Video: Rice: Negotiations with Iran are ‘finite’

  1. Transcript of: Rice: Negotiations with Iran are ‘finite’

    But first, news about Iran in this morning's newspapers. The New York Times reports they may be closer now to producing a nuclear weapon than originally thought. It comes as the chief international weapons inspector arrived in Tehran last night and met this morning with Iran 's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad . Was it -- what does it all mean for the administration's efforts now to negotiate with Iran ? Here with us live, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations , Susan Rice .

    Ambassador Rice , welcome.

    MS. SUSAN RICE: Thank you. Good to be with you.

    GREGORY: Let's get right to this New York Times reporting this morning. This is what the article actually says. The headline: " Report Says Iran Has the Data to Make a Nuclear Bomb . Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential

    analysis that Iran has acquired `sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable' atom bomb . The report by experts in the IAEA stresses in its introduction that its conclusions are tentative, subject to further confirmation of the evidence, which it says came from intelligence agencies and its own investigations. But the report's conclusions, described by senior European officials, go well beyond the public positions taken by several governments, including the United States ." First off, does the U.S. concur with these conclusions?

    MS. RICE: Well, David , I'm not going to get into characterizing the substance of a confidential report or our own intelligence. But suffice it to say, our whole approach is predicated on an urgent need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capacity. And that's why a united P5+1 last week presented Iran with a very plain choice: Prove to our satisfaction that their program is, as they claim, for peaceful purposes and open up their facilities to inspections, freeze their uranium enrichment program, commit, as they have done, and follow through on that commitment to provide fuel for enrichment outside of the country or face real pressure and consequences.

    GREGORY: But they have the know-how to make a bomb.

    MS. RICE: I'm not in a position to characterize that report or our own intelligence. But the point is whether they have it now, whether they seek it or whether they will obtain it down the road, we are very focused on preventing that from occurring.

    GREGORY: Well, why can't you say when you think they're going to have it or if they have it now?

    MS. RICE: Well, there are various assessments and they don't all align. But the point is we share the concern that an Iran with nuclear weapons would pose a great threat to U.S. national security and the security of, of allies and partners in the region. And that is why we're very determined to take the steps necessary to prevent them from obtaining that capacity.

    GREGORY: But given this report, given that the president has talked about a deadline of September, what is the deadline for Iran to either put up, to negotiate away its nuclear potential or face consequences?

    MS. RICE: Well, we're very much in a, a period of intense negotiations now. What happened last week was a constructive beginning, but it was only a beginning, David . And the onus is now squarely on Iran to adhere to the commitments it has made. If it doesn't, time is short. We're not interested in talking for talking's sake, we're not interested in interminable negotiations. They have to demonstrate conclusively that their program is for peaceful purposes.

    GREGORY: You talk about these -- the potential for consequences. You won't negotiate indefinitely. The question is how much leverage does the U.S. really have? Charles Krauthammer , critical of the approach, saying, "Look, you don't have China and Russia really on board." This is what he wrote in an opinion piece on Friday: "Do the tally. In return for selling out Poland and the Czech Republic by unilaterally abrogating a missile-defense security arrangement that Russia had demanded be abrogated, we get from Russia ...what? An oblique hint, of possible support, for unspecified sanctions grudgingly offered and of dubious authority -- and, in any case, leading nowhere because the Chinese have remained resolute against any

    Security Council sanctions. Confusing ends and means, the Obama administration strives mightily for shows of allied unity, good feeling and pious concern about Iran's nuclear program -- whereas the real objective is stopping that program. This feel-good posturing is worse than useless, because all the time spent achieving gestures is precious time granted Iran to finish its race to acquire the bomb." Is this a cat and mouse game?

    MS. RICE: No. Look , this is a very serious process where we are together aligned with the P5+1 -- that's Russia , China , France , Britain , Germany and the United States -- presenting Iran with a very stark choice: Either they give up their nuclear weapons program conclusively to our satisfaction, or they will face additional pressure. That is the agreed position of the P5+1 . Now, it's, it's true that Russia and China have historically resisted sanctions, but we have moved Russia and China in a very constructive direction just recently on North Korea , where we now have in place, with their unanimous support, the toughest Security Council sanctions on any country in the world. We are united in presenting this choice to Iran , and Iran new -- now has the responsibility either to adhere to its obligations internationally or face that pressure.

    GREGORY: What, what crippling sanctions are you considering? What kind of pressure against Iran if they don't comply?

    MS. RICE: There are a range of, of sanctions, David , under consideration. There are those that we might pursue multilaterally in the context of the Security Council , there are others that we could do outside of the Security Council with partners in Europe and elsewhere, and then there are those that we can take by ourselves unilaterally. There's a wide range.

    GREGORY: Economic sanctions ?

    MS. RICE: Economic and otherwise. But that is one option. But right now we are in a period of intense negotiations. It's not a, it's not an infinite period , it's a very finite period .

    GREGORY: So what's the period ?

    MS. RICE: Well, we will -- we have some very important milestones that we are expecting...

