Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CNN Transcript with Five Former Bipartisan Secretaries of State Agreeing on Talks with Iran

CNN has posted the transcript of the forum with the five former Secretaries of State at George Washington University, which aired on September 20, 2008. During the forum, the five former Secretaries of State, both Republican and Democrat, once again agreed that the next President of the United States should engage Iran in direct talks. Below is the excerpt of the transcript that includes the discussion on Iran.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Baker, you just talked about strategically, not tactically. Let's talk about Iran, which has been a strategic and tactical headache for the United States over the last 30 years.

Let's say, in the few weeks after the inauguration of the next president, a message comes from Iran that the Iranians are ready to do a deal, all conditions on the table. Is the advice to the next American president to once again put conditions to expect Iran to cry uncle or to engage?

Secretary Albright?

ALBRIGHT: I believe we need to engage with Iran. I think the whole point is you try to engage and deal with countries that you have problems with and take the Russians (ph)... AMANPOUR: So what do you advise the president when he gets this message across his desk or it comes to the State Department that the Iranians are seeking feelers?

ALBRIGHT: You begin to look at what level to talk at. And actually, something like that happened when we were in office. And you begin to find the right level.

And I think it's one of the most important relationships that we need to work on. We are not gaining anything by this. And I -- while there are many issues, ultimately, Iran has benefited the most from the war in Iraq. And I think that we need to deal with them.

AMANPOUR: The intelligence assessment that's going to be given to the next president says that Iran, they believe, will continue to seek to enrich uranium, but at the moment they don't see evidence of building a weapon.

Can the United States, despite all that's been said up to now, can the world live with a nuclear Iran?

POWELL: The Iranians are telling us that they are developing a nuclear program and they're doing it for civilian use and for power generation.

Once you know how to do that, that 5 percent enrichment, you can scale it up to 90 percent enrichment and make a weapon.

So I agree with Madeleine, and I suspect my other colleagues, that we should start to talk to them. Don't wait for, you know, a letter coming from them. Start discussions. We were talking to them up through the middle of 2003.

AMANPOUR: So take the initiative?

POWELL: Yes. Why shouldn't we?


POWELL: We did.

BAKER: We did. In our administration, way back in '91.

POWELL: We were talking to them through 2003 at a low level. And then it was stopped. And so find a way -- and don't make it, "Let's get together and talk just about nuclear weapons or just about this or just about that." Start a dialogue at a low level and let it grow over time.

SESNO: Might the next president have to have a showdown with his Israeli allies, to tell them to hold back?

CHRISTOPHER: I must say our relationship with Israel needs to be strong enough so we can say to them, "Look, we want to have a comprehensive dialogue with the Iranians. We can't be complacent about the nuclear possibilities in Iran, but nevertheless we cannot afford not to have a comprehensive dialogue to see if it can be stopped," because, frankly, the military options here are very, very poor.

And if that's what the Israelis are advocating, I think that we have to tell them that we think their military options are very poor and we don't want to go down that route.

SESNO: So neither candidate, neither of the men who would be president has taken the military option with respect to Iran off the table?

CHRISTOPHER: I didn't say to take them off the table.


BAKER: Can I just say one -- one more thing? When I was in office, we had a standing policy with the Iranians. We were ready to talk to them, provided it would be done at an official level, at the level of the secretary of state, and they did -- they wouldn't -- they didn't have enough domestic political support for that.

Having vilified us as the Great Satan for so long, they couldn't get the domestic political support necessary to meet with us. So it wasn't the case of our -- we hadn't been isolating Iran from that standpoint. We offered to meet with them at the level of secretary of state.

And I think a well-placed, quiet, private phone call to the Iranian leadership, if you can find out which leaders to talk to, to the effect, "Look, if you do so much as aim a missile or anything else toward Israel or toward anything else, toward Israel or toward us, our strategic nuclear deterrent can be re-aimed in 20 seconds," they would understand that, I think.

AMANPOUR: I'm sure they would.


But the question is, do you want to change the policy? And do you want to actually try to engage for strategic reasons?

BAKER: We ought to engage, yes.

AMANPOUR: To use them for help in...

POWELL: I think we're all saying yes.

BAKER: We're all saying you ought to engage, I think. I don't know. I haven't heard Henry. He may not.


KISSINGER: Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic...


SESNO: Put at a very high level right out of the box?

KISSINGER: Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to.

Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They've never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about?

But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government.

ALBRIGHT: I think also we need to make clear that what we're doing is not counterproductive. At the moment, I think we don't understand Iranian society. It is not monolithic. There are various aspects of the fact that Ahmadinejad is not particularly popular. There are economic issues.

And the more that we go around vilifying them, we create -- put him a stronger position. And so not only should we do these steps that the others have been talking about, but we have to make sure that we're not undercutting what we want to do by creating a bigger problem than we have.

AMANPOUR: So it looks like there's possibly some different advice to the next president.

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