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Interview on Fox News The O'Reilly Factor

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
May 31, 2006

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, as you know, I'm not the brightest guy in town so what I can't understand is why Iran would say, sure, we're going to give up our nuclear ambitions just to talk to the USA. They're obviously enjoying the fact that they can give us a hard time, embarrass us, kill our soldiers. They're having a real swell time of it over there. Why would they do this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Iran does face a choice. They can decide not to give up their nuclear ambitions and not give up their nuclear weapons program and face isolation from the international community. I think the important thing to note, Bill, is this isn't just about the United States and Iran; this is about Iran and the entire international community. We have been successful in building a consensus around the view that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon, that Iran has got to suspend its program and go back to negotiations, and that Iran, if it's going to have a civil nuclear program, has to have one that doesn't have the proliferation risk of having the fuel cycle on Iranian territory. So that's what's at stake for Iran is isolation from the international community.

QUESTION: Do you really believe that, though? I can't imagine China isolating Iran when China buys so much oil from that country and then Russia selling them materials to build their nuclear station. I just can't imagine Russia and China helping you. Europe, yes. Europe is afraid of the Iranians. But Russia and China, they don't look like they're going to help out.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think both the Russians and the Chinese understand the devastating impact of Iran having a nuclear weapon. We have to remember, particularly in the case of Russia, Iran is a lot closer to Russia than it is to the United States, for instance, and an Iranian --

QUESTION: They're pals.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, but an Iran with nuclear weapons is not something that I think the Russians really want to see, not to mention what would happen to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in other parts of the Middle East if Iran were to get it.

QUESTION: Absolutely. Once they get them, that's the end of all nuclear restraint in the world.


QUESTION: And clear-thinking people understand that. But look, if China and Russia were going to help out on this, why would they not have helped out earlier, gone to the UN Security Council, had, you know, mandated, on-the-record you better do it or we're going to have sanctions worldwide, and they haven't done it after years?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we did have referral to the Security Council with Russia's support and with China's agreement. We also, by the way, Bill, are negotiating a package that I think we'll complete when I'm in Vienna that makes a very clear set of benefits Iran could have if it gives up its nuclear ambitions but a clear set of penalties that Iran will pay if it does not. And that will be a package that is not just the United States and Europe but also Russia and China. And so we are making progress on that front.

But what we did today, what the President did today, is to make clear that we've come to a moment of truth for Iran. Iran keeps saying that it's prepared to negotiate. Well, now it needs to negotiate. But first, it's got to suspend its nuclear program; and when it suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, then perhaps we can have a reasonable conversation.

QUESTION: All right. You're a football fan. Handicap this for me. See, I'm a pessimist on this. I think Iran is having too much fun here giving us a hard time and I don't think they want to back down at all. But do you believe Iran will say, "Sure, we'll suspend for now to talk"? Do you believe that's going to happen?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know and I'm not going to try to guess their -- to try to guess the odds. I know we've given them a clear choice and they're going to have to make a decision because the world can't sit by and let Iran pretend that it's interested in negotiations, one day saying, oh, well, we might be interested in the Russian proposal or, oh, we might be interested in going back to negotiations with the Europeans. It's time for them to make a choice. And if they make the right choice, then there are benefits that would accrue to that -- to the Iranians. If they make the wrong choice, then they're going to face deepening isolation. And that's all we can do. I'm not going to try to handicap what they might do. But I will tell you this. I think that the Iranian regime is not the North Korean regime. The North Korean regime actually revels in its isolation. I don't believe that the Iranians can tolerate the level of isolation that they will endure if they don't make the right choice.

QUESTION: So it all comes down to whether China and Russia will back you -- we, the world, up -- and truly isolate this country. If the Iranians believe the Chinese will throw in, cut back their oil purchases, if Russia will stop sending up all the nuke stuff, then I believe you'll win. If they don't, you won't win. So that's what it's going to come down to.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is one other point, Bill, which is that outside of the Security Council there are options, too, with likeminded states to make it difficult for the Iranians to use the international financial system, for instance.

QUESTION: Well, you've already done that.

SECRETARY RICE: No, we've only just begun on that point.

QUESTION: Well, in Europe they've been pulling back big time.

SECRETARY RICE: That's right. And you --

QUESTION: And it's hurting them.

SECRETARY RICE: And you will see more of them start to pull back if it's clear that the Iranians are not serious about negotiating.

QUESTION: Okay. Your job is going to get a lot harder with this Haditha stuff in Iraq. It looks like these Marines massacred innocent people there. The left-wing press is going to run wild with it all around the world. It's going to be another Abu Ghraib. How are you going to handle it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first thing we're going to say is that if the alleged crimes are true, then it's simply unacceptable and people will be punished. We are going to defend the rights of people to have a fair due process. We're going to investigate and know the facts. Everybody wants to know the facts. But obviously if something like this happened, it's deeply, deeply troubling and the United States would not countenance any such behavior and people would be punished for it.

