Saturday, March 26, 2005

LA Times: Interview With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

The LA Times interviewed Condoleezza Rice. Here are a few excerpts on Iran.
QUESTION: On Iran, the Europeans are arguing essentially that time is now on our side -- that with the agreement for a freeze and with the IAEA monitoring the freeze, it's the Iranians who are in a hurry to get a deal and that they are effectively contained. Do you accept that, and does that mean that we do have time to negotiate onward?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's always better to resolve these things as soon as you can, not later, because Iran is a very closed society.... It's not Iraq. It has people going back and forth. It was a dissident group that exposed Natanz. And so you have some sources of information, but they are by no means perfect. And so you want as soon as possible to get a handle on the Iranian program.

I do think that we made a lot of progress over the last several weeks, in that we found that when I was in Europe the first time and the president was in Europe, that somehow the conversation had shifted to what the United States was going to do rather than to what the Iranians were going to do, and this is now clearly back on the ground that the Iranians have certain obligations to meet, that there is a unified view of what those obligations are, that there is a unified approach to those, to getting the Iranians to live up to those obligations.

And so we're certainly in better shape than we were several weeks ago, but I would hope that the Iranians would want to demonstrate sooner rather than later that they really do now intend to live up to those obligations because a lot is riding on it.

QUESTION: Are you comfortable that the current freeze amounts to containment of the Iranian program?

SECRETARY RICE: I do not think you can ever be certain of any such thing. It is better than nothing to have a freeze, obviously. But the real goal here has to be that the Iranians make a choice ... that they are not going to engage in activities that heighten suspicion that they're trying to get a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear program. And there are some very clear steps they could take to do that, and they have to be steps that are not easily reversible.

And so this is where we are and, as I said, it's a better place than we were a little while ago. But that's because the world is unified. I even thought ... that the Russian agreement with the Iranians -- while we don't understand why the Iranians would want civilian nuclear power at all given their tremendous energy reserves -- but at least the Russian agreement also speaks to the question of proliferation risk in terms of fuel take-backs and provision of fuel rather than allowing the Iranians to reprocess.

QUESTION: The approach towards Iran is they are not allowed to enrich. Is this a new interpretation by the administration of the NPT [Non-Proliferation treaty] -- that all signatory states to the treaty should no longer be allowed to enrich -- or are you setting aside a category of states that this would apply?

SECRETARY RICE: The president said [in a 2004 speech at the National Defense University] that he thought to reduce proliferation risk it would be best if there were essentially no more enrichment and reprocessing, that ... there is such great proliferation risk associated with it that it would be better. The G-8 agreed to then ... promote a one-year moratorium.

There are states that point to, in the NPT, the access that is granted to states ... who are in good standing in the NPT to civilian nuclear power development. I think it's a question of how one interprets "civilian nuclear power development." There are lots of ways to develop civilian nuclear power without reprocessing and enriching, and given the proliferation risk, it would probably be a better thing if this remained where it is now ... and you could have provision of fuel by, you know, the Nuclear Suppliers Group....

And one thing the president looks forward to is continuing discussions about how we close this loophole in the NPT, because it is a loophole that countries have used.... For instance, the North Koreans used it to gain access to civilian nuclear power but to continue activities that were closed and unclear -- and, in some cases, as the North Koreans said, very clear -- as to what they were doing.

So that's been the course that the president has laid out. We're still in discussions with people. I think there has been some interest in the high levels of the IAEA in this same kind of idea and everybody recognizes that there is a proliferation risk associated with reprocessing and enrichment.

QUESTION: U.S. officials in Iraq have from time to time raised questions with their Iraqi counterparts about the presence of Iranian influence. Before the election, there was talk about how much are the Iranians supporting one candidate. Since then, there has been talk, I guess, about will there be people with Iranian links in some of the security-related ministries.

What's your level of concern about that issue? A new government is about to be formed. Will there be an important Iranian influence in it?

SECRETARY RICE: Let me start by saying it is in many ways the Iraqi government, or members of the Iraqi government, who have most often raised the Iranian issue. And I would make a distinction. Iran is Iraq's neighbor. They have not had particularly good relations over the years, but it's a neighbor, and so we would be the first to say that we would hope there would be good, transparent relations between Iran and Iraq.

But that does mean that the kind of activities that Iranian security forces might carry on ... that might be intended at destabilizing somehow the environment, or non-transparently influencing the course of affairs, that that would not be welcome. And so there's a distinction here between relations with Iran, which are going to happen because it's a neighbor, and non-transparent relations with Iran.

A number of people sought exile in Iran, have relations with Iran, but I don't detect from most of the key leaders in Iraq any desire to exchange the yoke of Saddam Hussein for the yoke of Khamenei. I just don't detect that. The Iraqis have a very different tradition in terms of the role of clerics. You might have noticed what the Iraqi Shia have said about the role of clerics, even in this coming new government. It is quite different from the Iranian tradition.

And given that there are also cultural and other differences between them, I think that if the Iraqis are left to their own devices they will find an Iraqi way to incorporate Islam into a democratic path of development, not seek to mimic in any way what the Iranians have done. And so this is really a question about letting the Iraqis have their own path to the relationship between democracy and Islam. I think that's what you are sometimes hearing and you're hearing it ... more from Iraqis than you are from anyone else. ...

QUESTION: You've taken American diplomacy, in a sense, into a revived multilateralism, but it seems to be a multilateralism focused more upon coalition building and coalitions of the willing. How would you define your approach? ...

When it's Iran, again, the EU-3 have ... taken the lead here. The United States then can support the EU-3 diplomacy. So American leadership is essential in international politics, but it doesn't always mean that the United States has to be in the lead on each and every single issue. Sometimes we should work in a regional grouping ... like we're doing in the six-party talks and like we did for tsunami relief. Sometimes I think we'll find ourselves working through the United Nations, as we're trying to do on Sudan. Sometimes I think we will find ourselves working directly with the Europeans, as we have on Iran.

But the one thing is that on these broad trends that are developing out there, and trying to promote those, that really is the work of a community with shared values. That is the work of people who understand that others sacrificed for them so that they could have those aspirations met. And we started with our European allies but we have similar values in Asia that we can mobilize. We have similar values in Latin America. I'll go soon to the Community of Democracies in Santiago. There are African states who share those values. One of the most touching elements of supports for what happened in Iraq was out of Rwanda, where they said, "How could people turn their backs on what was happening in terms of mass graves in Iraq?" Because of what had happened in Rwanda. So that's how I would describe it.