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Interview on NBC's Today Show

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
New York City
May 10, 2006

MR. LAUER: We're very happy to welcome Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Madame Secretary, good morning. Good to have you here.

SECRETARY RICE: Nice to be with you. Thank you.

MR. LAUER: You said that the UN Security Council is in total agreement that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon and yet it appears they will not vote on a resolution, or at least pass a resolution, imposing sanctions if Iran doesn't halt its nuclear program. So where does this leave us?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's give the diplomacy a little time to work. First of all, we are in total agreement that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. More importantly, no one even wants Iran to have the technologies on its territory that could lead to a nuclear weapon. We have some tactical differences about how to express that in the Security Council, but we have agreement that we need to express it in the Security Council and I can tell you that, that we believe that to give a couple of weeks for this agreement to come together is a good thing. But there will be action in the Security Council.

MR. LAUER: But you think you can change the Russians' mind about voting in favor of this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there will be action in the Security Council. What we will do over the next couple of weeks, the European-3, which has been in the lead in the negotiations with Iran, wants to put together a package that shows the two courses: Iran can either defy the international community and face isolation and UN Security Council action; or Iran can accept a path to a civil nuclear program that is acceptable to the international community.

MR. LAUER: And the path includes incentives, a carrot approach, if you will; for example, increased commercial ties, guarantees that their energy needs will be met. The U.S. fully supports that proposal?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course many proposals have been on the table before the Iranians before and we have supported those. We certainly have no problem with Iran having a civil nuclear program.

MR. LAUER: But there would have to be guarantees, assurances in that program, that they cannot enrich uranium for anything other than a civil program, or would they not even be allowed to enrich uranium?

SECRETARY RICE: There has to be a civil nuclear program that can not lead to the technologies that lead to a bomb. That means that enrichment and reprocessing on their territory can't be permitted.

MR. LAUER: Let me talk about this letter, okay, that was written from the Iranian President to President Bush, 18 pages, the first such correspondence between the heads of these two countries in 27 years. It called for the U.S. to give up its liberal democratic system. It asked President Bush, "Are you pleased with the current condition of the world? Do you think present policies can continue?"

You seem to have dismissed this letter rather quickly. Why?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, because that's not a serious diplomatic overture to say, by the way, your liberal democratic system is cratering. It really was a kind of philosophical and indeed religious attack on U.S. policies. There was nothing in it that suggested a way out of the nuclear stalemate. There was nothing in it that suggested that there was a way to address Iran's policies around the world.

MR. LAUER: The correspondence -- wasn't the correspondence even the opening of a door? Let me read you what the former Iranian Ambassador to France said on Tuesday: "The letter could have been a turning point in relations but, 'Rice squandered the opportunity,' with what he called a 'hasty reaction.' This gives a pretext to those in Iran to oppose reestablishment of ties with America."

SECRETARY RICE: This was not a letter that seriously addressed any of the concerns that the international community has. And I will tell you, Matt, it had absolutely no effect on the discussions that we had with the Permanent 5 plus Germany because people recognized it as not a serious overture.

MR. LAUER: Do you think it's a trap? Is it a trap from the Iranian President: If you accept it or if you use it to develop some sort of correspondence, then you've come to the table on his terms; whereas, if you ignore it, you've turned your back on diplomacy?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not going to try to judge the motives of the Iranian President, but we have to say that it's not a serious diplomatic overture. Had it been a serious diplomatic overture, we would be talking about something quite different. But we can't play a pretend game.

MR. LAUER: Some serious-minded and well-experienced people in diplomacy have said, "Why not just sit down with the Iranians?" What's the simple reason for that?

SECRETARY RICE: The absence of communication is not a problem with the Iranians. There is plenty of communication with the Iranians. We have been supporting European diplomacy. We've been supporting Russian proposals.

MR. LAUER: What about face to face, one on one?

SECRETARY RICE: We actually have communications channels with Iran. But what is to be gained if Iran is not prepared to live up to its obligations? What is to be gained if Iran is not prepared to show that it is ready to accede to the demands of the international community?

