LYNN NEARY, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Secretary NICHOLAS BURNS (Under Secretary for Political Affairs, U.S. State Department): Both Iran and North Korea have found themselves to be profoundly isolated in the world.
INSKEEP: That's the view of a top U.S. diplomat, but the isolation has not made either country more predictable.
This week, North Korea tested a long-range missile. Iran ignored a deadline. It was supposed to answer demands for limitations on its nuclear program. After those events, we reached Nicholas Burns, one of the top officials in the State Department, and we pressed him on what the United States is planning to do next.
Sec. BURNS: We're essentially saying to the Iranians, you have a way out of the predicament in which you've put yourself. You can come to the negotiating table. We will talk to the Iranians, but contingent upon one thing: that they will suspend their, all their enrichment activity that they've been conducting since the month of January at their plant in Natanz. It's a fair offer. Iran should accept it. Whether or not Iran will accept it is another story.
INSKEEP: Will Iran be given a take it or leave it proposition, or can Iran come back at some point with a counterproposal and begin negotiation?
Sec. BURNS: We made a proposal to the Iranians. It's now been five weeks since the offer was made. Now, it may be that there are divisions inside the Iranian government that are preventing them from giving us a response. But it's in their interest to do so, and they are obligated to do so. And so we're waiting to hear that response from the Iranian government.
It's very important that we make a fundamental decision. Do we think Iran is serious about negotiations, or do we think they're just playing for time so that they can extend their nuclear research and derive benefits from that? And I can assure you the United States will not put itself in a position of being strung along by this Iranian government for too much longer. So the Iranians will have to give us a clear and unequivocal response.
INSKEEP: Is there legal justification right now for a military strike on Iran, should the president choose to order one?
Sec. BURNS: The president has been very consistent over the last several months in saying that he is not going to take any of his options as president of the United States off the table. But he has also been very consistent in saying that we're trying to follow a diplomatic path here. We believe that diplomacy can succeed in blunting Iran's nuclear ambitions.
INSKEEP: If I may, the reason I ask about legal justification is this: During the diplomatic phase before the war in Iraq, U.S. officials made it clear that they felt they had passed U.N. resolutions which gave them the authority to act before a formal decision was announced to act. That's why I'm asking now. Is there - if the president chooses to use that option that he hasn't taken off the table, is there legal justification? And if so, what is it?
Sec. BURNS: Well, that issue is not now germane, because I think the president and Secretary Rice and the rest of us have clearly signaled that diplomacy is the order of the day. That we're trying to, in effect, persuade the Iranians to return to the negotiating table that they left unilaterally last autumn. And so that that's where our - we're focused.
INSKEEP: Is there a legal justification at this time for a strike on North Korea, should that prove necessary?
Sec. BURNS: Again, you know, I could answer your question in a discreet way, but it would take the focus off what we're trying to do. We're not trying to establish publicly...
INSKEEP: Nevertheless, I'd take that answer.
Sec. BURNS: ...we're not trying to establish publicly a justification for a military action. We're trying to establish the justification for a strong and purposeful diplomatic response to the North Koreans as we are to the Iranians. And we think we're being successful in avoiding a situation where the United States is isolated in dealing with either country.
INSKEEP: Although you said you're not going to be strung along much longer in the case of Iran, which suggests that you're going to be willing to do something at some point.
Sec. BURNS: What it suggests is that you have to play your cards close to your vest and, in this case, the United States believes that diplomacy is the way forward. Obviously, some of the other countries around the world that have direct interest in both situations also have responsibility to talk straight. So the Chinese, for instance, have a responsibility and a self-interest to make it clear to the North Koreans that the type of behavior we've seen this week -these launching of missiles, these wildly provocative statements out of Pyongyang - that has to stop. At the same time, friends of Iran, or countries that have better relations with Iran than we do, have to send that same kind of message. So, that's where our focus is.
INSKEEP: Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs. Thanks very much.
Sec. BURNS: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: And you can hear more of that interview at npr.org.
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