Index

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Briefing on American-Iranian Relations, Department of State
March 17, 2000, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Secretary Albright is here to take some questions on her speech today, and will be leaving directly from here to the airport to Venice.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, good afternoon, and happy Saint Patrick's Day. You all have this morning's speech, and I wanted to explain it just a bit more: about why we're doing this, and why we're doing it now, and what it means. And I also wanted to give you a chance to ask some questions.

Iran is, obviously, a country of great strategic importance. We think a better relationship would bring mutual benefits, and we want to explore whether that's possible. What's important today is not just the easing of sanctions on carpets and certain food products. The story goes deeper than that.

Through the points we've made and the concrete measures that I announced, we've taken an important step towards bringing down the wall of mistrust that has existed between our two countries. This does not reflect a new policy, but it does reflect a new phase of our existing one.

The dramatic social and political developments in Iran merit, from us, a broader and more forthcoming approach. At the same time, we have to continue to take into account what has not changed. And that includes our very serious concerns about proliferation, and about Iran's support for terrorism and its impact on the Middle East Peace Process.

If we are truly to move forward from here, the U.S. and Iran must do so together, in a balanced and mutual way. As I said this morning, what is most important is the direction of our relationship -- not necessarily its pace. We're prepared to move ahead, step-by-step, or more rapidly if Iran indicates a desire and a commitment to do so. We believe an authorized dialogue is the best way to proceed, and we're also realistic enough to know that we are not likely to move from near-complete estrangement to total engagement overnight.

Our purpose today is to make clear America's willingness to move ahead, in a way that will advance the interests of both countries, and to demonstrate in a specific and meaningful way that further progress towards a democratic and open Iran will have an impact on our policies. But that impact must be limited, until we begin to see those changes reflected in Iran's actions abroad.

So, thank you. I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the more I look at this, the more I realize it's not about carpets and pistachio nuts. You talk -- you apologize for a U.S. tilt -- not this administration -- to Iraq. You talk about how bad the Shah was. You talk about mutual grievances against Iraq. You've used the word "strategic."

May I ask you, please, can you sketch out for us: What kind of a relationship the US is seeking to pursue with Iran; how far you think the US can go in turning this important corner? And I attempt it, but it's getting pretty long -- the question -- to ask you what have they done in the last three years, in the way of foreign policy moves and their treatment, as you pointed out today, of Baha'is and Jews, to suggest that they're different?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think that, as I said in my speech, what has been going on in there, internally -- in terms of the numbers of elections that they've had, the size of their voter turnout, the results of those elections, in terms of getting more reformers into place, a different attitude internally -- I think allows us to see whether it's possible to have some kind of a new chapter in our relationship.

The reason that I went back on some of the history is: I think that it is important for the American people and the Iranian people to know that there has been a difficult history in the past, on both sides. But I also said that it was important not to be frozen by the past, and to look towards the future.

If all our policies were simply based on past history, we wouldn't be speaking to the United Kingdom. So I think that it's very important for us to keep moving forward, and look at different relationships. So I think history is something that one has to understand, and record, and be able to move forward in a new way. That's one part.

The second part to your question is that, as I just said in these remarks, and as I said in my speech, we need to see some effect on their external policy. We haven't. And that is the point: that on issues that are of major concern to us, it's important for us to see some changes in terms of the policies on proliferation, their desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, their support for terrorism, and their lack of support for the Middle East Peace Process.

And so the answer, specifically, is we haven't seen in foreign policy, but we want to see whether something will --

QUESTION: Before I made the question so complicated, the real question I have is: How do you -- what would you like the US and Iran to do together? Are you looking toward -- if everything goes right -- a strategic relationship, some alliance against Iraq, some mutual guarding of the Gulf and its oil resources? Because there is some pretty strong -- what should I say -- offers to Iran implicit in these remarks.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. What I was saying was that, basically, we have a number of policy or national interest goals that happen to be in common. We are concerned about Afghanistan, and would like to see a moderate Afghanistan. We want to see the free flow of oil in the Gulf. We're concerned about narco-trafficking. Those are kinds of issues that two countries -- that actually had a relationship -- would have something in common. But in no way am I even thinking about the kinds of things that you're talking about. I think it's just an attempt to show that do have something in common.

But the whole point here, Barry, is that I have had the United States take a step. I have made clear that we are open to further steps, but on a balanced and mutual way; that we are either prepared to do it step-by-step or more rapidly, depending upon their response; but that I don't expect -- frankly, I have to say I've just been shown some of the original responses out of Tehran, and they are generally positive. But I think -- it was a long speech. I said a lot of different things in it. And they have to analyze it. And we're not expecting any rapid kind of response to it. It's there on the table. We have to see.

