- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday she won’t apologize to North Korea for calling it an “outpost of tyranny” and she ruled out incentives for the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program like those being offered to Iran.

“You would want to be careful with the North Koreans on front-loading incentives, because we know that story, we know how that worked out last time,” Miss Rice said, referring to a 1994 nuclear deal Pyongyang made with the Clinton administration.

“They took the carrots and … started breaking their obligations,” she told editors and reporters in an hour-long interview at The Washington Times. This was her first newspaper interview since taking office six weeks ago.

On North Korea’s demand that Miss Rice apologize before it will resume negotiations over its nuclear program, she said:

“I don’t think there is any doubt that I spoke the truth, and I don’t know that one apologizes for speaking the truth.”

In her Senate confirmation hearing in January, Miss Rice called North Korea — along with Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma and Belarus — “outposts of tyranny.”

Miss Rice said yesterday that she was “heartened” by the support of key countries in the Middle East for a U.S.-French effort to expel Syrian forces from Lebanon.

As she prepared to leave Monday on her first trip to East Asia as secretary, she said that North Korea is not worthy of the economic gestures Washington is extending to Iran as part of a joint effort with Europe to resolve a nuclear standoff with Tehran.

She referred to initiatives announced yesterday that include an agreement to license spare parts for Iranian civilian aircraft and enabling Iran, if it abandons its efforts to enrich uranium, to apply for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

North Korea, under the 1994 accord known as the Agreed Framework, froze its plutonium program in exchange for heavy fuel oil and civilian light-water reactors from the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union.

In the late 1990s, U.S. intelligence discovered that the Pyongyang government had begun a secret program to enrich uranium, which like plutonium, can be used to make atom bombs.

Miss Rice said yesterday that some incentives, such as “multilateral security guarantees” and helping the North to “meet its energy needs,” were offered during the last round of stalled six-nation talks last summer.

“Thus far, nobody has been able to convince them that this is a good idea,” she said.

In visits to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing next week, the secretary will look for ways to bring the North back to negotiations, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

“You can resolve the near-term problem of the North Korean nuclear program, but we can’t do it at the expense of being afraid to speak out about what’s actually going on in North Korea,” she said.

The secretary said the administration agreed to the Iran incentives to give more muscle to the European negotiations with Tehran in the hope that they will lead to a deal.

The Europeans, led by Britain, France and Germany, have promised in turn to back Washington’s insistence that Iran be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions if it breaks the agreement.

Miss Rice said that the administration’s gesture toward Iran is not the beginning of a warming between the two countries, which have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“This is going to be a long struggle with the Iranians, who are about as entangled in terrorist activity as you can possibly be,” she said.

[In Vienna yesterday, a senior Iranian diplomat at the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency called the U.S. incentive “too insignificant to comment about,” Reuters news agency reported.]

Miss Rice said that U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen would go to Damascus this weekend seeking a “very rapid timetable” for Syrian forces to withdraw.

“If the Syrians are willing to comply, fine. On what timeline? How do we make sure it doesn’t interfere with the elections? If it appears that they are not willing to comply, then what are the sanctions available?”

Lebanon is to hold parliamentary elections in May and the Bush administration is demanding that Syrian troops and intelligence agents be gone by then.

Miss Rice praised Syria’s neighbors and other Arab states for joining the West’s call for the Syrians to leave Lebanon.

“The unity with which the international community, including the region, has responded to this has been heartening,” she said. “I think in part because the Syrians are clearly showing themselves to be such a problem for the region; they’ve been fairly heavy-handed with their friends.”

Miss Rice spoke enthusiastically about democracy in the Middle East, saying that elections — as important and welcome as they are — have to be followed by hard work.

“I don’t mean to underestimate the impact of radical Islamists having a say in the political process, but remember that the political process also has an effect on those who run in it,” she said.

As “people start getting elected and have to start worrying about constituencies,” social issues and living standards — and “not about whether their fire-breathing rhetoric against Israel is being heard” — then “things start to change.

“Nine out of ten municipalities [in Gaza] went to Hamas. Well, we’ve kind of gone back to see what did they talk about. Well, they talked about social services and … kids going to school and things like that.”

That is why, she said, the United States has chosen to withhold judgment on the militant group Hamas’ recent municipal-election victory in Gaza, and has raised no objections to another terrorist organization, Hezbollah, to remain part in Lebanon’s political life.

Miss Rice said Mr. Bush deserves credit for his unflinching support for democracy. “I’ll tell you what I think the president doesn’t get enough credit for. Being firm that in fact the Iraqi elections could take place on the 30th of January.

“Many people were saying, ‘Well, you should postpone the elections,’ and, ‘You’ll never be able to hold them because of the violence.’ ‘What if this?’ ‘What if that?’

“And trusting that the Iraqi people were going to face down the terrorists and come out to vote may have been the most important thing.”

She credited her boss’ firmness for making Iran’s nuclear ambitions a global issue.

“If you think about it, Iran wasn’t even on the agenda as a nuclear issue until the president put that on the agenda with the ‘axis of evil’ speech. And now, slowly but surely, you have the international community uniting around the idea that the Iranians cannot have a nuclear weapon.”

Transcript of interview

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