Rice Speaks on Syria, Iran and Darfur

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave an exclusive interview to Jonathan Karl of ABC News today, talking about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Syria, the crisis in Sudan and the prospects for a breakthrough on the Iranian nuclear issue. The interview was conducted in Nova Scotia, where Rice was on a diplomatic trip to Canada. Excerpts of the interview are available here, in an ABCNEWS.COM exclusive.

The United States has long blamed Syria for supporting terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. But Rice praised the Syrian security forces for protecting the U.S. Embassy.

Jonathan Karl, ABC News: Madam Secretary, in light of the bombing -- the attack -- on our embassy in Damascus today, are you confident in the ability and even the willingness of the Syrian security forces to protect our embassy?

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice: Well I will say that the Syrian security forces reacted, and they reacted very quickly to the attack and certainly reacted in a way that helped us secure our embassy, from everything that we understand. Unfortunately, these attacks take place despite the fact that we do everything that we can to secure our embassies and fortunately this one was not successful. I do know that some security personnel were killed, and we've sent condolences to their families, but we will have to, obviously Jon, figure out what happened here and do the analysis of who might be responsible, but we appreciate the response of the forces.

Karl: Is it difficult to rely on a security service that you have been so critical of, and that you've had such serious issues with to protect American interests?

Rice: Well, we expect that the Syrians are still going to carry out their international responsibilities to protect embassies, even if we have very deep differences between the governments because we do have diplomatic relations with Syria, we do maintain an embassy there. And there's an obligation then, on the part of Syria, to protect that embassy. And we expect them to take it seriously. In this case the early evidence is that they did.

Secretary Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell, declared the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan "genocide" back in September 2004. Two years later, the situation has actually gotten worse.

On Tuesday, the European Union's special envoy to Darfur reported that the Sudanese military has begun an aerial bombing campaign of villages in Darfur. Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has refused to allow United Nations peacekeepers into the region.

We asked Secretary Rice what the U.S. would do to stop the killing.

Karl: I want to ask you about Sudan because, since the United States declared what was going on in Darfur -- genocide -- the situation has gotten significantly worse and there are signs now -- including massing of Sudanese troops in Darfur, renewed aerial attacks and warnings -- that this situation could rise to the level of Rwanda-scale killings. What is the United States going to do about this?

Rice: The United States has led the effort to get a U.N. Security Council resolution that will authorize a force -- an international force -- to go in and to do what the government of Sudan has not been willing and/or able to do. I met with the foreign minister of Sudan just yesterday, and I told him, in no uncertain terms, that it is time for Sudan to accept that there needs to be an international force that can protect civilians, protect international aid workers. We worked to get a peace agreement. The United States was very active in getting that done, but the answer now is to get a robust security force in that can protect. The international community talks all the time, Jon, about the responsibility to protect. It's time to exercise the responsibility to protect. And so we need those states in the international community, the African Union, members of the Security Council to do what we all know what we must do, which is to insist that an international force go into Sudan.

Karl: But Sudan has refused that force and is even threatening to kick out the few peacekeepers that are there. So what do we do in light of that refusal?

Rice: Well, of course the Security Council has on the books sanctions that can be taken against members of the Sudanese government. Some sanctions have already been levied. The Sudanese say they want good relations with the rest of the world. Well, if they want good relations then they're going to have to act in a responsible way. And, frankly, right now they aren't acting in a responsible way. And it's time for the international community to insist that Sudan act in a responsible way or to use whatever leverage it has to compel Sudan to act in a responsible manner.

As the U.S. pushes hard for sanctions against Iran, Secretary Rice left open the possibility of historic United States-Iranian talks on the nuclear issue if Iran agrees to suspend it's uranium enrichment program. The U.S. alleges the program is part of an effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons. The Iran insists its nuclear program is solely designed to produce civilian electrical power, but there have been reports that Iran may be willing to temporarily suspend the program. Rice also strongly defended the Bush administration's decision to allow former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.

Karl: Were you personally involved in the decision to grant a visa to the former Iranian President Khatami?

Rice: Yes, I was absolutely, and I think it was the right thing to do.

Karl: Why?

Rice: Because sometimes it's important to let people speak and to hear the voices. We wanted those voices to be heard here in the United States but also in Iran. This is somewhat, and let me be very clear, the government of Khatami was not a government with which the United States could deal either. It was a government that persecuted political prisoners and there were a number of problems with that government. But it is important, if there are multiple voices in Iran, if there are shades of difference in Iran, that the United States has an opportunity to hear that -- people in the United States have an opportunity to hear that. And that perhaps plays back in Iran. I think the openness and the dialogue was good. It shows that the United States is not afraid to have those ideas. He's not a serving member of the Iranian government at this time. And, frankly, Jonathan, I'd hope that there would be lots of Iranians who could come to the United States. I would like to see Iranian students and Iranian musicians and Iranian footballers come to the United States, because we don't have a problem with the Iranian people, we have a problem with the Iranian regime. And the Iranian people are a great people. They are a people that should be respected, and we'd like to have more dialogue and exchange with the Iranian people.