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Video and Transcript: US Ambassador to UN Rice on NBC (4 October)

Video, Transcript, and Analysis: National Security Advisor Jones on CBS (4 October)

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In terms of foreign policy, this is a relatively insignficant interview. Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, is not a heavy-hitter in the Obama Administration, so her appearance is merely a prop for the more important comments of the National Security Advisor, James Jones, on CBS and CNN.

Where this is notable is as an indicator of the domestic problems the Administration faces with the tangles in its policies. Rice stutters her way through the dilemma posed by the military's open pressure on President Obama over Afghanistan troop numbers --- "Why [won't] the president immediately grant the request of his commanders?"

And on Iran, this is simply appalling. David Gregory uses the misleading and quasi-hysterical New York Times report and the opinion of Charles Krauthammer, a drum-beater for war on Tehran, to steer the discussion towards the inevitable of "crippling sanctions". Faced with the inanities, Rice can only --- like the President she is serving --- play for time.

DAVID GREGORY: 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.

GREGORY: Let's turn to Afghanistan and the other breaking news overnight, insurgents storming an outpost, killing eight U.S. soldiers. Back in August the president the topic of Afghanistan, speaking to veterans, and this is what he said.

(Videotape, August 17, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: But we must never forget this is not a war of choice, this is a war of necessity.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: If this is a war of necessity, why wouldn't the president immediately grant the request of his commanders to fully resource this war of necessity?

MS. RICE: Well, let me begin by pointing out what has been and remains our objective here. The objective, David, is to prevent al-Qaeda from being in a position to launch attacks on the American homeland again. Our goal is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and prevent it from obtaining safe haven to come and attack us as they did on 9/11. That is the clear goal. The president set that out in March. And he said in March, when he laid out the policy, that after the Afghan elections in August we would review where we are; we would review the goals, the methods and the resources needed to obtain them. In the interim we've had several things happen. We've had General McChrystal come in with his assessment of the situation on the ground. He has said that the Taliban is, is gaining in strength and that, that we have a somewhat deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. We've had progress in Pakistan, critically important political security and even economic progress. And at the same time we've had an election in Afghanistan which has not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Afghan people. We are now in a process that I'm part of which is a very responsible process to assess where we are, how the circumstances now affect our strategic goals and what methods and resources we need to obtain them.

GREGORY: But I just...

MS. RICE: That is a responsible, necessary process.

GREGORY: That may be the case. But the question I asked is, if this is a war of necessity, as the president has said, then why would he not immediately grant the wishes of his commanders to fully resource what is a war of necessity, to fully resource--which was the promise made by presidential aides after he launched his strategy--this war of necessity?

MS. RICE: We are fully resourcing it. We have put in place 21,000 additional troops. They are still completing their deployment. We have increased the number of civilians and we have increased the financial resources to Afghanistan and Pakistan substantially. The president has to make a judgment based not only on the military assessment of his commander on the ground, also the inputs of his diplomats, his ambassadors. He has to look at the military, the security situation. We have NATO partners involved. We also have Pakistan next door, which is critically important to this equation, and the entire global effort to fight and defeat al-Qaeda. The president, as commander in chief, has to look at more than what is happening in a single theater. He has to look at what is necessary to advance our goal of defeating al-Qaeda globally. That's a clearly very important theater. We're going to do what is necessary to accomplish our goal in Afghanistan, but we're not going to do it without having taken stock, without going through a comprehensive and responsible assessment where all voices are heard and the president makes a judgment. There's no decision more serious, David, than putting more Americans into harm's way. The president will do what is necessary to keep America safe.


MS. RICE: But he's going to do it after a thoughtful and thorough analysis.

GREGORY: General McChrystal said this, speaking to military specialists in London about the difference in views in the national security team about whether you go in with kind of a lighter footprint, without committing more forces, just focus on counterterrorism. This is what he said earlier this week.

(Videotape, Thursday)

GEN. STANLEY McCHRYSTAL: You have to navigate from where you are, not from where you wish you were. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Is the president committed to at least not leaving Afghanistan unless it is stable?

MS. RICE: The president is committed to doing what is essential to keep America safe. And obviously we have made important and substantial investments in Afghanistan. We are not talk--nobody's talking about walking away from Afghanistan.

GREGORY: No, but will the president stay in Afghanistan as long--until it is stable?

MS. RICE: The, the president will do what is necessary to keep America safe. And that relates not only to Afghanistan, but Pakistan, where we face a very serious...

GREGORY: But you won't commit to staying in Afghanistan until it's stable?

MS. RICE: We'll, we'll commit to staying in Afghanistan as long as it takes to keep America safe, David. We have challenges and threats...

GREGORY: But those could be two different things, right?

MS. RICE: They have--there are challenges and threats that face the United States that come from multiple quarters.

GREGORY: Right. But you can see, those, those could be two different things.

MS. RICE: They may or may not be two different things. I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of this review. It's a very important step that needs to be taken to ensure that we are not just reacting and operating on autopilot. The president's responsibility to the American people is to look at circumstances as they evolve, to make a judgment about what is necessary in the current circumstances to ensure that we are doing all that we can to prevent al-Qaeda from being in a position to attack us, whether in--from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Southeast Asia or any of the other places where we have been active and on the offensive against al-Qaeda.

GREGORY: Is politics the biggest factor here?

MS. RICE: Absolutely not.

GREGORY: Is the, the political pressure from the left not to escalate in the war a big factor for the president?

MS. RICE: Absolutely not. This is a president who is going to do what is necessary, irrespective of politics, to protect the American people.

GREGORY: In the short amount of time left, going for the gold in Copenhagen. Was it a mistake for the president to go out on the world stage and, and be rebuffed by the IOC and not bring the games home?

MS. RICE: It's never a mistake for the president of the United States to be willing to fight and compete on behalf of our country. And that's what he did, and he would do it again in a nanosecond. This is--this was about competing with three other compelling candidacies for the Olympics and bringing that home to the United States. The day I'll get concerned is when we have a president in the White House who refuses to fight for the United States and compete because he's concerned about pundits or, or political criticism.

GREGORY: Finally, you--talking about the United Nations, the body where you are now serving as our ambassador. Recently during the U.N. General Assembly Meeting in New York, Americans saw this kind of parade of anti-Americanism. You see Chavez of Venezuela, Ahmadinejad of Iran and Gadhafi--who, you know, may still be speaking for as far as we know. You once said that the U.N. is imperfect but it is also indispensable. When you look at that showing, what is the indispensable part?

MS. RICE: David, there are 192 countries in the United Nations. You picked out three that provided some barroom drama during the course of the General Assembly. The United Nations is critically important to our national security because it is the one place that we can marshal with the force of law the commitment of other nations to do things that we need to protect our security. For example, when we got the Security Council last June to pass the toughest sanctions on the books today against any country in the world, North Korea, we got something that was much more powerful than anything we could muster on our own. We are not able, given transnational threats, proliferation, terrorism, climate change, pandemic, to tackle these challenges along. No country is, even one as powerful as our own. We need to marshal the active support of others. Now, sometimes the U.N. falls short, it doesn't do all that we want it to do, and particularly in cases like human rights and, and, and cases of atrocities. And that's an area where we need to, to push for improvements. But when it comes to issues of critical importance to our security, like proliferation, like terrorism, we have seen progress come from the United Nations when we can get them to come together and pressure countries like North Korea to do what is necessary to keep us and others safer.

GREGORY: All right, Ambassador Susan Rice, good luck with your work.

MS. RICE: Thank you.

GREGORY: Thank you very much.

MS. RICE: Good to be with you.

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