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Interview With Hasan Muawad of BBC Arabic

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Paris, France
December 17, 2007

QUESTION: Now, Madame Secretary of State, in terms of the proposed financial package for the Palestinians, which you are discussing now to our knowledge, do you agree with the World Bank that such a package might not be really effective unless the Israelis lift the restrictions on the Palestinians?

SECRETARY RICE: Clearly, there will have to be some improvements in movement and access. I negotiated the movement and access agreement a couple of years ago and I know that Salam Fayyad is working with the Israelis to try and improve movement and access. But there are many things that can be done by the international community in terms of project support, in terms of budget support to the Palestinian Authority. That today is what we're really talking about.

QUESTION: So you are hopeful that lifting of restrictions will happen eventually?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it will eventually happen. There are security issues, there's no doubts about that. But it is also the case that we have encouraged the Israelis to work very hard with the Palestinians to lift the restrictions on movement and access because there needs to be a life to the Palestinian economy. It's extremely important.

QUESTION: Well, Secretary Rice, you yourself described as unhelpful the recent Israeli plans to extend the settlement of Har Homa and the Israelis who (inaudible) also still going ahead with their plans. Are you doing anything about that path brokers with peace in the Middle East?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've been very clear that we think that certain activities are unhelpful and this was one of them that is unhelpful. We focused a lot on the need not to do anything that would prejudge or prejudice the final status outcome and we've been very clear to the Israelis that we would not support anything that would prejudice an outcome.

But it is also extremely important to keep moving with the negotiations because after all, we will finally resolve all of these issues about movement and access, we will resolve issues about a settlement, when there is an agreement that gives definition to a Palestinian state and that's what we need to stay focused on. We will continue, the United States will continue in an evenhanded fashion to call it as we see it, to say when one side is not engaging in helpful activity or the other side is not engaging in helpful activity. And that is what we've done and I think it's had an effect.

QUESTION: Now Dr. Rice, you've committed yourself as the United States to achieving a peace between the Palestinians and Israelis by the end of 2008. Who can guarantee that this target date is met? The United States?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, certainly, no one can guarantee, but I do believe that we have the strongest possible commitment from the parties that they think this is possible. In some sense, it matters less that the United States thinks that it can be done by 2008, then that the parties think that it can. And this date came from the parties, not from the United States. They said that they wanted to complete this in President Bush's term and there's one thing that we know, because America has a fixed term, which is that the President's term will end in two thousand -- at the beginning of 2009.

And so we're going to work as hard as we can with the parties. They need to negotiate; they need to work to improve conditions on the ground. But I -- there's clearly a seriousness of purpose that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert share and I'm hopeful that they can build on that seriousness and purpose to resolve this conflict.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, do you think that such an agreement, if ever it is reached, can survive without a similar agreement with the Syrians in the region?

SECRETARY RICE: Eventually, there will need to be a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and the pursuit of the Palestinian-Israeli track in no way diminishes the importance of a comprehensive peace. But this is the track that has momentum. This is the one in which the leaders are ready to move forward and so we need to support this track. At Annapolis, we saw the Arab world come together in an incredible consensus to try and support what is going on here on the bilateral track. Yes, eventually, there will need to be a comprehensive peace, but let's succeed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because there is a lot at stake in getting the Palestinians and Israelis to end their conflict.

QUESTION: Yes. Secretary of State, I want to move on now to Iran now. The recent CIA report on Iran nuclear capability is said, in fact, to have made it more difficult for you to negotiate a UN resolution on further sanctions against Iran; do you agree that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, the report really reinforces the idea that one of the problems is the continued activities of Iran to enrich and reprocess uranium because when you're enriching and reprocessing that's a particular process that can lead to fissile material to make a bomb. Now what the report spoke to was that Iran has halted its weaponization activities, but this effort to continue to perfect the way of producing fissile materials; that is what both Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 said that Iran should halt.

And so there is no need to change our strategy. Iran should halt and suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and then negotiate. I said that the United States is prepared to meet, I am personally prepared to meet my counterpart anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything, if Iran will simply do what the Security Council has said that it must do and that's to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing.