QUESTION: I know that. I mean, most fair-minded Americans understand this isn't a governmental problem, it's a criminal problem, and there are criminals within every armed forces in every country. But again, what happens is that these things get blown up into it's Bush's fault, it's Rumsfeld's fault, it's Dr. Rice's fault, that you put them there, you are responsible for their behavior. You know that's coming. How are you going to deal with it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, to make very clear that people understand that the great, great, great majority of American men and women in uniform are serving honorably. They're there to help Iraqis. They help Iraqi children who are in trouble. They support reconstruction projects. They fight terrorists so that they won't kill innocent Iraqis. I really do hope that anybody that talks about this will recognize the tremendous contribution and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. If this happened, it's a very few people.

QUESTION: Do you believe that that's how the worldwide press is going to play it? Madame Secretary, come on, you know what they're going to do. They're going to demonize us.

SECRETARY RICE: I know. I know, Bill. You're right. But we're not going to let that happen because we're not going to let what may have been a very, very bad and indeed unacceptable incident, if indeed it is what happened, we're not going to let that besmirch the reputation and indeed the memories of a lot of people who have died giving their lives in Iraq.

QUESTION: All right, I'm glad to hear that you're not going to let it happen because I think it's going to happen and you've got to fight it very, very hard.

SECRETARY RICE: We have to fight it, very clearly.

QUESTION: It makes your job a lot harder. I mean, when you go to Vienna this evening and you meet with the heads of state there and, you know, Iran obviously number one, but I'm sure Iraq will be on the table. I mean, do these people going to say, "When are you guys going to get out of there? This is a hopeless cause."

SECRETARY RICE: No, you know, in fact -- well, first of all, of course Great Britain has been one of our closest allies throughout all of this. But I think actually we have put behind us the differences about the war. I don't care what you felt about the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein; how could people not support an Iraqi government that has been elected by 11.5 million Iraqis?

QUESTION: Well, they're not supporting it by not helping you out. I mean, France and Germany could send people in there. They could do a lot more than they're doing.

SECRETARY RICE: What we need from -- well, France and Germany, for instance, have forgiven the Iraqi debt. We need them to do more. The international community -- you're right, Bill, the international community ought to get foursquare behind this new Iraqi Government and we're going to make that case that Saddam Hussein was a monstrous dictator who was a danger to the region, he's now gone and the Iraqi people of course are struggling as they try to build their new democracy. But I try and remind my European colleagues that there was a time when Europe struggled and somebody came to their aid; most notably, the United States came to their aid in the darkest hour. It's important that people stand up for the Iraqis who are committed to having a more democratic path and we're going to keep making that point.

QUESTION: Well, I hope you can make it happen, Madame Secretary. That would help out the world immeasurably if you can convince them to help us out just a little over there.

Last question, and I asked this to Donald Rumsfeld last week in my conversation with him. You know, some of the American reportage on Iraq has been so vicious, so unfair, it's staggering. Do you ever take it personally? Do you ever read those dispatches and just shake your head?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly don't take it personally. I fully understand that people are going to be critical. And the point that I keep making to people who are critical is it's fine to be critical. That is the nature of a democracy. Go ahead and criticize. But remember that what America has done here is to make it possible for Iraqis and Afghans and people around the world who were denied those very freedoms that we enjoy to also be critical of their governments, to speak their minds, to live in freedom. And that's a noble cause. So for whatever you think of what we have done, I hope that people recognize that when America uses its power and its influence for the noble cause of spreading freedom, we are protecting that that we precisely enjoy.

QUESTION: Are you telling me, Madame Secretary, right this moment, it's not all about oil? We're not over there to exploit oil lanes? Is that what you're telling me?

SECRETARY RICE: I can assure you that this was not the way to get oil supplies. No, these American men and women in uniform -- and I might say, too, American civilians, diplomats who have been killed in the line of duty. You know, Bill, a couple of weeks ago I placed four names on a plaque that we have here in the State Department of diplomats killed in action. There are a lot of Americans who are sacrificing and showing their commitment to the spread of freedom. And whatever you think of the policies of this Administration, whatever you think of the decision to fight in Iraq or in Afghanistan, I hope that there would be a clear acknowledgment of that sacrifice and that it is in the noblest tradition of the United States of spreading and protecting freedom.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks for appearing this evening. We appreciate it very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, Bill. Great to be with you.


Released on May 31, 2006

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