Now, I do wish to clarify that there is nothing similar about our relationship with Iran to ours with the United Kingdom's. So forget that.

QUESTION: A couple of questions. First of all, can you tell us whether there's been any -- whether you had any prior knowledge of any steps that the Iranians might take in response to your speech, or was this done completely blind?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, we didn't, I mean, I did not. And clearly what has been happening is that they have been very focused, I think, on what has been happening internally with them, as one might expect. But, you know, I have not.

QUESTION: OK. And second question is you said in your speech that fully normal relations will not be possible until they address these concerns on terrorism and proliferation. Could you expand a little on that? When you say "fully normal relations," does that exclude normal diplomatic relations, which is presumably one of the early objectives of this initiative toward Iran?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think what's very important is that we keep, front and center, the fact that we have very basic concerns on the issues of proliferation, terrorism and lack of support for the Middle East Peace Process. And we haven't seen positive action on those foreign policy issues for them. And while what I have said is that we would be prepared for diplomatic discussions, a fully normal relationship has a whole host of aspects to it. And those are obviously the kinds of things we're going to be talking about.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can we say your speech -- is it fair to say it's the end or the burial of the Dual Containment Policy, since there's no longer containment, there's dialogue, and it's no longer dual, and what applies to Iran doesn't apply to Iraq?

And my second question is you didn't come out and say it -- an apology -- but does the United States apologize for supporting the coup against Dr. Mossadegh?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all let me say: What I did differentiate, I think, is our policy towards Iraq from what could potentially be a policy towards Iran.

On the other hand, I'm sure it hasn't escaped anybody's notice that we continue to have a whole host of sanctions in place, and are concerned about some of the aspects, as I keep saying, of Iranian policy -- which does need to be stopped -- and that is the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. So to that extent, we want to contain that aspect of their policy. But I think that a lot has happened since that kind of rubric was used, and it's because of what has happened internally in Iran.

I really wanted to keep as a central theme, here, that what we are doing -- and this goes a little bit to your question -- is not that we had any signals, but that there is something that happened inside Iran, that indicates that conceivably -- maybe -- they might wish to react to something where I took what is basically a step in loosening, in taking away some sanctions.

So this is a period of a step-by-step approach, where we have to watch it. I said, I think, everything that I needed to say on the Mossadegh coup.

QUESTION: Is there any reconsideration or consideration of the US attitude toward pending World Bank loans? Will the United States be prepared to permit those to go through without voting or trying to block the vote?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, no. I mean, you know, there are -- we have certain regulations about not supporting loans for states that support terrorism, and nothing has changed in that regard.

QUESTION: Will you use your influence to stop those loans as opposed to just basically stating no, that your vote by itself wouldn't stop a loan from going through?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm not going to comment on the internal workings of it.

QUESTION: Happy Saint Patrick's Day to you. It's also my birthday as a -- (inaudible).

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Happy Birthday to you.

QUESTION: You've mentioned many times moving forward with Iran on the peace process -- moving together. Would a very significant signal be the US and Iran moving to get the Israelis, without violence, out of Lebanon in July? Would that be a significant signal of cooperation on the peace process?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the Israelis have said that they are withdrawing. We have, all along, been concerned about the violence in Lebanon created by the Hezbollah. So I think anything that can be done to make clear that there is, that the violence is being controlled, I think, is an important signal that is useful.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, public in the Czech Republic recently follows the US-Iranian relationships closely, after Washington put pressure on Prague regarding Czech exports to Iranian nuclear plant. People in Prague now, maybe wrongly, assume that US is opening up to Iran while shutting the door for the Czech exports. Could you comment on it, please?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it would be totally wrong if the Czechs misunderstood what we were doing. Because I have made very clear that, what we are concerned about is the desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction and transfer of technology. And the case that we made to the Czechs is as strong today as it was when I was there and made it again in person.

We are very pleased that the Czech Government, and I believe the Lower House -- I'm not sure the Senate has passed yet a law which would prohibit the sale. I think it's very important, and it is a sign that the Czech Republic is adopting a responsible approach to one of the major problems of our time, which is the problem of proliferation.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, has the U.S. made any additional efforts on the law enforcement, and to seek help with the Khobar Towers investigation with Iranian counterparts?

And if I may also ask: The United States in the last few years declassified a number of documents that had to do with American involvement in Chile in the early 1970's. Since you mentioned some of the American involvement in Iran's history, I wonder if the administration would be willing to declassify documents that are relevant to that era?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, on Khobar, the investigation is ongoing, and we have not reached any conclusions about who all -- I mean we have some information concerning Saudi nationals and Iranian government officials and others, but we haven't reached any conclusion regarding whether the attack was directed by the government of Iran. And so we have -- it has not moved further than that. The investigation goes on. I, frankly, will have to look into what you asked.

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