Amb. John Bolton on Resolving Nuclear Standoff With Iran

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 6, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are trying to change Iranian behavior here, behavior that would be quite dangerous to the international community. The acquisition of Iranian nuclear weapon — we aren't confused or have no illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's uniform agreement that the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon, and we'll discuss tactics and strategies to make sure that the international community speaks with one clear voice.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: U.S. leaders have been calling on Iran to back off its nuclear ambitions for quite a while. On Tuesday, the international community spoke with one voice by handing Iran a package of incentives to stop it from enriching uranium.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, offered the proposals to the country's chief nuclear negotiator in person Tuesday. It reportedly includes a provision for the U.S. to supply Tehran with some nuclear technology if Tehran stops enriching uranium.

So will Iran take the world up on this offer? For more on the effort, "The Big Story" is joined by special guest John Bolton, the United States ambassador to the U.N.

It seems pretty dramatic, if the United States is saying to the Iranians, "We'll give you nuclear technology if you'll stop this."

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, I'd rather not get into the specifics of what may or may not be in the package because I think it's important to understand it as a whole. And up until now we've not wanted to talk about it publicly because we wanted to have Mr. Solana give it to the Iranians, which he did Tuesday.

And I think if you — at some point, the whole package will come out, whether the Iranians make it public, as they've said, or not. And I think at that time it would be in better perspective.

GIBSON: Well, without pressing you on an area you don't want to go into, the Russians offered them this deal before and they weren't interested. Does it make any qualitative difference if the U.S. were to offer something similar?

BOLTON: Well, I think what we're talking about, by having the United States indicate a willingness actually to sit down at the table with the Iranians to discuss this whole question, if they give up their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities while the talks go on, that removes a process argument that Iran and its supporters have been able to deploy to say we're not really serious about wanting a diplomatic solution.

So I think the step that the president and Secretary Rice took was to take that argument off the table and put the focus back on Iran, which is where it really belongs, back on their nuclear weapons program.

GIBSON: But this is still the Permanent Five of the Security Council, which includes the United States, plus Germany, all going to the table with Iran, as one united front. Does Iran still want to eliminate everybody else from the table but the United States? Is it still an issue with them that they want to face us off directly, one-on-one?

BOLTON: I think there's a question, and this is one of the reasons why we've stressed this would be a multilateral negotiation, because Iran's nuclear weapon program is not a case of Iran vs. the United States. This is really a case of Iran vs. the rest of the world.

There's no disagreement on the most fundamental point, which is that it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons. And what we've tried to do is narrow the tactical gaps that have existed among the five permanent members. This latest offer by the United States is another step in that direction.

GIBSON: The Iranians said there were some ambiguities in the package that they needed to study. The president said he was encouraged that they took it and didn't reject it out of hand. Are there ambiguities or is that just a political nicety to buy a day or two?

BOLTON: Well, a lot of this is diplo-speak, obviously, and in a sense we're somewhat handicapped because we're not in a position to talk about the whole package of carrots and sticks. And at some point when this comes out, people will be able to look at the package and judge for themselves.

But the fundamental point is that we have presented Iran with a choice: If they go down one road, they can have a different relationship with the United States and other countries. If they choose not to take that road, then they're going to face increasing international isolation and certainly that means for us action in the Security Council and elsewhere.

GIBSON: Where is elsewhere?

BOLTON: Well, you can do a lot of things to help retard the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles without Security Council resolutions, and we've already been doing some of that through the president's proliferation and security initiative, and there would be other steps we could take as well.

GIBSON: Does this sort of eliminate an argument that came before the Iraq invasion that the United States hadn't gone to the very last step? Is what we're seeing in the United States, in fact, going as far as anybody in the world would want us to go before other actions are taken?

BOLTON: Well, I'm sure a lot of people were quite surprised that we took the step to say we'd even sit down with the Iranians at all, and I think that is intended to show in complete good faith we're trying to find a diplomatic solution to this, but it's critical that the Iranians take the hint and suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities because that is a precondition.

