US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the US would not "say yes or no" to an Israeli military strike on Iran. In an interview with Yahoo News and Politico, she also said that Iran's answer to the incentives package offered by world powers “is not a really serious answer”, and warned that new economic sanctions were the next likely step if the country continued to refuse to freeze its nuclear program.
"We don't say yes or no to Israeli military operations. "Israel is its own sovereign. We are in close contact with Israel and we talk about the diplomatic track we're on… They've said diplomacy can work here, and I know they're doing their part to talk with all countries with which they have diplomatic relations to explain why it is important to have a tough edge to our diplomacy," Rice said.
“Iran has a way out if they ever wish, but we will seriously pursue sanctions if they don’t,” she said. “You have to hope that there are reasonable people in Iran who see this as not the way to run a country.”
In her first public comments since a conference call between six world powers on Wednesday to determine their next step on Iran, Rice said the US does not view Iran as “a permanent enemy” and has “been pretty tough with them already” by supporting previous sets of United Nations sanctions.
US officials have claimed that Iran's response was unacceptable and that the US would aim to pile on more UN sanctions, a step that the other world powers have agreed to consider.
"They should have felt like time is running out quite a long time ago,” Rice said. “When you are having trouble getting banks to come in, getting investment, when export credits are going down from around the world, when you have inflation roaring, time is running out.”
Rice said the dictatorship will have to “make a tough decision” to avoid a further financial squeeze from the Security Council, which she believes is likely to act this fall. “What is happening to Iran is that its isolation is costing them,” she said. “It’s having an effect. I think that’s one reason that you’re seeing them trying to give half-answers rather than simply saying no. But the fact is we won’t accept half-answers, either.”
Rice said there was consensus among Washington’s diplomatic allies on how to respond to the latest talking points from Iran. “They agreed that the Iranian answer is not adequate, that it is not a really serious answer,” she said. “And so we’re now going to begin to consult on how to get back on the second track, which is to move again toward … a Security Council resolution.”
Russia's envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said his government hadn't agreed to impose further sanctions and hoped for a resolution through further talks. Rice said the Bush administration still believes “that the diplomatic option can work and that there is time for it to work.” She said part of her optimism stems from “elites” in Iran “who don’t want to see this kind of isolation because of business interests or other” reasons.
“I think there is a lot of ferment in Iran right now,” she said. “Even in their newspapers, as controlled as they are, (there is) a lot of questioning of the policies of President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad. After all, inflation is running wild in Iran. It’s a country that’s experiencing, of all things, brownouts in a country that has as much energy as it does.”