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U.S. Ambassador to U.N. Urges Iran Nuclear Talks, Action on Sudan

September 21, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Bolton, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Glad to be here.

MARGARET WARNER: The Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, said today at the U.N. that Iran was — he said, “We are not seeking a nuclear bomb. We do not need a bomb.” Do you believe him?

JOHN BOLTON: I don’t think that that’s a credible statement. We’ve believed for 20 years that Iran has been seeking to acquire nuclear weapons capability. There’s no other explanation for all of the activity they have under way across the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

This isn’t the first time that they’ve denied they’re seeking nuclear weapons, and it’s not the first time they’ve been dissembling.

MARGARET WARNER: And does the United States have good intelligence, hard intelligence that what you’re saying is the case, that they are pursuing nuclear weapons capability?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, we certainly have a lot of information, but I want to stress that the information that has been made public by the International Atomic Energy Agency over the years shows the full extent of what the IAEA knows about Iran’s activities. And that information alone is inexplicable, unless Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon.

Not only that, but we also know and is public about their ballistic missile program demonstrates that they’re pursuing a capability to deliver the nuclear weapons once they create them.

Finding an international consensus

Ambassador John Bolton
U.S. Rep. to the United Nations
But let's be clear: The ball is in Iran's court. It's their obligation to suspend uranium enrichment activity.

MARGARET WARNER: He also said that Iran would be willing to negotiate a suspension of its uranium enrichment activity under what he called, quote, "fair and just" conditions. Do you see an opening here for a deal on getting these talks started?

JOHN BOLTON: I think that's just trying to throw sand in our eyes again. The international community has made it clear, through a resolution adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors overwhelmingly, by a 14-1 vote of the Security Council, by the terms of the European nations that have been negotiating with Iran, that they can have negotiations that lead to a constructive solution, if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment activity.

That's not only a condition of the United States; that's the international community's condition. Iran knows what the condition is. They so far have not been willing to accept that condition.

And the reason is very clear: They have used the negotiations of the last three years to perfect many aspects of their work on the nuclear fuel cycle. Time is on their side in that sense. So every day that goes by, where they continue their enrichment activities, they get closer to a completely indigenous capability to produce nuclear weapons.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there any flexibility in the U.S. position? French President Chirac suggested this week that perhaps three things could happen simultaneously, as a face-saving deal here: suspension of the enrichment; talks starting; and the U.N. dropping this sanctions threat. Is that doable? Is that acceptable to the United States?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, the Security Council Resolution 1696 that we adopted made it plain that sanctions would follow in the Security Council if Iran did not suspend its uranium enrichment activity. So what we're waiting for is for Iran to comply with Resolution 1696. And if they do, then obviously we're not going to pursue sanctions in the Security Council.

But let's be clear: The ball is in Iran's court. It's their obligation to suspend uranium enrichment activity.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, three weeks however have elapsed since the August 31st deadline when the Security Council had said, "Suspend the enrichment or face global sanctions." Nothing has happened on the sanctions front. Is it fair for us to conclude at this point -- I mean, we who aren't involved -- that you simply don't have the European allies on board for sanctions at this point?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think it's accurate to say that there's been no activity in the Security Council on sanctions. And I think what this demonstrates very clearly is President Bush affirming yet again what he has said repeatedly, that he seeks a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the problem posed by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

We've gone the extra mile. You could say we've gone several extra miles in order to give the Europeans space to pursue these discussions with Iran. But the foreign ministers of the five permanent members, I think, made it clear here this week that that time is not indefinite.

Moreover, we have undertaken a number of other steps, in conjunction with other countries, in terms of other aspects of Iran's dealings with the rest of the world, in the area of financial transactions, suspect exchanges of funds through terrorist fronts and cutouts. And we've also increased our activity, under the president's proliferation security initiative, to try to interdict the international trafficking in weapons and materials of mass destruction.

So while it's fair to say that we've been quiet in the Security Council since the passing of the August 31 deadline, we have not been inactive elsewhere.

An open invitation for negotiations

Ambassador John Bolton
U.S. Rep. to the United Nations
He certainly said a lot of other things that don't lead one to sanguine conclusions about our ability to do business with him, including speculating on the world without the United States and Israel. Not a very comforting thought.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how many more miles, as you put it, is the U.S. willing to grant these talks about talks between Iran and the E.U.? For instance, is it true, the reports that at that same meeting you refer to of the foreign ministers, Secretary Rice agreed with everyone else to give it at least until sometime in early October, which is at least another 10 days?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, the circumstances we're in now include the fact that the Iranian negotiator has repeatedly scheduled meetings and then cancelled them. We expected him here in New York last weekend, and then this week. He has a visa. There are no restrictions on his travel, but he never showed up.

