THE BLOG
09/15/2005 01:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Breakfast with Ahmadinejad

On Thursday morning, along with a number of representatives of the American media, I attended an informal breakfast meeting with the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is in New York attending the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Ahmadinejad arrived in the Madison Suite of the Intercontinental hotel with Ali Larijani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Manouchehr Mottaki, the new Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, Iran’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the U.N., and Hossein Fereidoun, Iranian ambassador based at the U.N. Mission and coincidentally, brother of Hassan Rowhani, the previous Iranian chief nuclear negotiator under ex-president Khatami. The room we sat in was exactly two blocks away from where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is staying in New York.

Richard Roth of CNN asked the president if he had brought with him any new proposals on the nuclear issue or on relations with the U.S., to which Mr. Ahmadinejad replied that we would have to wait until Saturday for his nuclear proposal (he is to speak to the U.N. again on Saturday, and the U.S. delegation will presumably walk out again). There was no reply on U.S.-Iran relations. The questions asked by others, with few exceptions, referred to Iran’s nuclear program and conflict with the west, and President Ahmadinejad did his best, aided by Mr. Larijani, to explain that Iran is not in breach of any treaty, NPT or otherwise, and that Iran’s desire is only to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy. He objected to what he called a “nuclear apartheid” where the west insists that only certain countries have any right to nuclear technology while the developing world is excluded. Steven Weisman of the NY Times asked whether, since countries friendly to Iran have also asked for Iran to resume suspension of its uranium conversion process, Iran would be willing to do so in order to get the negotiations back on track. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s reply was that those very countries, when speaking with Iran, also admit that what is being demanded of Iran is unreasonable. George Stefanopolous wondered what the president thought of the American delegation walking out on his speech at the U.N., and also questioned him on Iraq. Mr. Ahmadinejad answered on Iraq, essentially laying the problems there at the feet of the “occupiers”, i.e. the U.S., and remarked that the “root of the problem is the presence of foreign troops.” He didn’t express an opinion about the American walkout.

Mike Wallace and Charlie Rose took their turns at the microphone to pitch President Ahmadinejhad for an interview. Mike wants to know “who is Amhmadinejad?”, but he also made it clear that he wants to be the first to tape an answer. Charlie also wanted to know whether the “two governments” in Iran (the other, he suggested, run by Supreme Leader Khamenei) would continue, but Mr. Ahmadinejad’s reply, that Iran has a constitutional system that would not change with him, was too brief to be enlightening.

There were no great “scoops” here, but a scoop could hardly be expected under the circumstances of an informal breakfast that included a lengthy discussion of the finer points of the NPT. Iran, however, is clearly determined to pursue nuclear technology, and seems unafraid of any threats that the U.S. or the Europeans make. I did get the sense that President Ahmadinejad is supremely confident, as are his aides, that Iran is in the right. Contrast that with the U.S. position. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday graced Fox News with two interviews, one with the editorial staff, and one on air with Bill O’Reilly (excerpts of the transcripts below). The Fox editorial board suggested to Rice that there are people in Iran who if they got their hands on a nuclear weapon might be willing to use it. Ms. Rice replied “yeah,” but then went to qualify her agreement by saying well, no. With Bill O’Reilly, she was very careful not to actually answer any questions, which for Fox means she agreed with Bill, but for the rest of us means maybe the Fox is crazy.

Example:

MR. O'REILLY: All right: Iran. Now, this is America's biggest enemy, next to North Korea, I think, in the world. Would I be wrong in saying that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Iran is certainly a state, today --

MR. O'REILLY: They're our enemies.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I would say this is a state that is 180 degrees from the interests of the United States. That's right.

And this:

MR. O'REILLY: They're helping the terrorists. They're infiltrating them into Iraq. They're harboring al-Qaida.

SECRETARY RICE: They do very little for their own people, in terms of human rights and democracy.


