Iran Focus: London, Sep. 26 – The following are excerpts of an interview by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Iran Focus
London, Sep. 26 – The following are excerpts of an interview by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal on Monday:
SECRETARY RICE: Well, thanks. Let me just say two or three words and then well just open up. Im always quite aware that academics can go on in 50-minute slots about things that nobody actually wanted to hear, so I tried to avoid doing so. But I do think Id like to just make a couple of points that this is a very challenging time in international politics and I see it as a time when were going through a big historic transformation. And so I am probably less concerned on a day-to-day basis by the turbulence that we see and I think theres a tendency present company excepted of course in reporting to report the turbulence on a daily if not hourly basis. And when youre in the midst of a big historic transformation youre going to have a lot of turbulence. And so I think the important thing is to try to understand the underlying trends that are emerging and to be concerned about whether or not those trends are moving in the right direction, not what is happening on any given day.
In the Middle East, I think those trends are moving in the right direction but I think that we got a very big wakeup call in the summer with the war in Lebanon because in a way that it had not really been clarified before the Middle East with all of its historic animosities and so forth, I think had to confront its modern its current environment, which is one in which extremism on one side and moderation on the other came into pretty sharp relief. And that has been very clearly recognized now, I believe, by the moderate Arab states the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians by moderates in the kind of fledgling democracies that are there, whether it be Iraq or Lebanon or even the Palestinian territories, and the supporter, the financier, the inspiration for those extremist forces like Hezbollah and Hamas, I think is now clearly in everybodys mind Tehran, and that has given a kind of clarity to what the challenge is from Iran, not just on the nuclear side, not just on the internal politics side, but literally on Irans ambitions for the region as a whole.
So that means that I think the next several months, leading probably into several years, will be trying to find a way to rally moderate forces on behalf of emerging democratic moderate forces in the region to withstand what I think is a now quite substantial push against them by extremists and by Iranian-led extremism.
That will take some time. That will take some thought to what kinds of institutional responses there need to be. It will take understanding almost everything that were looking at with Iran in that context. But most importantly, its going to take some real effort at strengthening those moderate democratizing forces in Iraq, in Lebanon, in the Palestinian territories.
I cite the time factor here because I dont think that this is a battle, if you will, or a struggle thats going to be won on George W. Bushs watch. I think the framework can be laid, but I think the struggle is not going to be won on his watch. Now, that is not to by any means diminish the central struggle in the war on terror against al-Qaida and their progeny, but it is another more geostrategic element that for the first time I think puts a state sponsor of terror in a very key position geostrategically. Terrorist groups without state sponsors are obviously extremely dangerous and can do great damage, as we saw with al-Qaida. Terrorists who are the arms and legs and kind of tentacles of a state with considerable assets at its disposal has the potential to have the potential to change the kind of geostrategic picture. And I think were dealing with both simultaneously.
So with that opening, let me just ask whats on your mind. I just want to say this personally. When I was in government the last time, I was here for the end of a great transformation, the end of the Cold War and all the work that had been done for almost 50 years to solidify democracy and resist communism and it ultimately weakened communism to a point that it collapsed of its own weight in Europe with a lot of pressure from the outside but ultimately just collapsed from within. So I guess for having been around to enjoy that, I get to be around at the beginning of another great historic transformation and its considerably harder, the beginning than the end.
QUESTION: Can I pick up on that exact point, because some of us were here through that period and remember Albert Wohlstetter saying he didnt think hed live to see the Berlin Wall come down. Iran and its nuclear capability are we possibly heading towards another deterrence model with them, which seems to me would effectively put us back in the Cold War living in a state of mutual assured destruction? And you know, as you say, for those of us who went through the last one, that would be pretty disturbing.
SECRETARY RICE: I dont think were necessarily headed to no, I dont think were headed to a deterrence model because I dont think that Iran currently has that level of capability but we have to accept that level of capability. I mean, remember that what happened in 1949 the Soviet Union exploded a nuclear weapon five years ahead of schedule, the Soviet Union was occupying half of Europe. At that point, your options are pretty limited as to how to confront that and you slide fairly easily into a deterrence model because there really isnt a way to arrest the Soviet nuclear Soviet nuclear program.
I think we still have a chance to arrest the Iranian nuclear program in its relative infancy and we also have a chance because I think Iranian power in the region is also not as advanced as Soviet power was as a result of World War II. And remember again, the Soviet Union was deep into the heart of Europe as a result of World War II. So expelling the Soviet Union at that point was a very, very tall order which I think rightly they decided instead to try to contain, as Kennan put it, until the Soviet Union had to turn to deal with its own internal contradictions.
