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Hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs - U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Interview

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

DEL. ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA (D-AS): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

At the outset, Madame Secretary, I want to commend you and Assistant Secretary Chris Hill for you work in the six-party talks with North Korea trying to prevent the dangers of a nuclear confrontation in the Korean Peninsula. And you succeeded in bringing the North Koreans to negotiate, and some credit also should be given to the People's Republic of China and its leaders in doing this.

According to media reports, Madame Secretary, you have been very persistent within the administration to give diplomacy and true statesmanship a chance to work its way through resolving some of the most difficult issues facing our nation and the world today, and again, I commend you for doing this.

I've learned from experience, Madame Secretary, that I need to present you my questions so that -- in a way that you can then choose how you may want to respond.

My first question is, Vice President Cheney in his recent statements made comments to the effect that there will be very serious consequences if Iran continues on its present course to develop a nuclear weapon, which Iran flatly denies. We're struggling now with the two wars we're engaged in now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our military force structure is stretched thin. It seems to me that this is the same, similar rhetoric that led us to war against Saddam Hussein.

My question on this particular phase -- will the administration seek new authority from the Congress to wage war against Iran? Or does the administration feel it doesn't need permission from Congress to do this? Or will it be just a shoot-first and then ask-questions- later?

Next question is, I note that in your statement that the need for more democracy, more freedom and more tolerance among countries in the Middle East -- note with interest that we're about to provide arms sales -- $13 billion arms sales to Egypt and, I suspect, probably a multibillion-dollar arms sale also to Saudi Arabia. Israel being the only true democracy in the Middle East, I can see how we can justify, accept a $30 billion arms sale also with Israel.

My point here is that Russia and China are also selling arms to Iran, to my understanding. And I'm taking that the administration's position is this is not creating a regional arms race. And I have to respectfully disagree that we are going to create an arms race if our government intends to provide arms to these various countries that are non-democratic in the Middle East.

Third question --

REP. LANTOS: I want to caution my friend that if he wants an answer from the secretary during the course of the hearing, he'd better stop now, because I don't think we can go beyond and ask more questions. Or you can ask more questions, and then the responses will be in writing. But I don't wish to see my colleague use up his five minutes and then the secretary take additional time to respond.

DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Madame Secretary, can you respond to those questions?

SEC. RICE: Thank you.

First, on Iran, the President has been very clear that while he doesn't take any of his options off the table, he's committed to a diplomatic course on Iran, and I think that that is where we are focused. I would just say that when one speaks of serious consequences, there also have to be serious consequences in diplomacy. I'm not one who believes that diplomacy in the absence of disincentives for states really works.

And so in this case, we are trying to impose consequences on the Iranians for their refusal to adhere to two Security Council resolutions. We have sanctioned a number of entities. We've encouraged states not to put investment credits into Iran. Hank Paulson has talked about the investment risk of dealing with Iran, as well as the reputational risk. And so we are trying to marry our diplomatic efforts with consequences if Iran does not accede.

As to the package of arms sales that we are pursuing -- and the details of many of these are still being negotiated, Congressman, and so I would not jump to any conclusions about specific numbers in some cases. But the issue here is a security environment in the Gulf and in the Middle East proper that we cannot allow to turn against our strategic allies in the region. It is the case that the Iranians have significantly increased their own defense capabilities. It's not an issue of causing an arms race, it's an issue of being able to respond to what are serious security challenges and potential threats to our long-time allies.

And it's not -- it's nothing new, in fact. We've had these security relationships in the Gulf for decades. So this is to help our allies to deal with emerging security threats. It does not mean that we don't continue to have very candid discussions about democracy, about reform. I just recently had those discussions again in Egypt. But it does mean that we have to be attentive to not creating a security environment in which the Iranians have the upper hand.

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