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Rice on Obama Diplomacy

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke out Monday on Sen. Barack Obama’s diplomatic approach to hostile countries, during an exchange with Lukman Ahmed of BBC Arabic Television.

Rice stressed that the Bush administration’s tough stand on Iran was backed by multilateral agreements and prior U.N. resolutions, while sounding a positive note on high-level meetings. Once Iran suspends its enrichment program, she said “we’re prepared to talk to Iran at anytime.”

Transcript from the State Dept.:

QUESTION: Let’s move to Iran. The Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, mentioned his willingness to talk to Iran if it’s going to produce any result. Why your position was the opposite? Was your policy toward Iran based on ideological stand or political strategy, and can you explain?

RICE: Well, let’s remember that the policy toward Iran is a policy not just of the United States but also of the European 3 – Germany, Britain and France – and Russia and China, which is to say that there are two tracks. If Iran is willing to negotiate and to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing, and accept the very generous offer that the six have put on the table, including, by the way, an offer for civil nuclear power, then there’s an open path to not just negotiation about the nuclear program but negotiation about anything that Iran wishes to talk about.

I hardly think that that’s saying that we won’t talk to Iran. We’re perfectly ready to talk to Iran. But what we don’t want to do is to give Iran cover to continue improving its nuclear programs that could lead to a nuclear weapon, which, by the way, no one in the international community wants to see Iran with a nuclear weapon. So my question has always been not why won’t the United States talk to Tehran, why won’t Tehran talk to the United States.

QUESTION: But you haven’t had a visit at a higher level, you know, in talking with Iran till now, only with strong conditions.

RICE: Well, those conditions are set by four Security Council resolutions, not just by the United States. But we’re prepared to talk to Iran at anytime. But suspend the program, even for a while, and demonstrate that there is not a desire to have a nuclear weapon.

It’s no Powell endorsement, but Rice is saying that greater engagement with Iran is a fine objective, suggesting that Obama might be on to something, while still disagreeing on the preconditions required for high-level meetings.

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