And:

MR. O'REILLY: They're developing nuclear activity where they could hand it off to al-Qaida if they wanted or they could sell it to rogue states. And they're basically saying to you, the Secretary of State, to the President, to the world, "We don't care." They don't believe you have the military capability to hurt them because you're bogged down in Iraq. And it looks to me like this is just going to happen, that we're going to have to deal with these people. Do you see it the same way?

SECRETARY RICE: Iran is a state that is moving in the wrong direction, I would say 180 degrees in the wrong direction. But on one border they have now an Afghanistan that is a democratic state, an ally of the United States in the war on terror, a military ally of the United States. On the other hand, they have a not-yet-finished project in Iraq, but one that, when it is, will be a non-theocratic, Shia-majority state that is the center, now, of a non-theocratic Islamic-related democracy.

It seems to me that our administration, while not liking Iran, hardly believes that she is our biggest enemy. It doesn’t really believe that Iran is behind the insurgency in Iraq; nor does it believe that if she ever gets a bomb she will just hand it over to al Qaeda. The administration clearly does believe that Iran must live up to its obligations under the NPT, which, umm, as the Iranians point out, they actually are, and which is why referring Iran to the Security Council is not necessarily a solution. So what are our actual plans to deal with Iran, if she is “moving in the wrong direction”? If it’s diplomacy, as Secretary Rice suggests, she doesn’t need to be reminded that she’s sitting two blocks away from the men in charge. If it’s diplomacy, she might have stayed in her seat when President Ahmadinejad took to the podium at the U.N. If it’s diplomacy, then why not call out Fox News on their distortions? The answer, I’m afraid, might be that the administration has no idea what to do about Iran, now that seemingly “not quite all options are on the table”. Well, we can still dis Iran with the best of them.

Interview With the Fox News Editorial Board
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York City
September 14, 2005

(3:30 p.m. EDT)

QUESTION: How great is the threat from Iran and how confident are you in our
ability to monitor that threat around the world?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, anytime you have a nontransparent government that has
hostile intentions toward our interests and those of our friends in a region as
volatile as the Middle East, it's dangerous. And Iran is not just a normal
state. Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism worldwide and certainly in
the Middle East. Iran has a terrible human rights record. It's a state whose
political circumstances are going backwards, not forward. When you look at
where Iran was just a few years ago, it looked like there were some reform
seeds in Iran. Now it's gone back.

And then you put on top of that Iran's stated insistence that Israel should be
driven into the sea and you say now, after that, that they are engaged in
suspicious nuclear activities. You have a serious problem.

I still think that there is a quite a bit of room and scope to put enough
pressure on Iran diplomatically to at least constrain Iranian activities
significantly. I didn't say halt Iranian activities because you never know what
you don't know in a society that is that closed. But if, for instance, you
could keep the Iranians from enriching and reprocessing and learning how to do
that, that would be constraint. The fact that internationally now when states
like the Russians say that they're going to sell a reactor to the Iranians,
they say they're going to back the fuel, that's a constraint.

And the world is not perfect in international politics. You can't always get a
100 percent solution. But what you can do is to put a lot of constraints and
barriers to an Iranian nuclear weapon if you can get the international
community to be tough about doing exactly that. And that's the struggle. I
think the European 3 have actually been good. We are going to see what will
happen, if we get a referral on September 19th, that will be good, but I think
the issue of a referral is something that we'll be working for a while. I'm not
so concerned about exactly when it happens because I don't think this matter is
so urgent that it has to be on September 19th.

I do think that the Iranians have to get a message that they can't just break
out of the Paris Agreement and have everybody say, well, okay, we'll move to
the next stage. This is more about a political message to Iran right now than
anything else.

