Why do you think this kind of opening up of relations is important?
... Iran is an old country with a great culture, a lot of cohesion, a role to
play in the world, tremendous oil resources. [There's] a sense on the part of
the United States that large elements in Iran want to reach out and a sense as
well that there is a kind of long-standing, deep-seated sense of grievance and
But in the history of the world, those kinds of things don't last forever, and
diplomats tend to look for opportunities to improve things and change things
when they aren't going very well. And Iran has followed a course with the
Europeans and with others of trying to reopen relations. The "Great Satan"
seems to be left for last, or left to last except for Israel.
And there's a sense on the part of the United States that, as it looks at Iran,
it has a deep sense too of very serious problems -- the problem of Iranian
support for terrorist organizations; the problem of Iranian opposition to the
Middle East peace process and certainly to a peace process with Israel; and a
deep sense of concern on the part of the United States about nuclear
proliferation or weapons of mass destruction proliferation in Iran. Those are
important problems, and those problems don't get solved by continued division.
They don't get solved by not talking. They don't get solved by non-engagement.
It seemed as though after Sept. 11, the Iranians made some gestures. They
were prepared to allow their country to be used as a transit point for
humanitarian assistance. If Americans got stranded there, they were going to be
helpful. How important an opening was this?
Well, I considered it an important step forward. In a world of no progress, any
millimeter ahead can still look like a mile. So in the comparative terms of the
past, it was, I think, something that we welcomed. I think it was officially
welcomed by the United States, and it was taken as an opportunity. And some of
that was developed further by taking the one forum in which we had met with
Iranians, the U.N. "6 plus 2" exercise on Afghanistan, and having a
meeting at the ministerial level. And Secretary Powell was able to shake the
hand of Foreign Minister Kharrazi, which was a forward step beyond what
Secretary Albright was able to do in her time. ...
On the other hand, now you have reports of more Revolutionary Guard in Herat.
You have some sense that there is intervention going on in some parts of
Afghanistan on the Iranian side. Those are worrying. I don't know that those
are proven concerns, but nevertheless, they're worrying.
Some things seem to have slowed down and then, of course, you had the State of
the Union message and what it had to say. It drew a line in the sand, so to
speak, and I think quite rightly Secretary Powell made it very clear, almost
immediately, that didn't mean that we were drawing a line against talks.
Rather, I believe, he emphasized the sense that there was a greater need for
talks on that particular set of things.
That's been the recent history in very, very brief compass, and I don't think
it's left us anywhere. I think we still continue to be in a situation where the
United States, at least -- contrary to a position it sometimes takes in these
kinds of cases, where you have longstanding differences and there's a pile-up
of preconditions -- has tried to eschew preconditions for conversations with
Iran. And, I believe, successfully so. On the Iranian side, you don't have
quite the ability to reciprocate. And I think that, as I alluded to earlier,
there are internal differences in Iran. One can speculate about who's on top
and who's winning and who's ready to do this.
Historically, the wrong elements in Iran have tended to benefit from the
appearance of an external problem, an external enemy. And I wonder to what
extent the line in the sand, whatever it was, may have created conditions in
Iran for the conservative, reactionary [forces]. ... The ayatollahs have seized
upon the phrase "axis of evil" and run with it for the goal line. Is that cause
for some concern in the West? Or is this something that we're going to pass
Well, I think it will be something that we'll pass through. I think that, from
time to time, it's worthwhile reminding people that there are serious problems.
And sometimes that comes with a jolt; sometimes it's exploitable. But I think
it's worthwhile reminding them. It is at the same time worthwhile reminding
people that the door remains open to possibilities of talk.
And I think often it's fascinating. I watched U.S.-China relations build, I
watched relations between the United States and Russia build over a period of
time. Sometimes a certain amount of frank, straightforward conversation --
despite the fact that one side or another may take advantage of it with its own
public -- is useful to set the stage to keep things clear.
What happens on the main stage is one thing. But as you know from your
career, the really important stuff is happening behind the curtain. And I'm
wondering what's going on behind the curtain.
Well, I can tell you that, in my government experience, there was almost
nothing going on behind the curtain that wasn't almost apparent in front of the
Well, if we're going by what's apparent in front of the curtain right now,
it's not very encouraging.