So Javier Solana has the task of finding the Iranian negotiator, wherever he may be, and continuing the negotiations. We want to give that a chance to play out. But the time is not unlimited; that's clear.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, President Ahmadinejad had a very high profile in New York this week. He not only gave a speech; he went to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday; and he, of course, had his long press conference today.

My question is, after watching him in action, does he strike you as somebody -- do you conclude that he's a man that the West and the U.S. can do business with?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, we can do business with somebody who abides by their word and, in this particular case, who complies with Security Council resolutions, you know, respecting the United Nations. We're waiting for the president to do that.

He certainly said a lot of other things that don't lead one to sanguine conclusions about our ability to do business with him, including speculating on the world without the United States and Israel. Not a very comforting thought.

Insisting on outside assistance

Ambassador John Bolton
U.S. Rep. to the United Nations
It's time for the government of Sudan to acknowledge the inevitable and help in the transition here for the protection of its own citizens in the Darfur region.

MARGARET WARNER: Tuesday, the Sudanese president, Bashir, used his U.N. speech -- I'm switching to Darfur now -- to completely reject once again a U.N. force for Darfur. My question is: Should the U.N. at this point move to put a force in there anyway?

JOHN BOLTON: I think it's important to recognize that the next day the African Union heads of state made it very clear that they're going to extend the mandate of the existing African Union force in the Darfur region, setting up the ability of the U.N. to take over from the African Union in the very near future.

We just had a meeting today with the foreign ministers of the five permanent members and Secretary-General Annan, where 90 percent of the discussion was about Darfur. Secretary Rice and the Danish foreign minister will chair a meeting tomorrow of about 20 to 25 foreign ministers, also to discuss how to take things forward on Darfur.

The fact is, the African Union has agreed to this transition. It's critical to the implementation of the Darfur peace agreement, which the government of Sudan has agreed to. It's time for the government of Sudan to acknowledge the inevitable and help in the transition here for the protection of its own citizens in the Darfur region.

MARGARET WARNER: But this African Union force, which is there now, has been criticized by almost everyone concerned as perhaps that it's well-intentioned, but it's outgunned, outmanned, and it doesn't have the mandate to actually go in and, in a proactive sense, protect civilians; is this extended African Union force going to have the same limitations? I mean, is there any reasonable expectation that extending the force is going to do anything to quell the violence?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I don't want to paint an excessively optimistic picture, but what we're going to do in the interim, until there is a full transition to the United Nations, is we're going to try and enhance the existing A.U. force.

But this is a race against time, make no bones about it. The genocide continues. I think most estimates of the humanitarian situation are that they're getting worse. So we don't view the extension of the mandate as more than a holding action at best.

What we really need to do is ramp up our efforts to accomplish the transition, strengthening the African Union force while we can, but try to get a complete transfer to a U.N. force just as soon as possible.

A time for action

Ambassador John Bolton
U.S. Rep. to the United Nations
I think there's been substantial opposition in the Security Council from China and other countries to the efforts we've been trying to undertake. And that is a problem inherent in multilateral diplomacy in the Security Council.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Bolton, you've been at the U.N. over a year, and this humanitarian crisis has been raging for that entire time. The U.S. has been saying things such as you're saying right now about what needs to be done. What is your conclusion about why the world community and the U.S. has been, basically, impotent in this situation?

JOHN BOLTON: I think there's been substantial opposition in the Security Council from China and other countries to the efforts we've been trying to undertake. And that is a problem inherent in multilateral diplomacy in the Security Council. In fact, the last resolution on Sudan that the council adopted was by a 12-0 vote with three abstentions: China, Russia and Qatar.

So the performance has not been as we would have liked it, not through lack of effort by ourselves, by the British, by the French, by the African members of the council, but because of the opposition of those that don't want this peacekeeping force to come into being. Now, I think we're all urging the government of Sudan, even those that didn't vote for the resolution, to accept the inevitable here, but that's the delay, which is tragic and unfortunate, is a consequence of diplomacy at the U.N.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador John Bolton, thanks for being with us.

JOHN BOLTON: Thank you.