Iran Nuclear NewsAP Interview: Rice says sanctions affecting Iran

AP Interview: Rice says sanctions affecting Iran

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ImageAP: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the sting of international sanctions is forcing at least some Iranian leaders to second-guess the regime's rebuff of world demands that it roll back its disputed nuclear program.

The Associated Press

ImageWASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the sting of international sanctions is forcing at least some Iranian leaders to second-guess the regime's rebuff of world demands that it roll back its disputed nuclear program.

"The Iranians are paying real costs for their behavior," Rice told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview Monday on the Iraq war, piracy off Somalia's coast, Mideast peace prospects and more.

"It hasn't yet convinced them that they have to change their course, but there are plenty of voices being heard inside that government that are talking about the costs and about whether or not they've made a mistake in getting themselves so deeply isolated."

Rice did not name names, and Iran's diffuse power structure can make it hard for outsiders, especially the United States, to know whose opinion matters in setting policy.

The United States helped lead a drive at the United Nations to sanction Iran for an extensive nuclear development program that many nations suspect could lead to an atomic weapon. The sanctions were never as strong as the U.S. wanted, and they have had no visible effect on Iranian policy. Rice insisted, however, that U.N. and other penalties are forcing hard financial choices on a nation already under economic stress.

Rice spoke shortly before flying to New York to attend two days of talks at the U.N. on a range of topics, possibly including Iran, which insists that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful energy use.

Without predicting that Iran would heed international calls to stop its nuclear activities, Rice said there is reason to believe the accumulating costs created by economic sanctions will make a difference at some point.

"Sooner or later they are going to have to deal with the fact — particularly with declining oil prices — that those costs are going to become pretty acute," she said.

The Bush administration's top diplomat, in a farewell interview with AP reporters and editors at the State Department, strongly defended the U.S. intervention in Iraq as worth the cost in lives, money and heartache.

Trying to put the unsettling image of an Iraqi television reporter hurling his shoes at a visiting President Bush in the best possible light, Rice said it demonstrates how far the former dictatorship has come.

The shoe incident Sunday in Baghdad "is a kind of sign of the freedom that people feel in Iraq," Rice said.

The Iraqi man yelled at Bush that the shoes — a gesture of profound disdain in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world — were a goodbye present to a dog.

Bush brushed it off, and Rice called it insignificant in comparison with the development of a pluralistic democratic government in a country once devastated by Saddam Hussein's brutal rule.

On other topics, Rice:

_Said that during her U.N. trip, she would consult with foreign diplomats on the continuing instability in Somalia and the rampant piracy off its coastline. The administration favors creating a multinational peacekeeping force for Somalia, but is not yet ready to push for a Security Council vote on the matter. Despite concerns by U.S. military officials in recent days, Rice also defended the U.S. proposal for U.N. authorization to pursue pirates ashore in Somalia. She said the Bush administration is united behind the idea that American or other forces might need to take on pirates under "hot pursuit" on land.

_Urged more pressure from Zimbabwe's neighbors to force President Robert Mugabe to step down, saying the political, economic and health crisis that has developed on his watch "simply can't go on." She said a more comprehensive, regional approach is needed because up to now, "we're putting plugs in a dike."

_Said the United States, Japan, Russia, China and South Korea agree on how to pressure the North Koreans to make commitments on inspections of its nuclear program. Four days of talks in Beijing last week ended in a stalemate due to Pyongyang's refusal to make written commitments on inspections of its nuclear programs, but Rice said there is still time to continue consulting.

_Said the U.S. wants the U.N. Security Council to enshrine Bush's Israeli-Palestinian peace effort as the best chance yet to end the six-decade conflict. The talks begun at Annapolis, Md., last year should not be dropped by the incoming Obama administration for failure to meet a stated goal of a peace framework on Bush's watch, she said.

"The Security Council will make clear that that is the basis" for continuing peace efforts, Rice said.

The resolution calls on the Israelis and Palestinians "to fulfill their obligations" under the Annapolis process and for all nations and international groups "to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations."

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