U.S.'s Next Step for Dealing With Iran

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 31, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

DAVID ASMAN, GUEST HOST: Now to the nuclear showdown: The deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium and start a hearing in the U.N. Security Council rules has come and gone, and Iran is ignoring the demands. The regime is moving forward with its nuclear ambitions. President Bush had some strong words about this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for Iran to make a choice. We've made our choice. We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution, but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.


ASMAN: And the U.N.'s nuke agency, the IAEA, says in a report on Iran that Tehran shows "no signs of freezing enrichment." It also says Iran started a new batch just as recently as August 24.

With me now live, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. Good to see you, Mr. McCormack. Thanks for coming in.


ASMAN: Do you really think Ahmadinejad is afraid of what the U.N. and the U.S. are doing now to try to stop him?

MCCORMACK: Well, we don't know exactly what kind of game he is playing, David, frankly. We're pursuing a course with our allies where we are trying to gradually increase the pressure on the Iranian government. We don't want to hurt the Iranian people. We don't want to penalize them. But unfortunately, they have a government right now that is leading them down the pathway to further isolation. So we have a unanimous coalition effort here, where we are working to try to get them to change their minds.

ASMAN: But Mr. McCormack, even if there are sanctions placed upon him, if we can gather together that group of disparate nations in Europe, what makes you think that Ahmadinejad won't play the U.N. sanctions the same way that Saddam did in Iraq with Oil-for-Food?

MCCORMACK: Well, we're just going to have to see how this plays out, David. Our hope is that sooner rather than later, that this international pressure is going to get them to change their behavior. We have to appeal to the interest of the Iranian people and the Iranian government. Have them do the cost-benefit analysis. You can either have a more positive relationship and better integration into the rest of the world, or you can go down the pathway of isolation. And that will have costs for the Iranian people. We don't want to see that, but we're prepared to do that if necessary.

ASMAN: But isolation — again, I don't mean to be a cynic here, but this goes way back to the '30s and Munich. What makes you think that the Europeans won't get soft on the idea of sanctions, or at least doing some kind of harm to Iran to get them to stop trying to get nukes?

MCCORMACK: Well, David, they have been solid. They have been absolutely solid and stalwart on this. We're working very closely with them. And right now, we have a united front. We think that we have a very solid, solid chance of getting through in the not-too-distant future — we hope not-too-distant future — some sanctions on Iran, which we hope will send a strong message to the regime that they have to change their behavior. But the Europeans have been solid on this.

ASMAN: But if Ahmadinejad ignores or even beats the sanctions, what then?

MCCORMACK: Well, David, we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. As President Bush said, we're committed to a diplomatic pathway. We think that this pathway has a chance to work, but we need to work the diplomacy. It is going to take some time. It will be hard work, but we think that this is the right pathway, and as I said, we have a strong coalition right now.

ASMAN: Before you go, very quickly, do you know, do you have an estimate of how close the Iranians are to getting a working bomb?

MCCORMACK: You know, there are a variety of intelligence estimates out there, David. I'm not going to try to hazard a guess right now. But let me just say this: Nobody wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Not the United States, not the Europeans, not Iran's neighbors. Because it would be a terrifically destabilizing event if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. So what we don't want to see is the Iranians getting close to having a nuclear weapon. That's why we're trying to act right now. We don't even want them to get close.

ASMAN: All right. Sean McCormack from the State Department, thanks very much for coming in.

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