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Condoleezza Rice Talks To CBS News

On Sept. 28, 2007, the CBS News editorial board interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Below is the first part of the transcript:

QUESTION: Okay, let's start. The Secretary has promised us a shrink hour, which is 50 minutes of the hour. Okay, so

QUESTION: Only in New York could you say that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: A shrink hour.

SECRETARY RICE: I haven't heard of a shrink hour, but I'll know to use that from now on.

QUESTION: She's kind of on a tight schedule, so let's get going. Does somebody have a question to lead off, or shall I?

Iran is still increasingly in the news, both with the President being here and we understand there's an article coming out in The New Yorker next week, Sy Hirsch talking about plans the Administration is making to go into Iran in a military way. Can you talk to us anything about the situation in Iran and the United States?

QUESTION: Starting with an easy one. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: That's right. Exactly.

This is a very troubling relationship, troubling country. It's probably the single-most difficult country from the point of view of U.S. interest in the world at this point. And that's because Iran's activities in support of terrorism in Lebanon, in support of Hezbollah in the Palestinian territories, in support of the worst elements of Hamas, in support of the death squads and violent militias in southern Iraq, the policies that -- we believe they're using the cover of civil nuclear power to seek the technologies that would lead to a -- could lead to a nuclear weapon, and not to mention the policies that they adopt against their own people. And so this a very troubled -- we don't have a relationship. This is a very difficult country for our interests.

I think we have established, particularly on the nuclear issue, a coalition of states that are concerned about the Iranian nuclear technology. Today I just had a meeting this morning with the, as we call it, P-5 + 1, or another designation is EU-3 + 3, so however you would like to say it. It's the Permanent Five plus Germany. And we came to agreement to again reaffirm the two-track strategy that we are pursuing on the nuclear file, which is to continue to try to stimulate negotiations. There's a very favorable, very generous package of incentives on the table for Iran, should they choose to take it.

But the UN Security Council track, if they do not take that package -- and obviously the condition for beginning those negotiations is that they have to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activities. And today we agreed that we will pursue over the next -- well, in the November timeframe there are two important events. There is a report by Mohamed ElBaradei about their cooperation on some very key outstanding issues, and then there is also -- we have proposed Javier Solana have a discussion again with the Iranians. But if those do not have a positive outcome, we are in the process of finalizing a text for a vote, should there be no positive outcome, for a third resolution.

So that's how we're pursuing it. But you know the President doesn't take any option off the table, but we still believe that the diplomatic track has legs and can still resolve this if we remain very tough on that track.

I should also mention that the United States, of course, is pursuing other measures, national measures, including financial measures against the Iranians. We have sanctioned some of their banks, which makes it difficult for them to access the international financial system. Just on the basis of reputational and investment risk alone, there are any number of international financial institutions that have decided not to deal with the Iranians -- Deutsche Bank, the Credit Suisse, several others. And there are other countries like Germany that's cut back export credits, France that is doing the same, potentially EU efforts in that regard, that I think should demonstrate to the Iranians that the policy line that they're taking has costs.

QUESTION: Aren't there some discussions with the Russians, too -- I think President Bush mentioned this -- about verification, kind of some kind of agreement with them?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. What we've said with the Russians is we've supported the Russian plan which would allow the Iranians to have a civil nuclear capability but they would have to send the spent fuel back to Russia so that they wouldn't -- it wouldn't have the proliferation risk of what's called the fuel cycle; that is, the ability to enrich and reprocess on Iranian territory. They've so far rejected that, even though we think that would be an excellent idea. It's the way the Russian civil nuclear program is currently structured, the Bushehr facility is structured.

QUESTION: Why do you think they rejected it?

SECRETARY RICE: Because I think they want to be able to enrich and reprocess so that at some point they would have the ability to build a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I was in Tehran last week with Scott Pelley interviewing Ahmadi-Nejad. How much of a time deadline do you face? Do you have to resolve this diplomatically or with sanctions before President Bush's term is up? And if you don't, then does that mean that the President would use force? Is he determined to resolve this on his watch?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are determined to do everything that we can to prevent Iran from getting these technologies because -- let me be very clear. The issue is having the engineering know-how to be able to string together the running of centrifuges long enough to enrich to the -- material to the level at which it's nuclear weapons grade. That's really what we're talking about. We're not talking about a kind of mature program of the kind that the North Koreans have.