This time I think weve got a chance to resist Iranian push into the region, but we better get about it. I mean, its not the sort of thing that you can just let continue in its current form. Its why you have to resist Hezbollah. Its why you have to try to strengthen the moderate Lebanese forces, which is not an easy matter. Its why you have to resist the Damascus Hamas, creating a situation in the Palestinian territories where moderates can emerge. It is why in the final analysis a stable Shia-led but not dominated government in Iraq is at the core of all of this. There is no surprise that the Iranians in many ways I think fear most a successful Iraqi nontheocratic government where Shia are afforded one man, one vote and therefore have a kind of rightful political place but manage to incorporate with the Kurds and Sunnis into a national unity government, again thats nontheocratic. Thats got to be Irans worst nightmare and thats what youve really got to work for. So I think weve got time to not get into a mutually assured destruction model.
QUESTION: On that point, the diplomacy that youve been leading on Iran has been focused mainly on the IAEA and UN and it looks kind of Sisyphean from our point of view, not least because countries like China, France and Russia dont seem particularly eager to take the sorts of steps that would plausibly deter Iran or make it think twice about its nuclear ambitions. Instead, Iran is just flouting deadlines with impunity and Europe seems to will to the French or the Russians and Chinese seem to be happy to go along with it. Are you considering as you take the UN route alternative measures to make the Iranians reassess their nuclear program and not just the threat of a UN Security Council resolution or another pseudo-deadline?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, first of all, I wouldnt draw too much of a conclusion just yet as to what the Chinese and the Russians will do. Weve actually had very good discussions at the political directors level this last week or so about what a resolution, a sanctions resolution under Article 41, Chapter 7 would look like if in fact the Iranians dont finally decide to suspend their enrichment program.
Now, to be absolutely fair, any such resolution will not look like a resolution that was written unilaterally by the United States. You can understand that. But it is also the case that a Security Council resolution which puts Iran under Article 41, Chapter 7 has collateral effects on the willingness of private companies, private banks, to do business with Iran. Because if you are making decisions which have a reputational component for instance and youre facing making those decisions when a state is under Security Council resolutions, particularly Article 7 resolutions, thats a different environment. And so I wouldnt also underestimate the collateral effects of whatever resolution there is in the Security Council.
You saw that Hank Paulson was out to inform, and it really was just an informational session central bankers, finance ministers, some private entities about how we think the Iranians shield their illicit financial activities. And its his responsibility after all as U.S. Secretary of Treasury to protect the integrity of the financial system from people using it for financing of weapons of mass destruction or terrorist financing. This is a tack, a track I guess I should call it, that we began working when John Snow was here and weve been working all along, and we think it will have an effect.
Iran is not North Korea. Its not isolated and it is pretty integrated into the international financial system. And that actually makes its potential isolation more damaging to Iran than for instance North Korea which, as you notice, has not been too thrilled with even the rather modest financial measures that weve taken against North Korea. So yes, there are other things that are going on.
QUESTION: Do you think that there is there are differences well, how do you read the Iranian whats going on in the Iranian Government? Do you think that there are differences that can be exploited in how to approach the nuclear program or the United States its the Presidents decision to lay in to Khatami? Someone suggested that the President — that this was his attempt to listen to alternative voices. For those of us who can recall though going back 20 years, other attempts to find Iranian moderates never ends happily. So what do you see going on in Tehran now?
SECRETARY RICE: I do not believe were going to find Iranian moderates. The question is are we going to find Iranian reasonables. (Laughter.) And thats an important distinction because if youre looking for people who are, you know, prepared to lead the revolution toward a more favorable relationship with the United States and all of those things that has led to some 25 years of looking for those people, usually ending up in some major failure in American foreign policy. I dont think youre going to find them.
But are there possible people in that government that do not want to endure the kind of isolation that theyre headed toward, where I think they will find it very difficult to maintain the integration that they have? You know, we forget that with the exception of the United States most countries have diplomatic relations with Iran, most countries trade. Their two big trading parties Japan, Italy and theyre facing, if they continue down the road that theyre on, isolation. The question is are there people who wish to avoid that isolation.
QUESTION: What would Irans response to the sanctions be, do you think? The financial sanctions.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I dont know. I mean, there are limitations on the oil card because ultimately you have to sell it in order to be able to use its proceeds. There are limitations that are because Iran imports 40 percent of its refined products so there are limitations there. There are those who think that it might be to get nastier in the region, and thats always a possibility.
QUESTION: It was notable in the Presidents speech at the United Nations that he didnt issue a challenge to the United Nations. He sort of spoke over the heads of the leaders to the Iranian people but he didnt say anything about sort of the credibility of the international system and the importance of should anything be read into that?
SECRETARY RICE: No, no, because weve been saying that, you know, the international system has to I think if you read an interview he just recently, he talks about, you know, you have to be credible and so forth. No, it was just that he wanted to be very concise in speaking to the Iranian people and not muddy the message.
