Rice: Europe must turn screws on Iran

Says US will continue to bolster allies, including through missile defense cooperation with Israel.

rice aipac 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice aipac 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disparaged the idea that talking to Iran or Hamas would change those entities, while calling for tougher international action against the Islamic Republic Tuesday. "Diplomacy is not a synonym for talking," she told the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, pushing back against those who are calling for such engagement. "True diplomacy means structuring a set of incentives and disincentives to produce change in behavior." Here she called for more action by the Europeans and other members of the international community to isolate the Iranian regime as it proceeds with its nuclear program: "Our partners in Europe and beyond need to exploit Iran's vulnerabilities more vigorously and impose greater costs on the regime, economically, financially, politically and diplomatically." She also criticized Teheran for not answering questions raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency and others about its nuclear program, saying, "It's just hard to imagine that there are innocent answers to these questions." Rice emphasized that when it came to American strategy on Iran, the United States "will continue to improve the capabilities of our friends, including through missile defense cooperation with Israel." Such increased missile defense cooperation was set to be among the requests made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he met with Rice later on Tuesday, and then again in meetings with US President George W. Bush and US Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday. The issue is expected to be presented in the context of the Iranian threat, which tops Israeli concerns. "It's the first item on the agenda," noted one Israeli official. The administration has placed a high priority on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with the White House indicating Tuesday it would press ahead with the current program of an agreement by the end of Bush's term despite Olmert's weakened political position. "The president is going to continue [to] put his full weight behind trying to get this done and to help them achieve this goal of trying to define a Palestinian state before the end of the year," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Tuesday, adding that "Israeli politics, as the president has described, is, quote, 'full-court karate,' unquote, so we understand how tough it is in terms of their internal politics, but they'll have to work it out." A day earlier, Perino took Israel to task for construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying, "Our position on the settlements is that we don't believe that any more settlements should be built, and we know that it exacerbates the tension when it comes to the negotiations with the Palestinians." Rice also addressed the need for a Palestinian state, saying that "the expansion of violent extremism in the Middle East makes the creation of a peaceful, effective Palestinian state more urgent, not less." Echoing her earlier comments on Iranian engagement, Rice said that when it came to countering that extremism, "The problem is not a failure to communicate with Hamas," since every truce and agreement it makes is merely "a tactic to prepare for war." Instead, she said, "The only responsible policy is to work with decent Palestinians who want and should be able to end the occupation that began in 1967, but also to isolate Hamas." Her use of the word "occupation," as well as a reference to Palestinians who "have waited too long, amid daily humiliations, for the dignity of an independent state," were met with silence, in contrast to the warm applause she received for her comments on Iran. Rice also referred to the prospects of peace with Syria, with whom Israel has recently opened indirect talks via Turkey. She said that all avenues to peace were welcome so long as the focus was maintained on the Palestinian track, to which the US has devoted considerably attention over Bush's two terms in office, "because it is the most advanced" and because it is supported by "the international community as a whole." Though Rice praised the Turkish role, when it came to the US participating in a similar capacity, there was little indication that the Bush administration was jumping in. Despite Syria's call in newspaper reports Tuesday for US involvement - which many analysts see as essential for a peace deal to emerge - there was no indication that the US about to do so, with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying that Washington had not been asked to play such a role. State Department officials indicated, though, that the US was interested in hearing Israel's take on the process during meetings with Olmert over the next two days. McCormack also wouldn't be drawn on whether Rice's comments on the Iranian failure to answer the questions raised by the IAEA and other members of the international community suggested that the assessment of last year's US National Intelligence Estimate - that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program - should be revisited. Perino didn't indicate that the administration was looking to reexamine the NIE findings, when asked about such a possibility in response to Israeli media reports that Olmert would be making such a request. "The president has spoken to Prime Minister Olmert and many other leaders across the Middle East and throughout the world about the Iran NIE, and so I don't think there's really anything too new there for them to discuss," she said. The interpretation of the NIE findings were attacked by AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr in his address to the organization's policy conference in the same session as Rice's address. "Too often in Washington, complex realities are flattened into a simple storyline - one that misleads more than it illuminates," he said. Referring to the NIE, he continued, "All the care and all the caveats in the portions of that document eventually put into the public press were reduced to a simple false story - that Iran was not longer a danger. "My friends, national security policy must be based on more than wish-projection." In her speech, Rice spoke about the "indivisible and unbreakable" US-Israel alliance. She gave a subtle rejection to those who accuse that alliance of being fostered by special interests against America's own interests. "It is enduring," she said, "and we reject any attempt to reduce it to crude conspiracy theories."