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Remarks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw After Meeting


Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
May 17, 2005

(6:30 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to welcome my colleague and friend, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of the United Kingdom. First, to congratulate Prime Minister Blair on his re-election and Mr. Secretary on your reappointment to the Foreign Secretary's position.

Obviously, we have no better friend than the United Kingdom, going back in many years. We have been together in almost every crisis and in almost every opportunity. And this time is no different. It is, nevertheless, a time of extraordinary opportunity. We've had a chance to talk about some of the joint issues that we have around the world. We will talk further over dinner. But I just want to say to you, thank you very much for coming and look forward to continuing our work.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Thank you very much, Secretary Rice. It's a great pleasure to be here. You showed great courtesy to the United Kingdom and to me by making a visit to the UK, you're very first, almost immediately after you've been confirmed as Secretary of State. We don't have to go through that process. Instead, we have the elections and a short conversation with the Prime Minister to make our appointments. But I'm delighted; this is my first overseas trip since my reappointment as Foreign Secretary.

As you say, we've had many binding experiences over the last few years. We have a big agenda to discuss. We discussed quite a number of those issues in the time we've had available now and we're going to go on to discuss many more of those at the dinner, which you're kindly giving me. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, there is a report that the three -- the French, British and Germans, will have what is last ditch, described as, talks with Iran next week, possibly in Brussels, possibly Paris -- can you flesh that out a little bit? And what are the prospects for ever wearing them down and getting an agreement?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: The three Foreign Ministers, Joschka Fischer, Michel Barnier and I, have agreed to meet an Iranian delegation, early next week -- the place is likely to be in Paris. The purpose of those discussions is to carry forward the negotiations under the Paris agreement, which was reached after some painstaking negotiations last November.

As to the outcome of those discussions, I can't predict, but we came to the agreements in the Paris negotiations, which were very clear. They were subsequently endorsed by the IAEA Board. For our part, for the E-3 part, we have sought to implement the expectations within the Paris agreement and I hope, but I can't predict, that the negotiations at the beginning of next week will be fruitful.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, is the U.S. (inaudible) prepared to watch and wait and hope?


SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think, Barry, we're doing more than watching and waiting and hoping. I think we're actively supporting the EU-3 negotiations with the Iranians. You know that we made a couple of moves a couple of months ago to try and strengthen the hand of the Europeans as they negotiate with the Iranians and we said very clearly that we hope that the Iranians take the opportunity that is being presented to them to convince the international community that they're prepared to live up to their international obligations not to develop a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power.

QUESTION: Very quickly on that, and I have one other question. And if they don’t, is the next stop the UN Security Council on Iran?

And if I could then ask both of you to comment on the very well-publicized British memo that was leaked to the Times of London, or to the London Times. Madame Secretary --

SECRETARY RICE: Which one is that? Andrea, which one is that?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Which one is that?

QUESTION: On Iraq. That came out about 10 days ago, 12 days ago. Are you not aware of this memo?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, a lot of them are, unfortunately, out. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In particular, this memo -- and I can quote -- said that the intelligence -- and this was a memo that was leaked from the minutes of a meeting that took place in July of 2002 with Tony Blair --

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, that one. Okay. Got it. Okay.

QUESTION: -- and some of his military intelligence advisors. In particular, it quotes one British official saying the intelligence and facts that the U.S. was putting forward were being fixed around the policy. We know what the U.S. administration's position is in the buildup to the war on Iraq. It's been made very clear. But could you speak to these allegations in particular, Madame Secretary, and whether or not this is true?

And Mr. Secretary Straw, if you could also speak to the authenticity of this memo and, in particular, you're quoted in here saying that the case was thin, Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD capacity was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: On -- did you say you say you had a follow-up on Iran as well?

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

SECRETARY RICE: Okay, right. Okay. On what comes next, I think we will see what comes next. We've obviously got the Security Council as an option for the international community. We've made that clear. A number of Secretary Straw's colleagues have made that clear. And I would hope that the Iranians understand that this is their chance, they ought to take it and get back on the good side of the international community.

Look, we've gone over and over and over the issue about the intelligence and about the case against Saddam Hussein. Obviously, there were problems with the intelligence. That's now very clear. It's why the President has been very quick to react to the intelligence reform legislation, appointing John Negroponte to really more radically reform American intelligence agencies than at any time since 1947, because we need to have the very best intelligence, particularly when we are dealing with opaque, dictatorial societies like Iraq in which information comes at a premium.

