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Interview with Ambassador Susan Rice

Interview with Ambassador Susan Rice

By The Situation Room - September 22, 2011

BLITZER: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad incites a walkout at the United Nations with a speech full of fierce attack attacks on the United States and its allies in the western world. All of this coming at a time of heightened concern about Iran and its nuclear capabilities.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Susan Rice is the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador Rice, thanks very much for joining us.

Quickly, on Iran, is there any doubt from the U.S. government's perspective that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb?

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We are gravely concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions and their nuclear program and that's why we've taken such aggressive steps to try to set them back. The most important step we took was a little over a year ago here at the United Nations when we got the toughest sanctions regime on Iran imposed. We've also paired that with strong domestic legislation and we've utilized that to its fullest ability. We've got the European Union and a number of important trading partners to increase the economic pressure.

And that is precisely because we're concerned about the program, and it has to either be resolved, we hope, through negotiations or if not, through increased pressure.

BLITZER: But as far as the intelligence is concerned, you think that they are absolutely --

RICE: You know better than to expect me to comment on intelligence. But let me just be very clear -- the United States is gravely concerned about Iran's nuclear program and its ambitions to have what we believe is nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: Was there ever serious consideration to not allowing Ahmadinejad to come this year to the United Nations? Michele Bachmann was on my show this week --

RICE: Michele Bachmann was perhaps not aware that we have a treaty obligation as the host state of the United Nations. We are obliged when we agreed to take that responsibility in 1945 to allow representatives of all U.N. member states to travel to the United Nations.

Now, in the case of Ahmadinejad and some other unsavory heads of state who are under sanctions or other violations, they have a very limited ability. When they come to the United States, they're not allowed to travel outside of New York City. They can't engage in the normal activities that a head of state in good standing could. We have that ability and we have imposed those limitations on Ahmadinejad every year.

But we would be in violation of international law in our commitments in hosting the United Nations if we were to bar him or any other head of state from visiting.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Israeli-Palestinian --

RICE: Can I just say before we go to that, we find what Ahmadinejad does and says when he comes to the United Nations absolutely odious, hateful, anti-Semitic, unacceptable, which is why the United States for three consecutive years, including today, have led a walkout of his speech. Inevitably he comes here and says something outrageous, dishonest, and offensive, and that leads to a walkout.

So there's no indication or no suggestion that by his presence here that there is any acceptance of his policies, his rhetoric, or anything else, absolutely the opposite, and that's why many of our allies join with us in that walkout in making that point very clear.

BLITZER: That certainly was a dramatic moment. Once again, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinians are deeply disappointed by what the president said this week, maybe more what the president didn't say this week, mainly Israel must go back to the 67 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. And they're even suggesting that from their perspective, the U.S. role in negotiating the Israeli-Palestinian agreement is at the end right now. They're looking to France and other countries. You're smiling.

RICE: First of all, the United States remains centrally involved in this effort because both sides now that only the United States can play the crucial role that needs to be played.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a space and need for others to be on board. In fact, ever since the president gave his important speeches in May in which he laid out so-called principles, U.S. vision for peace, in which he talked about the need for there to be an agreement based on the 67 lines with mutually agreed swaps, it was because you know, we want very much to see other partners join us.

And we've been working on that through the quartet, through our European contacts and our contacts with other states in the region. So this is not a U.S. or others prospect. This is everybody together. But the U.S. will certainly continue to play a role.

But Wolf, the Palestinian concern about what President Obama said yesterday, first of all, the United States has been clear from the outset that the only way to accomplish the goal we all share of a Palestinian is through direct negotiations. There's no shortcut. That's just a statement of fact.

BLITZER: So, when President Abbas tomorrow presents a letter to the U.N. Security Council calling for full membership for the Palestinians, what happens?

RICE: Well, that's going to launch -- and we fully expect that will happen -- a complicated procedural process where he will submit the letter to the secretary-general of the United Nations. The secretary-general will review it, and assuming it's in proper order, he's obliged to transmit that to the Security Council.

I suspect that starting early next week, the Security Council will begin private discussions of that letter the application, and we'll be in that case able to gauge the degree of readiness or concern or opposition. But the Palestinians know that this is going to result in their becoming full members of the United Nations, because as we've made very plain, if it were to come to it, and if it were necessary, the United States would exercise its veto.

BLITZER: Do you have nine votes lined up among the 15 in the Security Council that would block any such vote?

RICE: We need to see where each member state comes out in this process. There's lots of discussions, but nobody has final word on that until members sit down and declare their positions.

But I can tell you this, Wolf, there are several states that share our concern that this is a premature action and a counterproductive one. And various states come to that conclusion from different perspectives, for different reasons, but the United States will by no means be alone in making the point this is not the way to achieve a Palestinian state. Much as we all want to see that happen, this will, we're very concerned, only set that back process backwards.

BLITZER: Good luck.

RICE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Ambassador Susan Rice.

RICE: Good to see you.

BLITZER: Good to see you here in the United Nations.

RICE: Good to be with you. 

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