Iran Focus: London, Jan. 15 The following are excerpts of the text of comments by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an interview with Time Magazine. The excerpts primarily relate to Rice’s remarks on Iran. Iran Focus
London, Jan. 15 The following are excerpts of the text of comments by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an interview with Time Magazine. The excerpts primarily relate to Rice’s remarks on Iran. The interview was conducted on January 12 in Washington, DC.
QUESTION: I think most Americans, if they had a chance to ask you a question, Madame Secretary, would say, “Why don’t we talk to Iran and Syria?” Particularly I think Syria. I think they probably draw a distinction. What would you say? Because I think it’s hard sometimes for people to understand why we wouldn’t talk to people. And they’ve heard that over the last couple of months and you seem to be saying, “I don’t want to talk to those people.”
SECRETARY RICE: No, it’s not —
QUESTION: Is isolation something that we’re sure is going to work or is it part of — can you just explain a little bit what your thinking is there?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the question is: How do you expect this conversation to go? What’s the nature of this talk? Because in diplomacy, you’re never just talking — that just is a notion that is rather naïve. You never just talk.
QUESTION: Well, you have that — people have that — that’s all right.
SECRETARY RICE: You’re talking toward some goal or you’re talking to achieve some aim or you’re talking to change your relationship, but you’re never just talking. When I talk to any foreign leader, I’m not just talking.
So the question is: How does this conversation go? We were talking up until ’05, February ’05, and even though we weren’t getting anywhere, you know, we kept trying to talk. But of course, then you had the Hariri assassination which changed the dynamic considerably as the isolation of Syria grew because of their people thought — because of their potential role in that assassination.
So what is this conversation about now? Well, people say go and tell them to help stabilize Iraq. Either they have an interest in stabilizing Iraq, in which case they will because it is in their national interest, or they want us to ask them to stabilize Iraq so that they can — we can pay a price for it. I don’t see other outcomes. So how does this conversation go? Well, help us stabilize Iraq. Fine. Recognize our strategic interests in Lebanon. In fact, in that (inaudible) interview, they said well, they’d have to recognize their strategic interests. Well, what do people think their strategic interest are at this point? It’s to re-establish Syrian authority and dominance in Lebanon, which they’re not reconciled to having lost. And it is to shave the edges off this tribunal so that it can’t ensnare anybody in the Syrian regime. And even the act then of talking has consequences for people in Lebanon who begin to wonder: Is there some kind of deal that’s going to be made?
QUESTION: It’s very helpful.
SECRETARY RICE: So the question is, you know, if you really thought you were going to get somewhere, maybe. But I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere and there’s a cost.
QUESTION: That’s it, so there’s a cost. I appreciate it.
QUESTION: And similarly on Iran —
SECRETARY RICE: Talking is not – (inaudible) cost.
QUESTION: Iran you would make this — you’ve made a similar argument.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Iran — no, it’s not as if we haven’t tried to talk to them. Twenty seven years of policy. And we set this up very deliberately to give an opportunity to talk to the Iranians at a high level and about anything.
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
SECRETARY RICE: Open — we didn’t say, oh, and by the way, when you suspend and we come to the table, we’ll just talk about your nuclear weapons programs. You bring up anything you want and we’ll bring up anything we want. And we did that because you — the consensus you can’t break which is the consensus that’s actually leading to the — had led now to the Chapter 7 resolution is that Iran needs to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities because while you’re talking, they’re improving their nuclear capability. This is not a good outcome.
And so again, what is the cost? The cost is that you give Iran a channel outside of the internationally agreed channel which is suspend and negotiate — to negotiate. So I see that one — I do see that one as different, but it — again, it has costs and it’s not as if we haven’t given every opportunity. You know, I remember when someone in Iran said, well, maybe they would suspend for two months. And I was asked, well, that’s not (inaudible). Two months, let them suspend for two months, we’ll get started. We’ll see what happens. So we’ve tried to be actually very flexible and for reasons that I don’t fully understand, but it may have to do with internal dynamics in Iran, they haven’t been able to engage.
QUESTION: In terms of Iran’s arms trade into Iraq, the President makes a very forceful statement, says have you — are we to read from this that the U.S. would engage in cross border hot pursuit of people bringing in arms or insurgent elements into Iraq?
SECRETARY RICE: Obviously. You know, I’m not going to speculate about what we would do, but I — let me just quote what Pete Pace said yesterday in his press conference which is that he — that their view is this can be done inside Iraq. These networks are operating inside Iraq. This is essentially an intelligence function followed up by action. We’ve done it a couple of times. We’re going to keep doing it. So that’s the plan.
The other point that the President was making is the United States has longstanding interests in the Persian Gulf. And you can go back and read statements all the way back to Truman or Carter about America’s ability and willingness to defend its interest in the Persian Gulf and those of our allies. And so you know, some of the work that we’re doing on helping our friends in the region improve their security capability, defensive security capability, is very important also to counter Iranian assertiveness.
QUESTION: Can you talk just a little bit about — we raided an Iranian consulate or maybe it was an Interests Section in —
SECRETARY RICE: No, no. We — it was not.
QUESTION: It was not. Okay, that was my question (inaudible) what it was.
SECRETARY RICE: It was not a consulate.
QUESTION: What would you call it?