But I would just remind that the information on which we were acting, in part on which we were acting, was information that was gathered from sources from around the world, including reports that UN inspectors had had when they were on the ground in 1998. Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction and I think people sometimes forget he had used weapons of mass destruction. In 1991, when the Gulf War ended, we found a nuclear program that was far advanced than what was believed to be the case.

And I just want to remind everyone that at every turn, yes, the weapons of mass destruction were a problem and Saddam Hussein had an inextricable link with weapons of mass destruction, that was made clear by the Duelfer report, which talked about the fact that he was trying to erode the Oil-for-Food -- through the Oil-for-Food program, the sanctions -- was having some success he believed in doing so and was maintaining capability and intent to try to recreate weapons of mass destruction when the world turned a blind eye.

Let's also not forget that this was a bloody dictator in the middle of the Middle East who had invaded his neighbors twice, who had used weapons of mass destruction, who was in a state of continued hostility with the United States and with the United Kingdom, in which he shot at our aircraft on a regular basis trying to patrol no fly zones to keep his air force from harming his own people and his neighbors. This was a bad, bad influence in the Middle East. He was a threat. It is a good thing that he is gone. I am immensely proud of what we did in taking down this dictator, particularly so after having been in Iraq a couple of days ago and seeing that you have, yes, a struggling young democracy there but a young democracy. And what a change for the people of Iraq, what a change for the Middle East. Even if there are terrorists who try on a daily basis through their violence to derail that process, the people of Iraq have a chance now at a decent life under democracy, and that was worth doing.

Mr. Secretary.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Thank you. On the issue of Iran, as the Secretary has said, the E-3 has made clear, including in a report to colleague foreign ministers, that we reserve the right to consider reopening the matter before the IAEA Board or referring the matter to the Security Council if we judged that is right and the obligations on both sides of the Paris agreement and other previous agreements have not been met.

The whole purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to try and avoid that circumstance in the context of ensuring that there are objective guarantees about Iran's nuclear intentions.

On Iraq, I don't have the document in front of me. Of all the things I thought I was going to be asked about at a press conference here, that was not one of them. I'd simply say this: that what people forget, too, as the Secretary has been implying, is the context that we were working in, and part of the context in the summer of 2002 was to get the international community to make a judgment about whether Iraq did or did not continue to pose a threat to international peace and security.

It was President Bush who, in September 2002, went to the General Assembly to say I'm putting this back to the United Nations. And it was the Security Council, voluntarily and unanimously, which judged in November 2002 that Iraq, and I quote, "posed a threat," to international peace and security because of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, its long-range missile systems and its flagrant refusal to implement Security Council resolutions. And it was Saddam's failure to follow his obligations under what became 1441 that led to the military action. And that was the context in which the British House of Commons made that decision.

And the last thing I'd say is this: I've just come from a pretty difficult but very successful election campaign. Iraq was an issue, not least in my district. One of the striking things is in my district there are Iraqi refugees and it was they who were saying, yes, life had not been easy since the military action but we are now an emerging democracy. One of the most poignant moments of all was when there was a young Iraqi refugee explaining to someone who was skeptical about the military action that his family had been killed at Halabjas and that there weren't going to be any more Halabjas because there was now an emerging democracy.

QUESTION: Foreign Secretary, you've said that you've had many defining experiences with America over the last few years. I wonder if America decides that enough is enough and it's time to take Iran to the Security Council, will you be with America then and would Britain be with America in taking Iran to the Security Council even if your EU partners would not?

And a question for you, please, Secretary Rice, about Uzbekistan. President Karimov's troops stand accused of slaughtering hundreds of civilians. Even the conservative estimates suggest several hundred civilians. I just wondered what America feels about having an ally like that and whether it's not time to cut some of the ties.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Sir, on your question, events are not going to emerge like that, all right? We've worked -- the United Kingdom, France and Germany -- closely and cooperatively together on the issue of Iran. As the Secretary said a moment ago, the United States have given us active support in that endeavor. We are agreed on the objectives. We are also the -- the E-3 as well as the United States -- agreed on the action, which we reluctantly but necessarily have to take reference to the IAEA Board of Governors on the Security Council if we judged that was necessary. And those are the circumstances in which it would arise. Your circumstance is entirely hypothetical and I'm quite clear won't arise.