MR. LAUER: You're not going to like this question because you're not going to like the premise of it, but if the UN Security Council won't agree on this resolution and doesn't agree on this resolution, that seems to take one of those options off the table that the President has said is on the table. If that's the case, where does it place the military option? Does it rise in importance?

SECRETARY RICE: There are many diplomatic steps yet to be taken. First of all, we will continue to pursue the Security Council resolution and we're going to have action in the UN. It's only a matter of time and we thought two weeks was not too long to wait.

Secondly, we have been saying and ready to pursue with the likeminded states options that might be outside the Security Council, if necessary, on the financial side, because the Iranians, the central banker of terrorism, the Iranians who are causing all kinds of difficulty in the Middle East, can simply not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. On that everybody is agreed and we have many options at our disposal well short of military action.

MR. LAUER: Let me move on to Iraq and some recent polling numbers from CBS News-New York Times. Two-thirds of the American people now, Madame Secretary, have little or no confidence that President Bush can successfully end the war. Only 39 percent of people now feel that going to war in Iraq was the right decision. That's down from 47 percent in January. These numbers are clearly not moving in the direction that the White House or the Administration wants, and can it be said that's directly a result of the fact the war is not moving in the direction the American people want?

SECRETARY RICE: I do think that Americans have concerns about how we're going to be successful. I would just call attention to the fact that we really are in a new phase now with a new government, the first permanent government in Iraq's history, permanent free government. We have a lot of confidence in this government's desire to solve Iraq's problems and to do it in a way that provides for national unity. And I think you will start to see an Iraq that is more and more capable of dealing with its own problems. But I know what people are seeing on their television screens. It's not surprising that they have a view that this is extremely difficult. And it's harder to explain and harder to see the quiet progress on the political side.

MR. LAUER: What is the next major hurdle? For the last several years, the Administration has been saying, okay, look, when we hand over autonomy, that's a big step. We draft a constitution; that's a big step. Democratic elections, a big step. What is that next step that will tell the American people, hey, maybe this is going in the right direction?

SECRETARY RICE: I think what you're going to see is that you now have an Iraqi government that can speak for all Iraqis. At each of those stages before, we frankly didn't have, for instance, Sunni participation in a way that gave a chance for those who want to stop fighting, those who have resorted to violence, to really be a part of the political process. We now have that. We didn't have Iraqi security forces who could hold territory and take more responsibility for security. That is coming along. We didn't have an Iraqi government that really was devoted to national unity and that was permanent. Every other Iraqi government has been set up to do something else, either to have an election or to write a constitution, but not to govern Iraq permanently. These people now have that charge and I think they're going to execute it.

MR. LAUER: I want to ask you briefly about the situation in Darfur. The humanitarian crisis there continues to grow. It seems worse by the day. You've been there. You've talked about this. But do you think the United States was slow to come to the table or to at least take a vested interest in what's going on there?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, the United States has been active in Darfur since the day that Colin Powell declared this a genocide. The United States has been out in front on Darfur. Yesterday, as a result of President Bush's call, I went to the Security Council and we got international support for the peace agreement, this fragile peace arrangement. We also put forward a resolution that will allow the UN to put a more robust peacekeeping security force in to help the African Union forces that are really at this point unable to carry out all the tasks that need to be carried out.

And the President has made an appeal for food assistance. The United States, Matt, is right now about 89 percent of the food commitment that the World Food Program has. We have asked for more money that would make us even, in matter of pledges, 50 percent of the food aid. We need everyone now to appeal to -- to answer that appeal.

But we also need to remember that my Deputy, Bob Zoellick, was the one who went out with our Assistant Secretary, with our Chargé on the ground, and helped the Africans, people like President Obasanjo of Nigeria, to bring this agreement into being. We are working very hard on the diplomatic side. We're funding the humanitarian side. We're pushing on the security side. We need the international community to rally.

MR. LAUER: Madame Secretary, always a pleasure to have you on the show, especially here in the studio.


MR. LAUER: And we thank you for your time.

SECRETARY RICE: It's a pleasure to be with you, Matt. Thank you.

Released on May 10, 2006

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