    GREGORY: I know, but the president...

    MS. RICE: David ...

    GREGORY: The president has said September.

    MS. RICE: This -- no, the president said...

    GREGORY: And now you're saying a finite period . So what, what's the period ?

    MS. RICE: The president said that we would take stock in September, and indeed we did. And we presented Iran with a very stark choice on October 1st . Now we have some deadlines that the Iranians themselves have committed to. They will meet October 19th at the expert level to discuss the Tehran Research Reactor . That's an important step. ElBaradei , the IAEA director, today confirmed that on October 25th the Qom reactor will be open to IAEA inspections. The

    Iranians have also said that they will come back to the table within the month of October. So we will look and see whether those steps are indeed fulfilled. If they are, that will indicate a degree of seriousness that we've not seen yet. If they're not fulfilled, then obviously we are in a two- track posture and we have the pressure track before us.

    GREGORY: You talk about engagement with Iran . Most Americans, when they think about a relationship with Iran , this is what they think about. They think about the hostage crisis back in 1979 . If I interview you a year from now, what would you like to be able to say about the U.S. relationship with Iran ?

    MS. RICE: I'd like to say that we are on track to conclusively prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capacity. You know, we've had many years, David , of drift, where we have refused to engage in negotiations, the Iranians have pursued their enrichment program unabated and we haven't been able to put in tougher sanctions. We're in a different place. We have unity among the P5 , we have a clear opportunity here...

    GREGORY: Yeah, but the question I asked was about what's, what's the relationship the U.S. would like to have with Iran ? What's the future look like?

    MS. RICE: Well, obviously the optimal outcome is an Iran without nuclear weapons , that is peacefully integrated into the international community , that no longer poses a threat to its neighbors, no longer supports terrorism, treats its people with respect and allows them to participate peacefully in a democratic process . That's the Iran we hope to see. Iran has, and the people of Iran have a tremendous history and a great opportunity to be much more constructive players in the international community or they face another choice, and that's up to them. But we hope very much that Iran would be in a position where it can be a responsible player.

updated 10/4/2009 2:35:41 PM ET 2009-10-04T18:35:41

The White House said Sunday it sees signs of progress in confronting Iran's nuclear program while members of Congress endorsed authorizing tougher U.S. economic penalties against the Tehran government.

International inspectors are to visit Iran's newly disclosed uranium enrichment site on Oct. 25. That announcement Sunday capped a furious week of diplomacy, including Thursday's session in Geneva where Iran and six world powers resumed nuclear talks.

"The fact that Iran came to the table and seemingly showed some degree of cooperation, I think, is a good thing," said retired Gen. James Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser.

"But this is not going to be an open-ended process. We want to be satisfied. We, the world community, want to be satisfied within a short period of time," Jones added. "So it's not going to be extended discussions that we're going to have before we draw our conclusions to what their real intent is. But for now, I think things are moving in the right direction."

‘A period of intense negotiations’
Suspicions about Iran's nuclear intentions have risen steadily along with fears — and some evidence — that Tehran wants to build an atomic bomb and is using what it calls a civilian nuclear energy program as cover. The Iranians are under three sets of U.N. penalties for refusing to stop enriching uranium, a key first step toward building a bomb.

"Our whole approach is predicated on an urgent need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capacity," said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"Right now, we are in a period of intense negotiations. It's not an infinite period. It's a very finite period," she said.

Rice said that in the best outcome, Iran would not have any nuclear weapons, no longer pose a threat to its neighbors or support terrorism, and treat its people with respect, allowing them to participate peacefully in a democratic process. "That's the Iran we hope to see."

Current penalties have failed to change Tehran's course and have been watered down through efforts by Russia and China. Those countries, along with the U.S., Britain and France, can block action in the U.N. Security Council.

Rice said the U.S. had three options: to push sanctions through the U.N.; work with European allies to punish Iran; or to take unilateral action in conjunction with the other possible courses of action.

‘Iran Week’ in the Senate
Members of Congress are ready to authorize steps the U.S. can take against Iran, in addition to possible U.N. action.

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Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the U.S. "cannot allow talking and negotiation to replace strong action if we feel we have to take that step."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he would like Congress to pass measures that would "empower the president and our country to be tough and to put some actions behind words. So let's have 'Iran Week' in the Senate and get something done."

Lawmakers are talking about trying to block gas and refined petroleum exports to Iran, possibly causing serious disruptions in the lives of ordinary Iranians. Other moves could affect Iran's financial institutions and impose new trade bans.

Iran is a major oil producer but imports gasoline and refined petroleum products.

Obama has said his administration, in conjunction with Congress, is crafting plans that could target Iran's energy, financial and telecommunications sectors.

The second-ranking Senate Republican, Arizona's Jon Kyl, said "putting sticks on the table is exactly the point." He said the Iranians "never respond to anything except pressure."

Jones and Kyl were on CNN's "State of the Union," Rice spoke on NBC television's "Meet the Press," and Casey and Graham were on "Fox News Sunday."

More on: Iran

This report contains information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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