National Security Adviser Susan Rice said U.S. President Barack Obama’s phone call yesterday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations.
Iran must first follow through on its pledge to seek nuclear power only for peaceful purposes and stop supporting terrorists, she said. Negotiations “will begin in earnest” next month when diplomats gather in Geneva, Rice said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program, scheduled for broadcast tomorrow.
“It’s way too soon to presume either the prospect of an agreement on the nuclear program, which we hope to be able to achieve, but we’re quite sober about the potential for that,” Rice said. “If we could have a peaceful resolution of the nuclear program and an end to Iran’s support for terrorism and other behavior that has concerned us over many years, then we could begin a serious discussion about the future.”
Rice was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 until June, when Obama named her as his national security adviser. During her UN tenure former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered anti-Western and anti-Semitic diatribes to the world body. Rouhani, who took over last month, was elected on a pledge to ease Iran’s global isolation.
Obama said after the phone call with the Iranian leader that there may be the “basis for a resolution” on the nuclear program and that Rouhani “indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.” The conversation was the highest-level U.S.-Iranian encounter since before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979.
Sanctions on Iran will remain in effect until it satisfies its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and commits in the planned negotiations to only seek nuclear power for peaceful purposes, Rice told CNN.
“We and others in the international community have every reason to be skeptical of that and we need to test it, and any agreement must be fully verifiable and enforceable,” Rice said.
The two heads of state spoke in advance of a Sept. 30 meeting at the White House between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has expressed deep skepticism about the motives behind Rouhani’s outreach and suggested Iran is trying to buy time to develop the capability to make a nuclear weapon.
Rice said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from five other world powers had a “constructive discussion” last week with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who proposed reaching an accord within a year.
Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology has led Obama and his allies in Europe to tighten economic sanctions and the U.S. and Israel to threaten military action to prevent the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran denies that it’s seeking to do so.
On Syria, Rice said the U.S. reserves the option to take unilateral military action if President Bashar al-Assad’s government doesn’t comply with the UN resolution requiring it to surrender its chemical weapons.
“It’s very significant that this strong and binding resolution, which holds Syria to the obligation that the United States and Russia negotiated in Geneva, will in fact envision very explicitly further consequences in the case of non-compliance,” Rice said.