That said, no one knows precisely how long it will take them to acquire that engineering expertise, which is why there is some urgency to acting in a way that gets them to change the course that they're on. If they suspend, then they're not making that knowledge breakthrough.


SECRETARY RICE: So that's why we've been so focused on the suspension issue.

I think we believe that there is still time for the diplomatic track to work. I can't tell you that in four months or five months or six months that there won't have been some other breakthrough in Iran which we have to take account of, but we're not there at this point.

QUESTION: Is force a realistic option? Could force resolve the issue if the President's days become numbered?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't want to speculate on a hypothetical here. Let me just say that the President is not going to take his options off the table, and I don't think people want the American President to take his options off the table.

QUESTION: Were very early diplomatic efforts being very, you know, sort of preliminary kind of diplomatic efforts being made in Baghdad earlier this year, did they -- was that just -- did it run into a brick wall? Was there no way to actually establish a kind of dialogue or --

SECRETARY RICE: It's a channel that's still there if it makes sense to use it. But I think Ryan Crocker, who carried out those discussions, would tell you, as he's told me, that it has been a frank exchange of views without a meeting of the minds thus far, that Ryan delivered a very strong message -- I think he told the Congress this -- that their operatives are not safe any place in Iraq if they are doing things that are harmful to our forces. And these -- and to innocent Iraqis. But these discussions were really limited to Iraq, as are discussions within the neighbors framework.

Ironically, the nuclear file is the way for the Iranians to access us for broader discussions because we've made clear that if they suspend then we will reverse the 28 years of American policy. I said that I would meet my counterpart. I also said that we could talk about anything. We didn't -- ironically, it's not within the Iraq context that we will talk about anything because that's really about Iraq. But within the nuclear framework, if they will suspend, we can talk about whatever they'd like to talk about. So I've been pretty clear that I -- I don't think the question is why won't we talk to them. I think the question is why won't they talk to us.

QUESTION: If Mohamed ElBaradei comes back next month and says they look like they're in compliance --

SECRETARY RICE: ElBaradei is trying to resolve outstanding issues of the past, issues like what technologies did they buy for P1, P2, why was there -- is there a military component to that. These are issues of the past.

The problem is the current technologies progress, progress on technologies, and the potential future. And that's what the Security Council -- the Security Council track covers both. It covers the past behavior and says that they need to answer these outstanding issues, but it also says they need to suspend and so that they can't keep improving their technology.

And that was one of the valuable outcomes of today with the P-5+1 because there had been some noise in the system that this was really only about the ElBaradei activity, and if they complied with the ElBaradei activity then that would somehow satisfy the requirements of the Security Council resolution. And we have a very clear statement today; I think you see that it's not just ElBaradei, it's also the Solana track. And the Solana track is suspension.

Enough Iran? Charlie?

QUESTION: One more on Iran. There's been mention made of squeezing them, what you're doing in various ways of which you talked about, to getting more reasonable leadership there. What do we know about their leadership and (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Right. I really don't -- I'm not focused on who the leadership is, but on what they do. And what you'd hope is that you would stimulate more reasonable people even within the leadership to decide that they need to take another course.

Obviously, there was some difference that was emerging, and emerging publicly, a few months ago as you had Ahmadi-Nejad saying, well, the Security Council resolution is just a scrap of paper and any number of people coming out and saying, no, actually, it's not a scrap of paper, that is a joint decision of the international community, that's not just U.S. -- the United States, it's the whole international community. Some -- there is some observable divergence there. Whether or not it is strong enough to have them take a different course, I think is what we're still probing with the continued ratcheting up of the pressure.

QUESTION: President Bush has addressed the Iranian people from time to time. Does that get you anywhere or does that automatically lead to a backlash and become counterproductive to efforts to try to get a government that you would be able to deal with better?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, we're not trying to -- this is not a matter of changing their government, it's changing their government's behavior. And so in that sense it's a kind of classical diplomatic effort.

From all that I hear -- and to be very frank, we haven't been in Iran for 28 years and so our depth of understanding and knowledge about the country, our ability to really read it is frankly a bit weaker than I would like it to be. We have good friends who are in the country who can talk to us about what's going on there. But it is a problem and -- but from those who are there, you hear very often that the United States is very popular, Americans are very popular. It is one of the most pro-American populations in the whole region.


