Interview With Wolf Blitzer, CNNSecretary Condoleezza Rice
May 31, 2006
QUESTION:Madame Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. Let's talk about Iran.
This is a country that supports terrorism. Is that right?
SECRETARY RICE: That's absolutely right. It's a country that supports terrorism. It's a country that has a President who said the most terrible things about the Israeli Government and about Israel. And it is indeed a country that does not give freedoms to its own people. We are not by any means confused by the nature of this regime. In fact, the nature of this regime makes it even more urgent that the world's insistence that Iran not get a nuclear weapon be carried out.
QUESTION: Here's what the President said shortly after 9/11 on countries that support terrorism. He said, "America has a message for the nations of the world. If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends."
You were the President's national security advisor when he said that. Does this look like the United States is making concessions to what you would regard as a terrorist regime?
SECRETARY RICE: The United States is supporting an international consensus that's been developing for the last year and a half; that Iran must not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. That Iran has but one choice and that is to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, or it can face the path of isolation. That's what the United States is supporting here.
QUESTION: But you understand your critics on the right will say that you blinked.
SECRETARY RICE: Let's be very clear, Wolf, the United States is holding to conditions that have been set for sometime in Iran, conditions that we have been supporting in the negotiations with the European 3; that Iran must first suspend verifiably and fully its enrichment activities. We do not want Iran to continue its march toward a nuclear weapon, toward industrial capability, industrial production scale capability by the end of the year. We want Iran to come back to negotiations, negotiations that we have been supporting and that we would now be prepared to join if Iran suspends.
But let me be very clear what this is not. This isn't some sort of grand bargain. This isn't an offer of normalization of relations. This isn't an offer of let's let bygones be bygones and we'll try and establish a new relationship. This is a very specific choice that is being given to Iran: abandon your nuclear weapons ambitions or face isolation. And we mean it and we need now to sharpen that contradiction and to make it possible to know whether Iran intends to negotiate seriously or not.
QUESTION: As you remember, American diplomats were held hostage by Iran for 444 days in 1979-1980, and since then the United States has avoided any direct diplomatic contact with Iran. Since then, in recent months Iran has formally gone ahead and started to enrich uranium. Why, once again, will the critics argue, are you rewarding Iran for what you yourself would regard as bad behavior?
SECRETARY RICE: I can only speak to the international consensus in which the United States is a part; that Iran has a choice, a choice to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions through negotiation and diplomacy, which the President has said and he fully supports, or to face the path of isolation. We are not going to engage in a grand bargain with Iran. We are not going to engage in bilateral talks with the Iranians, to talk about improving the general relationship with the United States. We are not going to talk with the Iranians, negotiate with the Iranians somehow about the terms of terrorism. Terrorism is wrong. There is nothing that can be said about that.
But Iran needs to understand that it is time to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. It is in everybody's interest, the interest of the United States, the interests of states in the Persian Gulf, the interest of the world that we give diplomacy its very best chance so that Iran will abandon those nuclear ambitions.
QUESTION: What are the chances that Iran, President Ahmadi-Nejad, will accept the condition that you put forward today that Iran stops enriching uranium? What are the chances that the Iranians will abandon its nuclear weapons program and then the U.S. would begin to participate in these multilateral talks with the Iranians?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they're about to find out.
QUESTION: Well, what do you think their chances are?
SECRETARY RICE: We are about to find out if the Iranians are serious. They've said all along that, yes, they want a negotiated solution. Now they have a chance for a negotiated solution, if they're prepared to suspend their enrichment programs and to negotiate seriously. I can't judge what the Iranian regime will do. I hope that the Iranian regime will take this path that has been opened to them. But if they don't, it is also very clear that if they're not prepared to negotiate that we're going to go to the Security Council. We are going to bring sanctions and isolation against Iran. We're going to continue anyway to work with our friends and with like-minded states to protect ourselves from proliferation, to counter-terrorism around the world. That continues regardless.
QUESTION: If the Iranians reject this overture and you go to the United Nations Security Council and seek sanctions against Iran, will the British, the French, the Germans, will the Russians and the Chinese support those sanctions?
SECRETARY RICE: We have an understanding, an understanding that by the way comes out of our meetings in New York a few weeks ago, that this is a matter of two paths and there will be a document that memorializes those two paths. On the one hand, Iran can choose to negotiate and there are certain benefits associated with that. On the other hand, Iran can choose to refuse to negotiate and then we will go to the Security Council and we will seek sanctions. We understand that. The Europeans understand that. Our other partners understand that. And this move by the United States to enhance the power of negotiating track gives us a very strong ground in which to say to our partners: Iran now faces a choice. It's a choice that they must make now.
