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Interview on NBC Nightly News With David Gregory

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
May 31, 2006

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you will certainly get different estimates about how far the Iranians are along, but I do think that it is clear that since the Iranians lifted the suspension on their enrichment and reprocessing activities that they have been moving steadily along. They talk about trying to reach production-scale capability by the end of the year and that is something that we as an international community should try to prevent. So it is important to get a clear read now on whether negotiations are indeed a viable option and, if they are not, to begin to build the kind of pressure that might lead to the kind of isolation that would lead Iran to change its policies.

QUESTION: Do you consider this a ratcheting up of pressure, and with the idea of talks now on the table do you have a breakthrough with U.S. partners about pursuing UN sanctions?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly believe that it puts a kind of moment of truth, if you will, a moment for decision for Iran, before us. The Iranians have been wont to say, oh, we might be interested in negotiations on the Russian package; oh, we might be interested in the European negotiations again. But this is a clear choice for Iran, that if they're prepared to suspend, they can go to the table and we can go in a new configuration that includes the United States.

Our partners also understand that this is a moment at which there are two paths for Iran. We will, in Vienna, I am quite certain, get to a package that has a set of incentives should Iran negotiate and a set of penalties if Iran does not. So there is an understanding among the partners that should Iran not be willing to negotiate and negotiate seriously we have no choice but to move down the course of the Security Council.

QUESTION: And that is a breakthrough, right? Because China and Russia particularly have not been on board to do that, so if talks were to fail now you've got them on board to go for economic sanctions in the UN Security Council?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this package that we've been developing was actually done independent of our decision to offer to join the talks should Iran suspend, so the package has within it both a path of incentives and a path of sanctions. But I do think that the offer to make the negotiations more robust does strengthen our hand with the allies, strengthens the coalition's view that we are really at a moment of decision.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, why make concessions to Iran at this point, the offer of talks after the Iranian regime has thumbed its nose at the U.S. and its partners for months now?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, what the Iranians are being offered is not concessions; they're being offered a set of incentives if they are prepared to do what the world needs them to do, which is to suspend these enrichment activities, return to the negotiations and come up with a civil nuclear program that is acceptable to the international community. That's what is happening here.

We've supported these negotiations all along, so in that sense this is not a new policy. The only addition here is to try to give those negotiations more weight and more strength by offering to be involved in them directly.

QUESTION: But the United States said do this or else, and Iran did nothing. And now the United States is saying, okay, we'll do what you want, we'll get into multiparty talks, we'll talk about certain incentives. Why shouldn't the Iranian leadership say our strategy of thumbing our nose at the U.S. is working?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, because it's not working. Iran has moved steadily from an EU-3 negotiation and a break in that, to an IAEA Board of Governors resolution that 27 countries agreed to for referral to the Security Council, to the Security Council where there's been a presidential statement, to now a package in which, yes, there are incentives but there are also very clear penalties. So Iran is continuing its behavior at its own peril because this process of moving Iran toward isolation has also been continuing. What this does is to put a very clear choice before the Iranians so that we know where we are. It's really time to know whether negotiations are indeed an option because it will take some time for the pressures to build if we have to go the Security Council route. We simply need to know if negotiations are an option or not.

QUESTION: Do you think that Iran looks at the United States in Iraq, says the United States is bogged down, President Bush can't force us to do anything, he is weakened, the Administration is weakened?

SECRETARY RICE: I think the Iranians must be saying: What are we going to do with the situation in which we now face a clear choice? And I hope they'll make the right choice. But the Iranians have to do what the world has been requiring them to do. And let me just be clear that the requirement that Iran suspend its enrichment activities is not a U.S. requirement; it's a requirement that was there with the EU-3 and it's a requirement that is there in the Board of Governors resolution and in the presidential statement. So Iran is looking at a choice and this sharpens the contradictions, it sharpens the choice before Iran, and it will give us a very clear indication of whether Iran intends to negotiate or not.

QUESTION: What can the U.S. live with in Iran at the end of the day?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we can certainly agree that Iran has a right to civil nuclear power. That's not at issue. But it has to be a civil nuclear program that does not have the proliferation risk associated with the fuel cycle. And so Iran -- there are many ways to achieve that goal and this package will show Iran a path to a civil nuclear program that would be acceptable to the international system.

QUESTION: Given everything that the Iranian leadership has said and done, do Americans have to be prepared for military action at some point?

SECRETARY RICE: The President certainly doesn't take any of his options off the table, but he's said all along that he was going to give these negotiations the very best chance, that diplomacy had a chance to work. I've been asked several times, well, is diplomacy at an end, is diplomacy at an end? Well, clearly it's not and we have now put forward another diplomatic move that would allow us to move this forward diplomatically.

But the next step if Iran is not prepared to take the negotiation route really is to recognize that we're going to have to go the route of isolating Iran, and that would be through the Security Council; but also, if likeminded states wish to do things outside the Security Council in the financial or economic realm, that's also a possibility.

QUESTION: But you think that tonight Americans should be more assured that the military option is not a major option?

SECRETARY RICE: I think the American people should know that the President is not going to take any of his options off the table. They should also know that this move today is another indication of the seriousness of this President in making the diplomatic and negotiated option work. That's really what was offered to the Iranians today. We hope they'll take the opportunity.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.


Released on May 31, 2006

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