Iran Focus: London, Jan. 12 – The following are extracts of the text of a press briefing on Thursday by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace on President George W. Bush’s new strategy for establishing security in Iraq. The extracts primarily relate to comments on Iran’s role in Iraq. Iran Focus
London, Jan. 12 – The following are extracts of the text of a press briefing on Thursday by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace on President George W. Bush’s new strategy for establishing security in Iraq. The extracts primarily relate to comments on Iran’s role in Iraq.
SECRETARY RICE: Iraq is central to the future of the Middle East. The security of this region is an enduring vital interest for the United States. And our continued leadership in this part of the world will contribute greatly to its stability and success.
Our regional diplomacy is based on the substantially changed realities in the Middle East. Historic change is unfolding in the region, unleashing old grievances, new anxieties, and some violence, but is also revealing a promising new strategic realignment in the Middle East. This is the same alignment that we see in Iraq. On one side are the many reformers and responsible leaders who seek to advance their interests peacefully, politically, and diplomatically. On the other side are extremists of every sect and ethnicity who use violence to spread chaos to undermine democratic governments and to impose agendas of hate and intolerance.
Our most urgent diplomatic goal is to empower reformers and responsible leaders across the region, and to confront extremists. The proper partners in our regional diplomacy are those who share these goals — our allies, Israel and Turkey, of course, but democratic reformers and leaders in places like Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq, and the responsible governments of the Gulf States, plus Egypt and Jordan, or the GCC plus two.
Tomorrow, I leave for the Middle East to continue consultations with our partners. Two governments have unfortunately chosen to align themselves with the forces of extremism — both in Iraq and across the Middle East. One is Syria. Despite many appeals, including from Syria’s fellow Arab states, the leaders in Damascus continue to support terrorism and to destabilize Iraq and their neighbors. The problem here is not a lack of engagement with Syria, but a lack of action by Syria.
Iran is the other. If the government in Tehran wants to help stabilize the region — as it now claims — then it should end its support for violent extremists who destroy the aspirations of innocent Lebanese, Palestinians and Iraqis. And it should end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
I repeat an offer that I’ve made several times, today. If Iran suspends its uranium enrichment — which is an international demand, not just an American one — then the United States is prepared to reverse 27 years of policy. And I will meet with my Iranian counterpart any time, anywhere. Thus we would have the possibility to discuss every facet of our countries’ relations. Until then, the international community must continue to hold the Iranian government accountable.
Syria and Iran should end their destabilizing behavior in the region. They cannot be paid to do so. That would only embolden our enemies and demoralize our friends, both in Iraq and across the region, all of whom are watching to see whether America has the will to keep its commitments. The United States will defend its interests and those of our friends and allies in this vital region.
SECRETARY GATES: The timetable for the introduction of additional U.S. forces will provide ample opportunity early on and before many of the additional U.S. troops actually arrive in Iraq to evaluate the progress of this endeavor and whether the Iraqis are fulfilling their commitments to us.
This updated plan builds on the lessons and experiences of the past. It places new emphasis on and adds new resources to the holding and building part of the clear, hold, and build strategy. At this pivotal moment, the credibility of the United States is on the line in Iraq. Governments in the region, both friends and adversaries, are watching what we do and will draw their own conclusions about our resolve and the steadfastness of our commitments.
Whatever one’s views on how we got to this point in Iraq, there is widespread agreement that failure there would be a calamity that would haunt our nation in the future, and in the region. The violence in Iraq, if unchecked, could spread outside its borders and draw other states into a regional conflagration. In addition, one would see an emboldened and strengthened Iran, a safe haven and base of operations for Jihadist networks in the heart of the Middle East, a humiliating defeat in the overall campaign against violent extremism worldwide, and an undermining of the credibility of the United States. Given what is at stake, failure in Iraq is not an option.
QUESTION: We have heard repeatedly over the past year, and President Bush was fairly explicit about it last night, that Iran has been supplying ordinance that has been killing American troops. If this is so, why are we not matching Iranian force with force of our own? And why are we content to continue issuing statements of displeasure — what do we think that’s going to accomplish? And have you made any recommendations along these lines?
GENERAL PACE: What we’ve been doing, and will continue to do, is to track the networks of individuals, regardless of their nationality, inside of Iraq that are providing weapons that are designed to kill our troops. I think it’s instructive that in the last couple of weeks two of those raids that we conduct to go after these folks that are providing these kinds of weapons — two of those raids had policed up Iranians. So it is clear that the Iranians are complicit in providing weapons, and it’s also clear that we will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network, regardless of where those people come from.
QUESTION: Are you going after them in Iran? Why not go to the source?
GENERAL PACE: We can take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq. And there are other methods, especially the kind that Secretary Rice has outlined, to deal with government-to-government relationships with Iran. But with regard to those who are physically present trying to do harm to our troops, regardless of nationality, we will go after them and defend ourselves.
QUESTION: One last attempt at this, let me take one last, different way. Has anyone in the military recommended operations inside Iran?
GENERAL PACE: No.
QUESTION: Can I turn back to Iran for just a second and get a little bit back into what James was talking about? The President’s language last night was rather muscular, when he talked about seek and destroy these networks. Does that extend beyond the kinds of operations that General Pace — if you both could answer this, actually — beyond the kinds of operations that General Pace was talking about? Was the raid this morning, for instance, part of that? Will we see more of that in the coming days? Can you explain a little bit more about what he meant when he used that language last night?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think General Pace has spoken to what we think the necessity is and what it is we intend to do. We’ve made very clear to the Iranian government, and the Syrian government, for that matter, that we don’t expect them to continue to engage in behavior that is destabilizing to the Iraqi government, but also that endangers our troops, and that we will do what is necessary for force protection. But we leave to those who deal with issues of force protection how these raids are going to be taken out.
I think you got an indication of that in what has been happening, which is the networks are identified, they are identified through good intelligence. They are then acted upon. It is without regard to whoever is in them, whatever the nationality. And we’re going to protect our troops.
Now, as to state-to-state relations or the lack thereof in 27 years, that’s a different matter. And we’ve been very clear with the Iranians that — through others and publicly — that they need to stop pursuing a nuclear weapon — we have a policy on that — that we have a Chapter Seven resolution, and that we believe that puts Iran in a very unfavorable category of states. And therefore, that people ought to be careful in how they deal with financial relations with the Iranians. And you’ll continue to see those efforts, too. But I think General Pace has spoken to what we think we need to do in Iraq.