SECRETARY RICE: On Uzbekistan, the President made very clear, starting with his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy and then I think most dramatically in his Inaugural Speech, that the United States held all countries equally responsible to engage in human rights practices that are sound and to engage in processes of democracy and democratization and openness, that that was without regard to what else might be going on in our relationship. We have good relations with some that we believe need to do more on the democratic front and we have not so good relations with some that we believe need to do more on the democratic front. But nonetheless, whatever the nature of the relationship with the United States, democracy and human rights is an issue in our relationship.

I think you would find that we have over the last few years, but especially since the President's democracy agenda has been so far advanced, a record of going to the Karimov government and telling them in no uncertain terms that it is time to open up their political system and to reform. I might note that we cited Uzbekistan in our Human Rights Report as a place of human rights concern.

Now, as to the most -- the latest events that have just taken place, I do think that we -- and we would hope that the Government of Uzbekistan would be very open in understanding what has happened there. It is quite clear that a lot of people lost their lives and that is always a cause for concern because it should just not be the case that innocent people lose their lives.

Nobody is asking any government to deal with terrorists. That's not the issue. The issue, though, is that it is a society that needs openness, it needs reform. And again, I think if you look at the record you'll find that we've raised that with the Government of Karimov for quite some time.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, just returning to an earlier question, how long is it before you say that Iran is still threatening to process uranium, the Europeans are doing their best, they're not getting anywhere, we need to take Iran to the UN Security Council? How long are you giving the Europeans and the Iranians?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's not a matter of giving the Europeans time or giving the Iranians time. We believe that the process that the EU-3 is engaged in is one that is well worth pursuing in order to give Iran a chance to do what Iran needs to do. We have the closest possible consultation and discussion about what is going on in the relationship -- in the negotiations.

I think it's fair to say that a few months ago, before the President's visit to Europe, people believed that there was some distance between the United States and the European 3 on how to deal with this problem. I believe we closed whatever perception of difference there might have been and indeed we've come to a united approach in dealing with Iran.

We will have to see what transpires here. I'm not one to take on hypotheticals and I'm certainly not on to take on timelines because there's an ebb and flow to negotiation. But I do think that we will have ample time -- we and our European colleagues, and I might add, we've had discussions with the Russians as well on this matter -- to discuss the best course forward should Iran fail to live up to its obligations. And again, we have all -- the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Solana, Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, the United States -- we've all talked about the fact that the UN Security Council is, of course, an option for the international community at any time.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, (inaudible) the investigation into the Koran and the desecration issue, and are you concerned that perhaps so much damage has been done that a retraction is not going to be able to tamp down the violence?

SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, I, frankly, think it's appalling that this story got out which was not -- let's just say it was not on a very good basis. And it has done a lot of damage and we are doing our best to let people know that there is a story to be told about how the United States deals with this issue and it is a story of respect for the religious traditions of the detainees in Guantanamo, an effort to give them access to Korans, to handle the Koran very, very carefully. I think you read the memo that went out just a year after Guantanamo was established telling people that this was an extremely sensitive issue. How you handle the Koran matters. People have been given prayer mats. They've been directed toward Mecca so that they can pray appropriately.

The United States is a country that believes deeply in religious freedom and in the equality of all to practice religion as they see it, and we would certainly never condone anything that would be a desecration of a -- the Holy Book of one of the world's great religions.

And so yes, it is a real shame that this story got out. It was bound to be volatile. And I just hope that through steady discussion now with the Muslim community -- and our people in the field are trying to do it -- that they understand the real story of how the United States has tried to deal with this question of religious practice at Guantanamo.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, just a quick follow-up on Iran. Can you just give us an indication of how much your talks with each other have been focused on next steps as how to deal with Iran and how much on the actual talks with the E-3 (inaudible)?

Also, just I couldn't help but notice that George Galloway is in town, Foreign Secretary. What do you make of the allegations that he made on the Senate committee?

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: On Iran, yes, we have discussed -- we discussed the current state of play in the negotiations with Iran and the forthcoming negotiations, which will take place early next week.

Might I just say both in answer to you and also to the earlier questioner that the interesting thing about these discussions with Iran is that as a result of discussions with the United States, which were going on in parallel, I think that we are now closer together -- the E-3, EU and the United States -- than we were, say, a couple of years ago. And there were many people around who were trying to say this would be another occasion for a "split" between Europe and America and so on. Those people have been confounded.

On Mr. Galloway, Mr. Galloway's argument is with a United States Senate committee and I've got no comment whatever to make on it.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. I think we're --

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Thank you very much. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Unless you'd like to stay, Jack. (Laughter.)

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