QUESTION: And if in the end they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, despite the sanctions, despite the pressures, what is the viability of the U.S. military option to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President is not going to take his options off the table. But we believe that diplomacy has plenty of room to go here, because Iran cannot tolerate the kind of isolation that the international community can bring against Iran in a unified fashion. But we don't want to let this go on any longer with Iran pretending that it might want negotiations, saying one day, oh, we're interested in the Russian plan. The next day, oh, we'd like to go back to negotiations with the Europeans. Let's find out. It's time to find out if the negotiating track is real. If it's real, we're prepared to negotiate. If it's not real and Iran is not prepared to suspend -- by the way, a condition that the Europeans said, not the United States, then it's time to pursue other means.
QUESTION: Well, describe what other means are.
SECRETARY RICE: We have sanctions that can be imposed, political sanctions, financial sanctions, economic sanctions that can be imposed. The Security Council can bring its weight to those sanctions. But this is an opportunity. It's an opportunity for Iran to take the right step for its people, for the region and for the international community. And that right step is to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
QUESTION: Have you forgotten about those 444 days when the Iranian regime held those Americans hostage?
SECRETARY RICE: The United States of America, and mostly certainly this Administration, will never forget what the Iranian regime did to our American diplomats. We will never forget the outrage of that. We will never forget that Iran is still a state sponsor of terrorism, in fact, the key state sponsor of terrorism. And we're never going to forget that Iranians themselves do not enjoy freedoms. We are not in any way confused by the nature of this regime. But the nature of this regime makes it even more important that it not get a nuclear weapon. And so doing everything that we can through diplomatic means to make sure that it does not get a nuclear weapon and that there is an international coalition that will do what is necessary to prevent that nuclear weapon from coming into being is made even more important by the character of the regime.
QUESTION: Let me read to you what Ehud Olmert the Prime Minister of Israel told the German newspaper Bild on May 1st. "Ahmadi-Nejad talks today like Hitler spoke before seizing power. We are dealing with psychopath of the worst kind, with an anti-Semite. God forbid this man from ever getting his hands on nuclear weapons."
Is Ahmadi-Nejad like Hitler, a psychopath?
SECRETARY RICE: I certainly know that an Iranian president who talks about wiping Israel off the map and who talks about denying the Holocaust is certainly not dealing in any way that a reasonable and responsible president of a country would. It's simply unacceptable.
Again, the nature of this Iranian regime makes it even more important that it not get a nuclear weapon. We don't want to see the spread of nuclear weapons, period. But an Iranian nuclear weapon in the volatile Middle East would be particularly dangerous. The President has said that he's going to do everything that he can through diplomatic means to prevent that from coming to pass. And that is why he has made the decision that we are prepared to join negotiations if the Iranians are prepared to suspend their program.
And by the way, if they suspend their program; they're not making progress on their nuclear weapons program and that's also an important point.
QUESTION: The President earlier today said he's troubled by these reports of what happened at Haditha, allegedly U.S. Marines massacring about 24 Iraqi civilians. Are you worried about the impact that this incident might have as far as the U.S. image in the Arab and Muslim world and around the world in general?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first, we're all just worried because it's a deeply troubling report. Whatever the impact, it's a deeply troubling report that something like this might have happened. There is going to be a full investigation of it. If the charges are proved, people will be punished. That's the way democracies react to circumstances like this.
But clearly no one would want to countenance anything of the kind that is being said to have happened at Haditha. That's our first concern. And of course it would be a terrible stain for the United States were something like that to have been demonstrated. But our principal concern right now is to get to the truth.
QUESTION: As far as Iraq is concerned, are you confident that this new Iraqi Government can get its act together, bring a real stable democracy there? So far, even as we speak, they've been unable to get a defense minister or an interior minister in place who would be in charge of local police.
SECRETARY RICE: I'm confident that this is an Iraqi Government that is now permanent. That has been democratically elected by the Iraqi people. They are people who are serious. They are people who are sacrificing themselves a great deal to bring their country this opportunity for freedom and for stability. And I'm confident that they're going to be able to do it -- we have to give them a little time. And every time we have thought or have said the Iraqis are not going to make it, they've actually done it, whether it was elections that people said couldn't take place or a constitution that people said couldn't get written or a government that couldn't come into being, they've always more than exceeded our expectations and I think they will again.
QUESTION: We're totally out of time, but I've got to ask you two little questions that you can answer very quickly. NFL Commissioner?
SECRETARY RICE: If it's still open. I'd love to at some point. I'm a little busy right now, so it will have to wait.
QUESTION: You're going to pass right now.
SECRETARY RICE: I think I'll have to pass.
QUESTION: You're going to serve out as Secretary of State until the end of this term?
SECRETARY RICE: As I said, Wolf, my ship has come in, I think I'll have to let it leave port without me.
QUESTION: And what about running for President in 2008?
SECRETARY RICE: I have no desire to be President of the United States. It's not what I want to do with my life.
QUESTION: What do you want to do?
SECRETARY RICE: I love being an academic. I love the world of ideas. I love teaching. And I think that when I'm done with this work, I'd love to go back and resume a life in the world of ideas.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks very much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
# # #
Released on May 31, 2006