QUESTION: What do you think about a gasoline embargo on Iran?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just I dont think that it was anything that you have to look at it in the near term and Im not sure that it would have the desired effect. One of the problems that we have is if indeed you would like not to have a situation in which you reinforce the leaderships desire to make their people feel that America is anti-Iranian people, then you want to stay away from things that have a bad effect on the Iranian people to the degree that you can. You know, weve talked people have talked for instance about barring Iranian students or barring Iranian there was at one point the World Cup, you know, bar them from the World Cup or something like that.
The Iranian regime has been pretty insistent on a line of reasoning that this is not between the United States and the Iranian regime; this is between the United States and Iran, the culture, the people, its great national pride. And thats something we really do have to fight against and some believe a gasoline embargo might play into that.
QUESTION: Are you optimistic that the international system is going to work here, that the Security Council for example will be able to agree on a level of pressure that will be sufficiently great to force the Iranians to change tack?
SECRETARY RICE: I do believe that the international system will agree on a level of pressure. I think it will evolve over time. I dont think youre going to see an all-in Security Council resolution at the beginning. But as I was noting, you get both direct and collateral effects from Security Council resolutions and I think that the Iranians frankly have to worry more about the collateral effect than they do about anything the Security Council might actually sanction because, again, Iran is a pretty integrated entity and if you start making it start adding to the environment of uncertainty about whether Iran is a good place to be engaged, and I think its going to be very difficult for them. Youre already seeing major banks pull out of Iran. Youve already seen companies thinking again about their investments. You know this business better than most. If you sit on the board of a company or a bank and there are there is the potential for some kind of action against an Iranian client with whom youre dealing, thats not a very comfortable position. And so I think that the Iranians have a collateral problem.
QUESTION: You noted at the beginning that the Soviets tested a nuclear weapon five years ahead of schedule. How confident are you that we have time to allow pressure to build up and for the international community to come around to the nature*, you know, the level of the threat?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the problem is of course you never know what you dont know, particularly in a fairly opaque place like Iran. I dont think it is quite as opaque frankly as Joseph Stalins Russia was and you have to remember that the way that we found out about Natanz was through reporting of dissidents who had been told things by people inside Iran.
So one of the things that we have to do is we have to increase our capability to mine resources and intelligence about Iran. And one of the challenges that we have is we havent been in the country for 26 years. And you would be surprised what it does to both your diplomatic and intelligence capability to not be in the country. One of the things that weve done you will not believe this. The Department of State did not have an Iran desk, did not have an Iran desk. Why? Because we didnt have relations with Iran. So why would you have an Iran desk if you didnt have relations with it? Well, the first thing we did is we created an Iran desk. The second thing is that weve actually —
QUESTION: So is there no North Korea desk either?
SECRETARY RICE: No, theres a North Korea officer but theres no desk. Now, so it just sort of shows, you know, the thinking that foreign relations is those with whom you do relations rather than kind of foreign policy.
QUESTION: And why —
SECRETARY RICE: And could I just so one thing weve done is we are going to in Dubai create a dedicated Iran section that sort of mirrors the work that they did in the 1930s in when we didnt have relations with the Soviet Union, so we had Riga station which is where George Kennan worked initially.
So Im not I cant tell you Im absolutely confident. I can tell you I think we have better insights into Iran. And we have to work quickly, obviously, but we also have to work smart and that means probably trying to cut off some of their access to foreign help because that is for many people the long pole in the tent on how fast we can move.
QUESTION: Why does Europe, Russia, China see less concern about Irans nuclear ambitions than we do? You mentioned how integrated Iran is and the trading partnership they have. Is this just a case of them putting economic interests ahead of their security concerns?
SECRETARY RICE: I dont think so. I think theres great concern about Iran and I actually think the Europeans have been very strong on this. Its why for instance they have never permitted negotiations to go forward without suspension. I mean, theyre the ones who initially set this condition. And with the Europeans there hasnt been much daylight because us and the Europeans about what you do if the Iranians dont go along. I think with the Russians and the Chinese youve got a couple of things going and theyre a little bit different. The Russians actually believe that and I think I actually believe them they believe that there are downsides to sanctions, including the possibility that the Iranians may leave the NPT and kick out all inspectors and at that point you have no eyes and ears.
Now, I happen to think that the worst situation is that they, you know, continue their program and then they kick out the inspectors and theyve made progress. But you can see that its not an unreasonable concern.
Secondly, I think that the Russians, who live very close to the Iranians, do worry about the response that I was just saying to Melanie, which is they get tougher in the region.
So I wouldnt be so quick to say that people are just putting their economic interests ahead. I do think theres a genuine debate about how best to handle the situation. The good news is though that debate ended with Resolution 1696 because we all agreed that if the Iranians dont suspend, well seek Security Council sanctions.