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

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


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

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Obama has promised a more cooperative foreign policy and a bigger role for the United Nations. His new U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice, is a cabinet member unlike her predecessor in the Bush administration. Rice worked on President Clinton's national security staff and later was assistant secretary of state for Africa policy. I sat down to talk with Ambassador Rice earlier today at her new office at the State Department, so new the bookshelves were still empty. I asked what kind of reception she has received at the U.N.

SUSAN RICE: People are excited again about the United States. They see us as fulfilling our promise and potential and again being a beacon of leadership and hope to the rest of the world. Now, the expectations are out of whack and exceedingly high. But the goodwill and the partnership really is there.

NORRIS: So you begin your tenure with a reservoir of goodwill and, as you say, expectations though that are somewhat out of whack, very high expectations. What are the dangers there? People are expecting so much, perhaps too much from the United States.

RICE: Well, the danger is that the world forgets that the United States is the United States. And at the end of the day, like every other country, we have our own national interests. And 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 often be, us against them.

So we will extend our hand. We will look to others to do the same. But we won't pick unnecessary battles. We won't seek confrontation for confrontation's sake. We want to set a very different tone and to signal to the world that America is back and that we want to lead in the way that can be trusted and respected.

NORRIS: When you say America is back, I am imagining that there are members of the previous administration that will wince when they hear you say that.

RICE: Well, I think the United States has gone through, by any objectives measure, a period of time where many around the world have lost some degree of confidence in our intentions and our leadership. The question is, need that be a lasting and permanent change in perceptions of the United States or can in fact those perceptions change and can our leadership again find itself welcomed and embraced?

NORRIS: I want to ask you about two developments in the news today. We now know that Benjamin Netanyahu has been asked to serve as the leader of the state of Israel. We have also learned in the news today that Iran has acquired enough nuclear material to make a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu has signaled that his primary focus will be on Iran and the development of nuclear weapon. How does that change or complicate U.S. policy toward Iran?

RICE: Well, let me begin with Israel. The United States has and will maintain a very strong relationship with - and indeed alliance - with Israel. And that's the case irrespective of the leadership there and the leadership here in Washington.

NORRIS: Even with the much more hard-line government?

RICE: That's been the case before and it will remain the case. Our interests are, as the president said, are multiple. First of all, obviously, by the appointment of special envoy, Senator Mitchell, the president and Senator Clinton has signaled their strong desire to pursue American efforts to support the Israelis and the Palestinians in coming to a settlement of the conflict that can result in a two state solution - with Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace and security. We'll have to see how events unfold in Israel should Mr. Netanyahu become prime minister.

And it will be our point of view that this remains a very important element of our approach in our policy. That both sides, both parties have to want to work in that direction. With respect to Iran, as the president has said on a number of occasions, the United States views Iran acquiring an illicit nuclear capacity as a grave threat to ourselves, to the region, and indeed to Israel. We are in the process of an early and urgent review of U.S. policy towards Iran. The news today confirms what we all have feared and anticipated which is that Iran remains in pursuit of its nuclear program.

There's no ambiguity about that. And 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.

NORRIS: That was U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. We'll have more of my conversation on Monday's program. Ambassador Rice talks about her approach to diplomacy - an approach based in part on guidance from her mentor, former Secretary of State and former U.N. Ambassador, Madeline Albright.

RICE: The one piece of advice that she - she and only she - and perhaps my mother and a few others could say without any shyness was to remind me to always be patient. And to recognize that the United Nations can sometimes move a little slowly.

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