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Iran, Syria Continue To Show Destabilizing Behavior, Rice Says

United States is open to talks with both nations under right circumstances

Washington -- The Bush administration is willing to talk to Syria and Iran under the right circumstances, but both countries continue to demonstrate behavior that is destabilizing to the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says.

Speaking to reporters November 14 en route to Vietnam, Rice said, “I will talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress. I’m not afraid to talk to anyone.”

The United States, Rice said, has made “multiple overtures” to Iran to discuss its nuclear activities on condition that it suspend its uranium enrichment “which has been a demand of the international community for more than two years,” as well as other issues such as the situation in Iraq.

“[T]here’s no lack of opportunity to talk to the Iranians,” Rice said.  “I think the question is, is there anything about Iranian behavior that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq.  And I have to say that at this point I don’t see it.” Rice spoke one day after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that U.N. inspectors found plutonium and traces of highly enriched uranium that could be used in atomic warheads. (See related article.)

Likewise, the secretary said Syria appears to have “aligned itself with the forces of extremism,” and has given “no indication” that it desires to be a stabilizing force in the Middle East.

She added that Syria is causing problems of “extraordinary proportions” in Lebanon and has been “totally unhelpful” to Palestinian President Abu Mazen’s efforts to obtain the release of an Israeli soldier kidnapped by extremists in June, an action that would facilitate talks with Israel.

“They have stood side by side with militant Palestinian factions that are opposed to Abu Mazen.  And they have insulted the moderate Arab states that are devoted to the road map [for peace], Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” Rice said. (See full text of road map plan.)

“That’s not a very good record on which to suggest that just going and talking to Syria is going to get a change in their behavior,” she said.

Rice said the United States will engage in a “comprehensive approach” to the Middle East, which would “obviously” include the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

She declined to speculate whether progress on that issue would help the situation in Iraq, saying Iraq has “its own struggles.”  However, she said, where there is “greater movement forward for the moderate forces rather than the extremist forces” in the region, that situation would “certainly put Iraq in a context that I think would be better for moderate Iraqis.”

A transcript of Rice’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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