I would say that my suspicion is that it's close to an empty set. Not very
The Iranians are less forthcoming on weapons of mass destruction, but they
make no bones about the fact that they are supporters of what they call
"liberation movements" in Lebanon and Palestine. How serious a stumbling block
I think that if they were purely supporters with information, in social
assistance, or even economic aid, of liberation movements in Lebanon and
Palestine, that would be one thing. And the European Union is a supporter the
same way. So is the United States, in some ways. We provided a great deal of
assistance to people living in the occupied territories in Israel. So that's
not the problem. The problem has been the use of arms and force and terror.
If I were to speculate on that subject -- and I don't want it to be
misunderstood, I don't speak for anybody in the government -- I would say
basically they would have to take a pretty strong stand, publicly and
privately, that they would not be the supporters of the armed folks, the
encouragers, the directors of the armed folks, and help reduce the violence and
be part of the process of helping the peace process move ahead, rather than the
How optimistic were you in the autumn of 2001 that [some kind of new
relationship between the U.S. and Iran] may have become a possibility?
I was not, because I had followed closely from inside the government, until the
beginning of 2001, the checkered nature of the relationship, and tended to be
doubtful, even if hopeful, that much would happen.
What's it going to take?
It's always unfortunate to have to say, [but] probably more on the other side
of the Persian Gulf than on the Western side of the world, because I think the
United States has really worked hard to keep the door open. ... I think that
there is something inherently mutually respectful about being able to talk
without preconditions. The beginnings of mutual trust will begin when people
are prepared to accept each other's word that the door is open, and that we're
not imposing on you a price to begin talks, and we don't want to pay a price to
begin talks. That's not in our common interest. The only price we want to pay
is the cost of the air ticket to go and begin talking. ...
How does the United States approach this large and largely opaque issue of
weapons of mass destruction? What are they really up to?
I think it's a tremendously important question, and you can chart the course
over the last three or four decades. The general practice on the part of the
United States and its friends and allies, and most of the states that have the
capability to support proliferation, has been to carefully control trade, to
use all kinds of political persuasion, at times to resort to sanctions when
that has seemed necessary. India, Pakistan have been examples of that. And then
to do everything they can through diplomatic channels to talk to countries
about not continuing. That was quite successful in South Africa and I think in
places like Brazil and Argentina, and maybe in Taiwan and Korea and other
places. But it hasn't been successful everywhere, and so there's uncertainties
Now you hear a lot of talk about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, possession of weapons of
mass destruction. And, in fact, as you know, the Security Council, for a
different purpose, authorized 11 years ago the use of force against Iraq. The
use of force resolution has never been withdrawn, so I presume it remains in
effect. Whether, in fact, states like the United States or others would move to
the use of force to prevent proliferation is a more open question. But it's
being widely talked about now.
That's implicit in a lot of the political rhetoric that we've heard from the
United States recently, is it not?
I think it is, and I think that when states see a clear and present danger,
that might be needed. As you know, the U.N. charter allows for self-defense in
the face of an armed attack, obviously, and that condition hasn't been met,
although the United States has felt that Sept. 11 certainly
constituted that, and the Security Council agreed. So whether, in fact, there
is a legal framework for this, there is certainly a growing political interest
in it as a way of proceeding ahead -- obviously recognizing that there are
critical times when states have to act to prevent greater dangers to
You seem to be saying that it's appropriate. It's implicit in the recent
statements, and it's appropriate to draw the line in the sand and to take a
I think that states obviously have to consider long and carefully before using
military force. But I think that, under some sets of circumstances where they
feel there is a justifiable danger -- a linkage between terror and weapons of
mass destruction is one of those -- then I think that that's something for
careful consideration. I don't think that one can draw a chart and say, "Always
go to war here; never go to war there." States have to make up their own minds.
But I think, within the international framework, it would be a mistake for a
country to rule out that possibility if it felt seriously threatened.
One has heard about jaws hitting the floor in the State Department, because
it makes the diplomatic profession a little bit more difficult.
I don't think so. I think that there are rare occasions, and I have watched in
the councils of government the lack of appetite for military involvement, and I
think, in fact, that remains the case. I think that states need to have that
option. But I think that you need, obviously, to try to exhaust diplomatic
efforts before you take that option. Sometimes your willingness to consider
that option is an assist to diplomatic efforts, as we've seen.
So we can feel a certain comfort that, notwithstanding the political sturm
und drang, the diplomatic efforts continue?
I think so, particularly in light of the subject we've been talking about in
Iran. But, in fact, I think that the secretary of state's recent statements on
the subject are reaffirmation that they remain the primary theatre of operation
and that he, certainly, as the president's chief foreign-policy advisor, wants
to keep them moving.
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