SECRETARY RICE: All that I care is it wasn’t a consulate. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And it would matter.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well — which suggested, and it’s hard for us to see this, that this is — that would be part of a network of Iranian infiltration into Iraq for the purposes of either stabilizing or weapons —
SECRETARY RICE: I think that’s it.
QUESTION: Is that what we were after here when you talk about networks?
SECRETARY RICE: I think that’s a fair assumption.
QUESTION: And this was in the north, I think, or maybe.
SECRETARY RICE: That was in the north.
QUESTION: So this suggested that it’s not just in one part of the country.
SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s not just in one part of the country.
QUESTION: And is that also increased in your understanding over the last — since the — in the last couple of months? Is this — it’s actually. It sounds like we’re worried about —
SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s been there and it’s been increasing for a while, but we’ve just been more active.
QUESTION: You’ve just been more active. I want to follow up with one thing on that line because I think another thing that people might not understand is whatever else Americans might think of Iran, they’d say well, this is just Iran. I mean, are we — and they want to be a regional power in the area and they obviously have some tools to do that and they’re getting more. But are we increasing their stature by making them into a boogeyman? I sometimes think their rhetoric suggests to people that, you know, well, they weren’t that big a deal, but we sure are making them one? How do you balance that and is that a fair criticism do you think?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. We don’t want them to become the kind of regional — the kind of regional challenge that they could become. They’re a pretty bad regional already. But over time, if they’re — you know, their arms and legs, Hezbollah, even now links into Hamas, the ability to have nefarious intellects in Iraq. They’re going to have influence in on Iraq — Iraq’s neighbors. That’s not a problem. But the kind of influence that destabilizing their and their ability to marry that with a nuclear weapon suggests to me that it’s quite a big problem, but you can — we still have time, I think to arrest these developments. It means rallying those states that are concerned about it. It means being very tough on the nuclear issue. Some of the financial measures that we are engaged in, which are collateral to the Chapter 7 resolution I think are having an affect. So you need to put that policy in place.
But a piece of this is not very often I think seen, as we’re also reaching out to the Iranian people. This is a great culture. The tragedy is there should be good relations between the United States and Iran. It’s a great culture, it’s a great people. But the — it’s not possible with this regime clearly, but we have a group of wrestlers from the United States going to Iran in a couple days. We’ve had medical personnel from Iran here. They went to the CDC and, you know, and places like that. So we’re trying to reach out to the Iranian people, too, and to keep open the hope of the Iranian people for a democratic future.
QUESTION: One of the powers you’re trying to rally is China. You’ve had recent conversations with the Chinese official visiting here on Chinese investment in Iranian oil fields. Obviously I guess it’s in the U.S. — what the U.S. wants to have China not pour a great amount of capital into that country so that they can upgrade their oilfields, which badly need upgrading.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, China will make its own choices about this, but I think you are seeing a decline in interest in investing or certainly guaranteeing investment in Iranian oil fields because what happens is that the market and private entities act both on risk and on reputation. And when you’re under Chapter 7 you are a financial risk and you’re a reputational risk. Now, China may decide to go outside of that, but it’s hard to imagine that that is a relationships that is going to be sufficient to supplant the need for investment in capital from the rest of the world.
QUESTION: Did you receive assurances from China that they would think carefully before proceeding with these —
SECRETARY RICE: We are not asking people. We haven’t asked people not to invest in Iran. We’ve made clear that — the downsides of investing in Iran.
QUESTION: You watched from a different perch another regime that did not have support of the people that was — had all kinds of hegemonistic and militaristic rhetoric and rhetoric certainly goals of 150, 20 years ago. When you look at Iran, do you see anything similar?
SECRETARY RICE: To the Soviet Union?
SECRETARY RICE: The Soviet Union was a global power.
QUESTION: Old. It was old.
SECRETARY RICE: Pardon me?
QUESTION: It was old, too. They’re doing it for a while.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Been doing it for a while. The one thing that I see that I do see and that it goes back to the question, people say why, well you talked to the Soviet Union, why don’t you talk — is that what we were able to establish with the Soviet Union was a strong position of leverage over time. Whether it was sanctions that not only were aimed at Soviet military power, but at Soviet hi-tech. I remember once saying to someone, (inaudible) a lot of phones. You go into an office in the Kremlin, there are 10 phones on the desk. Well, it’s because we have denied them the switching technology that allows you to switch between lines.
We had the strongest military alliance in history. And we talked not just with the Soviet Union but to people like Solzhenitsyn and the dissidents and made it possible for people who wanted to challenge the system, to challenge it. I think Iran will be different. The formula for dealing with Iran, it will be different. But I do know that if Iraq emerges as a stable Shia-led, non-theocratic democracy, but that’s a real problem for Iran. It’s a real problem for its legitimacy, with Najaf being in Iraq and it’s a real problem for its narrative about what it is because one thing that is common between the two is the Iranians have a narrative about Iran’s role in Islam.
QUESTION: And is the possibility of a theocratic Shia regime part of the danger to the — to our interests in Iraq?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, yeah, it would have been except I don’t think that’s likely to be (inaudible.)
QUESTION: You’re not going to worry about that.
SECRETARY RICE: No. I think the more serious issue and it’s why the President has been putting forward what he’s put forward is that you get more — that you get failure — more chaos, which then allows Iran to essentially play inside of Iraq in a major way, but that’s the more likely near-term danger.