QUESTION: But there are people in authority in Iran who, if they had a nuclear
weapon, might be willing to use it.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. And, well, I don't know, given that there are still
significant deterrents to anybody using a nuclear weapon. You know, your final
refuge is that a state that uses a nuclear weapon takes a risk that it's going
to pay a very high price, maybe that it's going to cease to exist. So you still
have deterrence working for you. But I would not want to test the proposition
quite that way, so I think you have to do everything that you can to prevent
the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon. And on that, you have a lot of
consensus. The problem is you can have consensus on a goal and have a lot of
differences about tactics, and I think that's what emerges. But, in fact, the
world has hung together fairly well given that the Iranians have not been
transparent in what they have been doing.


With Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
New York City
September 14, 2005

(4:00 p.m. EDT)

MR. O'REILLY: All right: Iran. Now, this is America's biggest enemy, next to North Korea, I think, in the world. Would I be wrong in saying that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Iran is certainly a state, today --

MR. O'REILLY: They're our enemies.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I would say this is a state that is 180 degrees from the
interests of the United States. That's right.

MR. O'REILLY: They're helping the terrorists. They're infiltrating them into
Iraq. They're harboring al-Qaida.

SECRETARY RICE: They do very little for their own people, in terms of human
rights and democracy.

MR. O'REILLY: They're developing nuclear activity where they could hand it off
to al-Qaida if they wanted or they could sell it to rogue states. And they're
basically saying to you, the Secretary of State, to the President, to the
world, "We don't care." They don't believe you have the military capability to
hurt them because you're bogged down in Iraq. And it looks to me like this is
just going to happen, that we're going to have to deal with these people. Do
you see it the same way?

SECRETARY RICE: Iran is a state that is moving in the wrong direction, I would
say 180 degrees in the wrong direction. But on one border they have now an
Afghanistan that is a democratic state, an ally of the United States in the war
on terror, a military ally of the United States. On the other hand, they have a
not-yet-finished project in Iraq, but one that, when it is, will be a
non-theocratic, Shia-majority state that is the center, now, of a
non-theocratic Islamic-related democracy.

MR. O'REILLY: Are you positive that's going to happen?

SECRETARY RICE: I believe it's going to happen -- I do, Bill.

MR. O'REILLY: Really?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. I do.

MR. O'REILLY: Give me -- 90 percent, 80 percent?

SECRETARY RICE: You know, they're going to make it. They are going to make it.

MR. O'REILLY: I hope so.

SECRETARY RICE: Because -- if I look at --

MR. O'REILLY: With all, you know, the sacrifices that we've made.

SECRETARY RICE: If I look at where they were and I look at where they are now,
they are going to make it. And I'm also enough of a student of history to know
that everything is -- that's a big historical change of any kind -- is messy
and violent and difficult.

MR. O'REILLY: Nothing's easy.

SECRETARY RICE: Nothing is easy.

MR. O'REILLY: Are we going to have to confront the Iranians militarily? Because
Europe isn't going to do it, you know. I don't understand -- let me get through
this question, and then we'll go back to the Iran question. Why doesn't NATO
help us in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, NATO is doing some work in Iraq.

MR. O'REILLY: No, no, come on!

SECRETARY RICE: They've got --

MR. O'REILLY: Why don't they put in troops to help on the border, to help the
pipeline security? Why don't they do it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well actually, actually at this point now, we don't need more
foreign forces in Iraq.

MR. O'REILLY: Really?

SECRETARY RICE: No. What we need is Iraqi forces to be trained up because they
--

MR. O'REILLY: We don't need any more boots on the ground?

SECRETARY RICE: We need Iraqi forces to be trained up and that's what's
happening. This fight has got to become the Iraqi's fight.

MR. O'REILLY: Let's get back to Iran. The odds are we're going to have to
confront these people, either with sanctions from the United Nations, which I
never think you're going to get through. That's a corrupt body. And more
militarily. Aren't the odds --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I still think there is a lot of room here to have the
world pressure the Iranians into doing what the Iranians need to do.

MR. O'REILLY: Really?

SECRETARY RICE: They've got to live up to their obligations under the
non-proliferation treaty. And we're working pretty well with the Europeans to
try to make sure that if the Iranians do not do that, that they will eventually
end up in the Security