And it's not just an American precondition. It's the European precondition, the precondition of the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

GIBSON: If Iran were to get a nuclear weapon, why is it so different than any other country in the past getting a nuclear weapon? We existed with deterrence with the Soviet Union for a long time. Why is Iran so different?

BOLTON: Well, among other reasons, Iran has been for decades the central banker of terrorism. It supported more terrorist groups with greater financing than any other country. And that kind of state with a nuclear weapon poses a threat of delivery, not just from ballistic missiles, but because they could give it to a terrorist group. And that's a worldwide threat that we face.

In addition, the concept of deterrence which worked during the Cold War — although, frankly, it's not a system you want to live under for a long period of time — doesn't really apply when you have a system like Iran's — of the present government, anyway — that is so different from ours, from values, that the inherent threat is the destruction of them for acts against us. I don't think you can count on deterrence working with a country like Iran under its present leadership.

GIBSON: Has anything changed in our national security strategy which says we won't accept a military challenge from anybody, friend or foe?

BOLTON: No, and that's why — bear in mind what the president has undertaken here is a diplomatic, tactical shift to eliminate any argument from anybody, Iran or any of its supporters, that we didn't give diplomacy a serious effort.

Now the burden is really on Iran. Are they going to take this opportunity and are they going to show that they're committed not to seeking nuclear weapons, as they say they're not, by suspending their enrichment activities before we sit down at the table? That's the critical point right now.

GIBSON: When the president says, "Bottom line: We will not accept Iran with a nuclear bomb," what does he mean exactly?

BOLTON: I think when he says it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, what he means is it's unacceptable. And I think the president's a man of his word. And that's why this precondition that Iran has to suspend enrichment activity before we sit down is so important. There's no waffling on that point.

GIBSON: Is Iran much of a threat beyond that? I mean, do you worry much about what Iran can do with the oil weapon, in trying to destabilize Western economies?

BOLTON: I think that's a possible threat, but I think it's hypothetical because they depend on those oil revenues at the same time. I think the greater threat that Iran poses — and they've used their oil and gas weapon very effectively with countries with large and growing energy demands, like China, India, Japan, to get them locked into long-term capital commitments in the oil and gas industry, and then use that as leverage over those countries to make them less concerned about the nuclear weapon program.

GIBSON: If we're so worried about what Iran might do with nuclear weapons, why do the Russians appear not to be so worried? They were helping them.

BOLTON: They should be more worried, frankly. They should be worried that a nuclear-capable-ballistic-missile-equipped Iran much closer to their borders than Iran is to us would pose a threat to them. And I think there's a real debate inside the Kremlin right now.

I think our job is to convince those who worry as much about proliferation as we do, help them prevail in those debates. I think one of the motivating factors is that Iran causes us more trouble than it causes Russia at the moment, but that's a precarious gamble for the Russians to make.

GIBSON: The other thing I wanted to ask you about, turning your attention from Iran just a second, is Canada. This latest bust that we saw up there of a terror cell, in which these terrorists had rather dramatic ambitions to blow up parliament, maybe the CBC, behead the prime minister, and so forth, in a way some of it sounds so outlandish as to not take seriously, but we have to.

BOLTON: I think that's absolutely right. I think we should really congratulate the Canadian counterterrorism experts who have uncovered this. I'm sure there are many more details that are coming out.

And I think, for many in Canada, it's a shock that they might even be the target of a system like this. It's a sad commentary. But I hope people in Europe also understand that it's not just the United States that's a target. Canada, European countries, everybody is a target of these terrorists.

GIBSON: What does this say about our need to continue with surveillance programs, maybe even, you know, listening in on telephone calls and intercepting electronic communications, that that was the method by which this group was found?

BOLTON: I think it's a very instructive lesson, and I hope the American public as a whole understands why these steps are being taken, not to invade their privacy, not to find out things about legitimate activities, but to uncovered these terrorist networks. That story has to be told again and again and, sadly, this affair in Canada I think helps underline that.

GIBSON: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Mr. Bolton, thank you very much for coming in. And good luck with those negotiations. They're very important.

BOLTON: Thank you.

GIBSON: Appreciate it.

BOLTON: Glad to be here.

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