The Obama administration's UN ambassador today rebutted the assertion that UN sanctions designed to discourage Iran from pursuing its nuclear program are failing.
"The sanctions that have been imposed by the United Nations and implemented by the United States and others have had some significant effect on the trade and the banking and the financial sector inside of Iran, and we certainly remain open to consideration of possible future measures," Ambassador Susan Rice said in an exclusive "This Week" interview with George Stephanopoulos.
"The aim here, though, is to marshal all of the resources at our disposal, diplomatic, economic, and other to try to make this choice as clear as possible to Iran, to give them a path to end their nuclear -- illicit nuclear weapons program, enter the community of nations, or, if in fact, they ultimately choose not to do that, then to bring to bear the full force of the international community to put pressure on Iran to stop," she added in her first Sunday morning interview since joining the administration.
"The president has been very clear that Iran has a choice. Iran can rejoin the community of nations, it can halt its illicit nuclear program. It has a right to peaceful nuclear processing. But its behavior to date has indicated that it's not pursuing simply a peaceful program."
Israel has said it believes Iran is pursuing military nuclear capability. "We share Israel's very grave concern about the threat that Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program poses, not only to Israel and the other countries in the region, but indeed to U.S. national security," Rice said.
But she also said she does not think it's "productive to speculate about what may transpire ... the president has said on a number of occasions, our aim is to use all of the elements at our disposal, including direct diplomacy, to offer Iran a path away from an illicit nuclear weapons program. But obviously if that path is not chosen, we have not ruled out any options."
Asked if she is confident that Israel will not strike without U.S. consent, Rice declined to speculate what the U.S. or others might do. "At this stage our focus is on steering Iran to the extent we possibly can towards a different course," she said.
Last week the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, made brief contact with the Iranians at an international conference in Munich. Asked what will be the next step in engagement with Iran, Rice explained "we have extended, as the president said on a number of occasions, an opportunity, an open hand to Iran. And we hope Iran will seize that opportunity to take the steps that would enable it to be a responsible member of the international community."
Rice also offered some insight into her relationship so far with her Iranian counterpart at the U.N. "We've run into each other on a couple of occasions and I've had an opportunity to have some brief exchanges...no negotiations."
Reacting to the news today that North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile, Rice said that the U.S. will review its assessment of North Korea's capability to launch a nuclear weapon towards the U.S. "Our concern is to prevent North Korea from pursuing and disseminating nuclear weapons," she said.
"We view North Korea as a proliferation threat. Its actions today underscore our concern about its development of not only a nuclear weapons capability, but the capability to deliver it. That's what we're most concerned about preventing, and preventing North Korea from sharing that technology with others."
North Korea's state media claimed the missile put a satellite into orbit. But the U.S. Northern Command says the satellite dropped into the Pacific. U.S. officials believe the missile was really being tested to see if it could carry a nuclear warhead over Japan potentially as far as Alaska.
Asked by Stephanopoulos if the U.S. is now convinced that the North Koreans now have a missile that could reach the U.S., Rice explained "what today's experience showed is that they did not succeed, according to our best assessments, in putting that space launch vehicle into orbit."
"That, therefore, was something short of success for North Korea. Our assessment is that their pursuit of a missile capability is of grave concern and that their aim is to achieve the capability to deliver a weapon as far potentially as to North America. I think we need to look at what transpired today and make a new assessment as a consequence," she said.
On the international response, Rice, who will represent the United States at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council this afternoon, explained that "we have been in close consultation with our allies in Asia, in particular, Japan and South Korea about the appropriate response."
Japan has called for sanctions against North Korea. Asked if the U.S. is willing to co-sponsor a sanctions resolution, Rice said "the U.S. is working very closely with Japan and we will be in consultation with our partners inside the council, trying to get the most appropriate and strong response we can possibly get."
China, however, has opposed sanctions in the past. Asked if the U.S. is prepared to pressure China, Rice said "we're working very closely with China"
"China shares the same goal that we do, which is a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula. China also is very proximate, on the border with North Korea, and shares our desire not to see this situation escalate, and to ensure that we can achieve... the long-term goal, which is de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through the six-party talk process."
But will North Korea respond to any international pressures? "There have been steps that have occurred over the last years that have been progress," said Rice. "For example, they did take steps to dismantle the facility at Yongbyon, which was the principal reactor....The problem that we face now is ensuring that there is a verifiable regime to ensure de-nuclearization. And that's where the six-party talks have now stalled."
The challenge Rice said "is to convey with unity, as the president said today, on behalf of the international community that we will not stand for violations of international law which this launch today represented. That there will be consequences. And that, indeed, we will pursue together with resolve the goal of achieving a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons."
Rice also commented on the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who face a trial and potentially ten years of hard labor after being arrested two weeks ago for allegedly entering North Korean territory illegally.
"We're very concerned about the circumstances of these two journalists," Rice said. "We are communicating directly through a third country that represents our interests in North Korea. Our concern for these Americans in taking every possible action that we can to ensure their safe and swift release."
While Rice explained that "of course we have no guarantees," she said "we don't have any reason to be certain that they'll put on trial. We remain hopeful that their release may be possible swiftly and safely."