September 29th, 2013

Exclusive: U.S. National Security Advisor Dr. Susan Rice on historic contact with Iran

Today on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice.  They spoke about the historic contact between the political leadership of the United States and Iran, as well as the ongong chemical weapons negotiations with Syria.

A full transcript of this interview is available after the jump.  Archived full show transcripts are available here.

Fareed Zakaria GPS airs on Sundays at 10:00am and 1:00pm Eastern on CNN/U.S. and at 3:00pm Eastern on CNN International.



FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, GPS: Joining me now is President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice. Welcome, Ambassador Rice.

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Thank you, Fareed. Good to be with you.

ZAKARIA:  So the president has now spoken to President Rouhani. John Kerry has met with his counterpart. Do you think that the Iranians are negotiating seriously?

RICE:  Well, it’s too soon to know that, Fareed.  What happened earlier this week is that Secretary Kerry joined by the foreign ministers of Russia and China, the U.K., France and Germany, met and — and, of course, the EU chief negotiator, Cathy Ashton, met for the first time at the foreign minister level with the new Iranian foreign minister.  That was a constructive discussion, but it really was a scene-setter in which the Iranians underscored their commitment not to pursue a nuclear weapon, but peaceful nuclear energy, where we and others underscored that Iran had to meet its international obligations under Security Council resolutions and that the sanctions would remain until those obligations were satisfied. And yet both sides also committed to continue the diplomacy.  This month — or next month, rather, in mid-October, in Geneva, were the negotiations will begin in earnest and the sides will have the opportunity to pick up where they left off some months ago, hopefully with a new Iranian negotiating position, and one that is consistent with the message that President Rouhani delivered across New York this week, which is that they sense a degree of urgency to resolving this, that they are, indeed, committed to doing so at the negotiating table, and that they only seek nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Obviously, we and others in the international community have every reason to be skeptical of that and we need to test it and any agreement must be fully verifiable and enforceable.

ZAKARIA:  The president said both in his U.N. speech and in the remarks on Friday, that he respected — the United States respects Iran’s right to access peaceful nuclear energy.  That wording made me think that it’s not clear that he is saying that he respects their right to actually enrich uranium, which is part of — which could be part of peaceful nuclear energy program. Is it the position of the United States that Iran cannot enrich uranium?

RICE:  Well, Fareed, those words were chosen very deliberately.  The United States has not spoken about a right of Iran to enrich.  We have said that as a member of the NPT, in the context of Iran meeting its international obligations — that means fulfilling its responsibilities under the IAEA resolutions, as well as the U.N. Security Council resolutions, that once is has done that we would recognize that it, like every other nation, as a good-standing member of the NPT has a right to the use of peaceful nuclear energy. Now that is, obviously, a very long held, uh, position, and — and, uh, it’s not a new position expressed by the United States or by others.  But we’re some distance from that being achievable, obviously, because right now, Iran remains in non-compliance with its obligations under the Security Council resolutions.

ZAKARIA:  Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel set out conditions that he believed Iran would have to fulfill for the sanctions to be lifted. Are those conditions also the United States’? Are they similar?

RICE:  Obviously, we are in constant contact and communication with our Israeli allies and other key allies in this process.  And we have been largely united in agreeing on the process going forward, and on what is necessary to give us a shared degree of confidence.  And when I say us, I mean all of us in the international community, a shared degree of confidence that at the end of this process, that Iran’s nuclear program, if there is to be one, is only for peaceful purposes. I’m not going to get into the contours of a negotiation that — that really hasn’t gotten underway in any meaningful way, but rather to say that we have been on this program in the P5-plus-1 and with Israel and other partners in the region, and, indeed, within the entire international community, as enshrined in Security Council resolutions on insisting on the steps that need to be taken.

ZAKARIA:  One of the things the president talked about on Friday was also the obstinacy of Congress in dealing with some issues. Wouldn’t it be fair for the Iranians to look at all this and say even If we were to comply, the Iran — the Iranians, uh, President Obama will not be able to get Congress to lift the sanctions? There are 10 acts of Congress and those are the most harsh sanctions on Iran. Will Congress lift the sanctions if President Obama says Iran has moved and negotiated in good faith?

RICE:  Well, look, Fareed, we’ve worked in good collaboration with Congress on the issue of Iran over the course of many years.  There are many layers of sanctions, as you know.  There are the multilateral sanctions that we worked very hard to achieve and achieved an unprecedented degree of pressure in the United Nations Security Council.  There are sanctions that the European Union has imposed.  And there are sanctions that we have taken on a national basis, legislated by Congress, but also a number that have been taken on the basis of executive action. So we would, obviously, be working very closely with Congress through the course of any negotiation.  And if it were to bear fruit, uh, we would be working to bring Congress, uh, along with us. The goals have always been the same.  The goals of our national sanctions as well as the multilateral sanctions are not to be an end in themselves, but to supply sufficient pressure so that Iran feels compelled to give up its nuclear program and any ambition for nuclear weapons at the negotiating table. And I would think that if that goal were achieved in a verifiable and sustainable manner, that Congress would be able to see that it contributed very significantly toward getting to that place.