QUESTION: Again, about the CIA report that some people would say that this report also makes it difficult for you to convince your allies in the Arab world, especially in the Gulf, that Iran still represents a threat to the security in the region.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would say that people should only listen to what President Bush said. We consider Iran to be a dangerous regime. It is engaged in -- actively in supporting terrorism in the region. It supports negative forces in the region including, for instance, against the Iraqis themselves, these militant groups in the South that are trying to destabilize Iraq. It is -- its allies in Lebanon have been a problem. Lebanon should be moving right now to elect its President. There is apparently a consensus candidate. So the question is: Why can the Lebanese not elect their President? All responsible states should be engaged in helping the Lebanese to do that. So yes, Iran remains a threat to the region. Yes, the United States will continue to counter actively Iran's negative influences. And yes, Iran continues to pursue nuclear activities that are very concerning, which is why Security Council action is still needed.

QUESTION: Now your Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, in fact, was quoted as saying that military option in dealing with Iran still not ruled out although diplomatic option is a priority. Do you support this statement?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, this has always been the American point of view. It's always been the President's policy that we believe the diplomatic option is the way to resolve this. And we have a good diplomatic option. The diplomatic option is to let Iran know that if it will not do what the Security Council has twice told it to do, that is suspend its enriching and reprocessing, we will continue on the Security Council track. But if it will, we can negotiate; there are many things that Iran could benefit from. Iran is a great country, it shouldn't be isolated in this way. But its leaders are isolating the Iranians. So yes, the President never takes any option off the table, but in fact, the diplomatic option has been the American -- that's what we've been pursuing from the very beginning.

QUESTION: If it comes to a military action against the Iranians, do you think your allies in the Arab world, in particular in the Gulf, will side by you?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's not worth speculating about an option that we're not taking. The United States is taking the diplomatic route. We believe the diplomatic route can work. No American President ever takes options off the table. But we have a way forward. I have reconfirmed with our colleagues, with my French and British and German, Russian and Chinese colleagues, the six that we are going to continue to pursue what we call our dual-track strategy: possibility of negotiations on the one hand, Security Council resolutions on the other. That's what we're going to do and everybody is united around that idea.

QUESTION: Still on the Gulf, Dr. Rice, does it bother you that the Gulf leaders invited President Nejad to attend their summit and that Egyptians sent a top diplomat to Tehran, apparently, in what's been described as an effort to restore relations with Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I hope and I have every reason to believe that the message to the Iranians has been a clear one, which is that they should live up to the obligations that the international community insists upon. Let's remember that the insistence that Iran stop its enrichment and reprocessing is not an American condition, it is a Security Council condition. And I have great confidence that all of these states are sending that very strong message and also that Iran should not fish in troubled waters, whether it is the Palestinian issue or the Lebanese issue or Iraq.

QUESTION: Do you think they are doing that?

SECRETARY RICE: I am quite certain they are doing that. And it would be a very good thing if Iran would play a constructive role in international politics and particularly in the Middle East, instead of standing against long-held Arab positions about a peace process, about the need for Lebanon to be able to exercise sovereignty, and so forth.

QUESTION: And do you say the same about Syria, vis-à-vis Lebanon, as the -- Mr. Bush said recently about (inaudible) apparently of any interference in Lebanese affairs?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're very concerned about why the Lebanese can't move forward on the election of their president. If there is indeed a consensus candidate, as there appears to be, the Lebanese should be able to go to the parliament and elect a candidate. And any state that has influence should be working toward that goal, not trying to negotiate the next stage. Any state should be, in fact, affirming and working toward that goal.

QUESTION: Do you have any reasons that Syrians are interfering?

STAFF: Mr. Muawad. I am so sorry, sir --

SECRETARY RICE: The Syrians have, for a long time, believed that they had a special right to interfere in Lebanese affairs. Security Council resolutions have told them very clearly that they do not, that Lebanon needs to be a sovereign state that can exercise its own -- this isn't an issue of whether or not Lebanon should have good relations with its neighbors. Of course, it should have good relations with its neighbors. But its neighbors need to treat Lebanon as an independent sovereign state, not as a (inaudible.)

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, just a last question on Iraq. As you know, the British handed over recently control of security in Basra to the Iraqis. Are you in a position in Iraq, as the United States forces there, you know, to (inaudible) very soon in the areas under your control?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have been transferring authority to Iraqi forces when the security situation permits. But we should concentrate on the progress that is being made with the Iraqi forces, with the Coalition forces in improving population security in provinces like Anbar Province, in parts of Baghdad. It's a fragile circumstance, still. But we are concentrating on helping the Iraqis to improve population security for their own people, helping to bring reconstruction and assistance to the Iraqis, and helping local and provincial governments to grow so that it can take on more responsibility for its people.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, thank you very much, indeed.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Thank you.

2007/T20-3



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