U.N. Ambassador Rice Says America Is 'Back'

First of a two-part interview

Susan Rice answers reporters' questions on Jan. 26 at the United Nations in New York. i i

hide captionSusan Rice answers reporters' questions at her first press conference as ambassador to the United Nations, last month in New York.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
Susan Rice answers reporters' questions on Jan. 26 at the United Nations in New York.

Susan Rice answers reporters' questions at her first press conference as ambassador to the United Nations, last month in New York.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Read The Second Part Of The Interview

President Barack Obama has promised a foreign policy based on greater international cooperation and a bigger role for the United Nations.

One sign of that bigger role is that Susan Rice, who was confirmed as United Nations ambassador a month ago, has a Cabinet seat — unlike her predecessor Zalmay Khalilzad in the Bush administration.

In a conversation with NPR's Michele Norris, Rice says the new administration wants to "set a very different tone to signal to the world that America is back and that we want to lead in a way that can be trusted and respected."

America On The World Stage

The expectations of the United States are high, she says.

"People are excited again about the United States," Rice says. "They see us as fulfilling our promise and potential and again being a beacon of leadership and hope to the rest of the world. The expectations are out of whack ... but the goodwill and the partnership really is there."

The danger from this reservoir of goodwill is that the world forgets that the United States has national interests, too, Rice says.

"We will not be able to be everything to everybody, nor would it be wise for us to try. But what President Obama brings, that I think is a different perspective and insight, is that so often American interests can best be advanced by working with others and seeking to build bridges and cooperative relationships. It's not often — nor should it be often — us against them.

"We will extend our hand, we will look to others to do the same," she says. "But we won't pick unnecessary battles. We won't seek confrontation for confrontation's sake."

Rice says that she thinks that world leaders had lost confidence in the U.S.'s intentions and leadership. And she wonders whether those perceptions can change so that the current leadership is "welcomed and embraced."

Policies Toward Israel and Iran

On the foreign policy front, two priorities for the Obama administration are the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the U.S. stance toward Iran.

On Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu was formally tapped to put together Israel's next ruling coalition. Rice says that regardless of who is in power, the United States will continue to have a strong alliance with Israel.

"That's the case irrespective of the leadership there and the leadership here in Washington," Rice says.

She says that by appointing former Sen. George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have "signaled their strong desire" to help Israelis and Palestinians settle the conflict so they can live "side by side with peace and security."

"We'll have to see how the events unfold in Israel should Mr. Netanyahu become prime minister," Rice says. "It will be our point of view that this remains a very important element of our approach and our polity. But both sides, both parties have to want to work in that direction. The United States can't impose a solution on anybody."

Rice also says that the U.S. is in the process of an "early and urgent review" of its policy toward Iran.

On Thursday, U.N. officials and arms control experts released a report that said Iran has enough nuclear fuel to build a bomb. Rice says the news "confirms what we all have feared and anticipated, which is that Iran remains in pursuit of its nuclear program."

She called it a "grave threat" to the U.S., the region and Israel.

"Our goal will be to, as it has been, prevent Iran from developing its nuclear capacity in building any illicit weapons capacity," Rice says. "Our aim is to combine enhanced pressures and indeed the potential for direct engagement to try to prevent Iran from taking its program to fruition."

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