not. And when it is clearer, as it is becoming clearer, that they are not prepared to do that, I think you will have a very strong consensus behind a different course of action.

QUESTION: The first part of the question, was that a yes or a no?

SECRETARY RICE: Andrea, it's not a simple yes or no question. I hope that the diplomacy has not been exhausted, that negotiation has not been exhausted. I hope that the Iranians show up at the next meeting and say, all right, we understand that we can't have the entire fuel cycle, we understand that enrichment and reprocessing has got to be either offshore or we have to have assured fuel supply. I could write the script and I continue to hope that that will be the case.

I think what is very important for us is on the point of isolation that Barry made. This is not about the Iranian people. Nobody wants to isolate the Iranian people. If there were ways to better engage and reach out to the Iranian people, I would love to see them. You know, soccer matches and musicians and university students and all those things, because this is a great civilization and these are a great people. They happen to have a leadership that seems, at this point, to have chosen confrontation rather than cooperation with the international system. And so it's extremely important that we send the message that this is not intended to isolate the Iranian people.

. . .

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, are you in effect saying that democracies like India or Israel can have nuclear weapons and a civilian nuclear program, but countries with sort of sham democracies or pseudo-democracies like Iran should not be able to have either?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that one of the problems that the Nonproliferation Treaty has is that it assumed that all conditions were going to be identical and that you could therefore make blanket statements of the kind that you've just put forward. And I think what we've learned is that conditions are different in different places. There are countries that, I think, we worry not at all about civil nuclear power in those countries because they have demonstrated no desire toward nuclear weapons. They've not, in effect, under -- while under IAEA safe -- and the worst cases are people who are under IAEA safeguards, under Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, and then they cheat on those obligations. And we have a couple of cases of those that we're working right now: North Korea and Iran.

And that's the analysis that I would make, that the problem with Iran is that it has demonstrated that it is not trustworthy under its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations. And so when it cites its Nonproliferation Treaty rights, you have to say, "Well, what about your obligations?" Yes, it is a problem that it is a closed and nontransparent state and that it is -- you know, that it has a president now who says things about not allowing countries that are members of the UN, like Israel, to actually exist. Yes, that it is a problem. But let's get back to what the core of the problem was with Iran, which was the cheating on the Nonproliferation Treaty.

In terms of strengthening nonproliferation, the President made a speech back at NDU a couple of years ago where he talked about ways to close the loopholes in the Nonproliferation Treaty. And I think you'll see that our policies are actually designed to try to close the loopholes. For instance, if you don't have enrichment and reprocessing capability, any state should instead be willing to agree to assured fuel supply. So that doesn't speak to the character of the state; it speaks to the status of a state along the fuel cycle.

So I would not make a blanket statement about these states can have nuclear weapons and those cannot. I think the issue that we really face is how to make the Nonproliferation Treaty effective, how to close its loopholes and how to react when states have violated their obligations.

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