ZAKARIA:  Susan, a quick question before we go to our break. Is this just a nuclear deal with Iran or is there a prospect of actual normalization of relations between the United States and Iran?

RICE:  Well, Fareed, I really wouldn’t want to get too far out front.  We’ve had, you know, just to — just on Friday, the first conversation between President Obama and the new president of Iran, the first communication in almost 35 years.  Secretary Kerry met with his counterpart, the first meaningful exchange, at that level in the same period of time.  And the negotiations really, at the P5-plus-1 have not even begun in a substantive way under the new leadership in Iran. So it’s way too soon to presume either the prospect of an agreement on the nuclear program, which we hope to be able to achieve, but we’re quite sober about the potential for that. And that, obviously, would need to be a first step, before going on to discuss other aspects of the U.S.-Iranian relationship which has a long way to go to get to the state of normalization. But, obviously, ultimately, if we could get there that would be in the interests of the Iranian people, whom the United States and the American people have had longstanding respect for.  It’s a very talented group of people in a country with a rich history.  And if we could have a peaceful resolution of the nuclear program and an end to Iran’s support for terrorism and other behavior that has concerned us over many years, then, uh, we could begin a serious discussion about the future.

ZAKARIA:  Susan Rice, stay right there. We will be right back in a moment to talk about Syria and what’s going to happen there. Later in the show, two exclusives with two presidents from Turkey and Somalia. Stay with us.


ZAKARIA:  And we are back with Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser. Ambassador Rice, the president said that if Syria does not comply with the U.N. resolution about chemical weapons, there will be consequences. But there are no consequences mapped out in the resolution. That was something the Russians did not agree to. So does that mean the United States would take unilateral military action if Syria does not comply?

RICE:  It means, certainly, that we reserve that option, Fareed, to take whatever enforcement action we deem appropriate whether military or otherwise. But I think it’s important for people to understand what this resolution accomplishments.  In fact, it does say in very clear-cut terms, that if there is non-compliance on the part of the Syrians, there will be action taken under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.  Chapter 7 is the only chapter of the Charter that calls for and allows for enforcement action.  And, obviously, in any circumstance, we would need to come back to the Security Council if we sought multilateral endorsement of such enforcement action in the circumstances, have a negotiation about what that action ought to be. But it’s very significant that this strong and binding resolution which holds Syria to the obligation that the United States and Russia negotiated in Geneva will, in fact, envision very explicitly further consequences in the case of non-compliance.  That was a very strong element of the resolution that was negotiated by Secretary Kerry with the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, going back to Geneva a couple of weeks ago.

ZAKARIA: Inherent in this — in this resolution is the necessity for President Assad to be a kind of partner in the sense that he will have to implement these, this resolution and cooperate with the U.N. inspectors. And yet the position of the United States government, as expressed by the president, is regime change.  Assad has to go. How can you — how can you do both at the same time, partner with him to destroy the chemical weapons and at the same time, be trying to get rid of him?

RICE:  Well, first of all, Fareed, the position of the United States has been and remains very clear, and that is that Assad must go. He has lost his legitimacy.  He has gassed his own people.  He has inflicted horrific violence on his country that’s spilled over into the region. So our strong view is that there isn’t a viable future for Syria that is governed by Assad. Now, the resolution and the agreement doesn’t speak about Assad as an individual, it speaks about the requirements and the obligations of the Syrian government. And that’s an important distinction, that whatever Syrian government is there, near-term or in the future, will have the same obligation to implement these commitments and this resolution faithfully. So this is not specific to Assad.  It’s specific to what is now the Syrian regime and those obligations would redound to any successor government.

ZAKARIA:  There was a report — there have been several reports that some of the key rebel groups in Syria, one led by Mohammad Al Najjar, which is quite a large one, have broken ties with the moderate political opposition — the opposition in exile — and have cast their lot with the Al Qaeda affiliates. Does the administration still believe that the vast majority of the Syrian rebels are moderates and democrats, even as some of these groups are announcing the need for an Islamic state?

RICE:  Well, Fareed, there have long been very significant divisions within the opposition, as you well know.  There have been those that are moderate, in our judgment, those that are extremists and those that are somewhere in-between. And that remains the case. The U.S. policy has long been to support the moderate opposition. And we are ramping up our support, political, economic and otherwise to that moderate opposition, including its military component on the ground. We have been very careful to try to avoid in a way strengthening the extremist element of the opposition. And while the fragmentation that we’re seeing adds to the complexity of the situation on the ground, in some respects, it’s clarifying and in some respects, it makes it easier for the United States to ensure that the support we’re providing is going exactly to those people that we intend it to go.

ZAKARIA:  If Assad does not comply and if Congress does not pass an authorization or approve a resolution approving of the strike, as seemed likely the last time around, would the president still use his powers as commander-in-chief to authorize a strike?

RICE:  The president has been very clear that we remain postured to act if — if the choice is — is taken by him and if the necessity arises.  We’re not taking any options off the table.  And the president has been very clear that as commander-in-chief he has the authority to act in the interests of the United States and to use force if necessary.

ZAKARIA:  Ambassador Susan Rice, thank you so much for joining us.

RICE:  Thank you.

ZAKARIA:  The national security adviser to the president.

RICE:  Thank you, Fareed.