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Interview by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Vienna, Austria
June 2, 2006

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, good morning.

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for giving this interview. Iranian officials have universally rejected the proposal and saying that they will not agree to any precondition of giving up their nuclear weapons research, their uranium enrichment, before sitting down for talks. Do you think this is definitive? Is this the final word from Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we certainly hope that Iran will take a few days to think over a very serious proposal. And it is a proposal, by the way, that is not just an American proposal but a proposal that the international community is offering Iran as a way out of this impasse. And in fact, the condition that Iran first suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities is not an American condition; it is a condition of the IAEA Board of Governors, it is a condition of the presidential statement of the Security Council and indeed it's a condition that goes all the way back to the European negotiations when they broke down. So we would hope that Iran would take the chance and take the opportunity to think about it.

QUESTION: How long will you give Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we do need to have an answer. It can't be months. It really needs to be within weeks. But I hope the Iranians will take the time. I understand that the United States has made a proposal that follows on our support for these negotiations, but it would be the first time in a very, very long time that American and Iranian representatives would sit down on something of this substance in a multilateral framework with others, and so perhaps it takes a little time to digest it.

QUESTION: Well, some critics are saying: Why should you trust Iran? Can't Iran say we're giving up our nuclear research, we're letting in the UN inspectors, and cheat, hide their research? Isn't that what you all have been saying all along that's been going on?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this isn't a matter of trust. I think someone once said, "Trust, but verify." And verification here is absolutely critical.

QUESTION: But is it possible to verify?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the IAEA is on the ground in Iran and one of the other --

QUESTION: The UN inspectors.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the competent agency to verify these kinds of things. But it's also a part of this proposal that Iran should also allow greater access to the IAEA through what is called the additional protocol of the Nonproliferation Treaty. And we believe that if Iran is prepared to give that kind of access to the IAEA, given what the IAEA is capable of doing, then this could be verified. But verification is extremely important.

QUESTION: There are suggestions that Russia may even agree to sit down and be part of these talks, which would be quite extraordinary. What about China? Do you think China would eventually come along or are they really resisting?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think these countries have to speak for themselves. They certainly have expressed an interest in considering it and I would hope that perhaps they would consider it favorably. But we will see. These are choices that China and Russia will have to make.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, couldn't the United States have had this deal a couple of years ago, before the President chose to call Iran a member of the "axis of evil" and before all relations were cut off, even back channel conversations? Couldn't you have had this deal with a more moderate Iranian government, if you can call one moderate, before this new radical president?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we had to take the time to build an international climate of opinion that Iran had certain steps that it had to take. More than a year ago it was really a situation in which the Iranians were claiming that it was Iran versus the United States. Now it's clearly the international community that is saying to Iran give up this program, suspend this program and come back to talks on a civil nuclear program that can be acceptable to the international community. This had to be built as a coalition, as a consensus among the international community. We had a Board of Governors resolution just in February. This is the time now, now that these negotiations are set up in this way, for the United States to lend its leadership and its weight to those negotiations.

QUESTION: And just briefly, we have maybe 30 seconds, why permit Iran to have nuclear power plants? Didn't we always say we wouldn't do that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we fundamentally don't understand why Iran has to have civil nuclear power. It's a major oil producer. But nuclear power is a part of an energy strategy that keeps one from being so dependent on hydrocarbons. We ourselves have said that. The important thing, though, is that it has to be a civil nuclear program that is acceptable, and that means a civil nuclear program that does not have the proliferation risk of the full fuel cycle on Iranian territory. What Iran must not do is use a civil nuclear program to hide a nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.

2006/T15-2


Released on June 2, 2006

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