SECRETARY RICE: Some say that, in fact, if we can get through to the Iranian people that the United States is not trying to deny Iran civil nuclear technology, but rather trying to deal with the proliferation risk of a nuclear weapons technology, that that is a message that Iranians would be receptive to. Because what does their regime tell them? They tell them they're trying to deny you technology, they're trying to keep Iran backwards, they don't want Iran to be a part of the technological revolution.

Well, we have to counter that message because we would be very pleased to be in a circumstance where we could be working with the Iranians on civil nuclear technology. We've actually said that we would consider that -- on medical research using nuclear technologies. This is about the fuel cycle and the capacity to turn the fuel cycle into nuclear weapons grade material. That's what this is about. And it's not an easy message to get through, to have penetrate, but that's just an example. That and the fact that we'd like the Iranian people to know that their aspirations for a freer, more democratic way of life are shared by the United States.

So those are the kinds of messages that we try to get through, and there are a lot of Iranians who listen to the radio of the diaspora and the television stations of the diaspora. It's a society that's fairly well connected on the internet and the like. So I actually think the regime has a harder job than, say, the North Korean regime in keeping its people in the dark about what is going on.

QUESTION: What is your sense about how powerful Ahmadi-Nejad actually is? And are you concerned that there's been a fair amount written that all this attention is actually enhancing his reputation?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have no idea of what the power politics looks like inside of Iran.

QUESTION: The spin, the Iran spin?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, look --

QUESTION: You don't? I mean --

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, I mean whether -- what he controls and what he doesn't. And you know, it's a very opaque decision-making process, and so I don't know.

As to whether or not the attention to him -- well, I could see an argument by which the fact that he comes and he gives speeches and he's received and so forth --

QUESTION: Interviewed by every network, you know --

SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible) every network. But frankly, the things that he says are so outrageous and receive such a skeptical -- to be nice about it -- skeptical response, it's again a question of what's getting through to the Iranian people. And if that skeptical response is getting through to the Iranian people, I don't know that it does him any good. I do know that when he took on, if you will, the United Nations Security Council, took on the world, that it didn't play particularly well in Iran.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more Iranian question?


QUESTION: And that is -- because we have a lot of us.

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, no. It's a fascinating subject. (Laughter.) Matter of fact, I would be endlessly fascinated if I were back at Stanford. (Laughter.) But to try to do something about it is --

QUESTION: So when you're chatting with Nouri al-Maliki and you're talking about Iran, the impression we have is they have a very good relationship, they're in bed with each other, these horrible IEDs that are coming in and killing our soldiers are coming from this Iranian special forces. Is al-Maliki -- do you have his ear in terms of that's not a relationship that we're crazy about?

SECRETARY RICE: Let me put it this way. The Iraqis are Iran's neighbor, but there is no love lost between Iraqis and Iranians, first. And secondly, there is absolutely no desire of the Iraqi Government to be thought of to be Iran's agent in any way, most especially the Shia members of that government want to be known as Iraqi patriots and they have gone out of their way to make clear that they expect and want to have correct relations with their neighbors, indeed friendly relations with their neighbors, but that when it comes to the interference of any of their neighbors in their internal affairs, that's where they draw the line.

I do believe Maliki when he says he's made that point when he has been in Tehran. I know that when we are at the neighbors conferences those points are made very strongly. And one has to remember that what Iraq is trying to assert, both Shia and Sunni, is its Arab identity at this point, which is why the Arab League has been important to them, why Saudi Arabia's decision to put a mission in Iraq is important to them. They -- the most -- very often, if there's any suggestion that there's undue influence of their neighbors, particularly their Iranian neighbors, you get a very unified response from the government that they do not want to be seen in that light.

QUESTION: Well, what about the people? You know, are national interests -- are they subservient, do you think, to religious fervor in some cases among the population?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. I don't -- I think the population wants largely what populations everywhere want. They want in this case, first and foremost, security, which is why where you're getting security you're starting to get people engaged in the second issue, which is reconstruction and development and jobs. Obviously, for -- that's the engagement in politics is not something that every citizen cares about in Iraq or in the United States, but there are any number of political figures in Iraq who care about engagement politically, particularly if you look at where we were in Anbar, where now that security is improving and they have turned on al Qaeda, you see that their interests have turned for the population as a whole to development and reconstruction, and for the leadership to political recognition and connection to the politics in Baghdad.

So yes, there are people who have strong connection to religious views and perhaps even want to see a connection between religion and politics. But I don't think it would be true of the great bulk of the Iraqi population and not even of the great bulk of its leadership.

Click here for the second part of the transcript.
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