LiveAtState: United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 19, 2012

MS. JENSEN: Hi. Welcome to LiveAtState broadcasting from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. We are delighted to welcome our online student journalists joining us from around the world, as well as our guests seated here live in our audience today.

Our online audience can start submitting their questions now in the lower left hand portion of their screen titled “Questions for Ambassador Susan Rice.” And if any of you seated in our audience today would like to ask questions, I ask that you please step up now and go to the back of the room and see Melissa Waheibi and she will put you in line to begin our question and answer portion of today’s program. We welcome all of your questions today, and we’ll get to as many of them as we can in the 60 seconds – or, sorry – in the 30 minutes we have.

If you would like to continue this conversation, you can do so by following Ambassador Rice on Twitter using her Twitter handle @AmbassadorRice or @USUN. And if you would like to get the latest information from the United States Department of State, you can do so by following us on Twitter using the handle @StateDept. And that’s @S-t-a-t-e-D-e-p-t.

And with that, I would like to recognize Ambassador Rice.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Hi everyone. Good afternoon. Holly, how are you?

MS. JENSEN: I’m great. How are you?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Hi. I’m Ambassador Susan Rice and I’m delighted to welcome you to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. I hope you’ve gotten the sense that this is, in fact, an exciting day for us at the United Nations because we’re partnering with the State Department and LiveAtState team on this rather innovative discussion. And more importantly, we’re pleased to be able to welcome all of you, both those of you who are here in the room with us and those that we’re going to get to interact with from around the world.

We have students with us from 10 local high schools and student journalists joining us via video teleconference from 11 different countries, and I’m very much looking forward to all of your questions.

Let me say a few words about why we’ve asked you to join us today. First of all, we believe firmly, and I believe personally, that it’s vitally important that we bring to the Security Council and to the United Nations and into our deliberations the voices of the half of the world’s population that are those of you who are under 25. Your lives are shaped by the issues and events that we’re discussing every day. And, in many ways, you have the greatest stake in what we do or don’t do.

This morning, for example, some of you were able to witness an important event in the Security Council, a discussion on nuclear security and nuclear nonproliferation. It was a follow-on to a historic summit that President Obama chaired in September 2009 with heads of state of the 15 members of the Security Council. And at that historic session, we passed a Resolution 1887, which was a landmark in the international community’s track record and legal foundation on nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security.

It is also three years this month since President Obama gave his very important speech in Prague, in the Czech Republic, in which he outlined his vision and the United States’ goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

And so today, we came together in the Security Council for the first time since that – those two events three years ago to take stock of the progress that has been made in reaching those goals – and substantial progress has been made – and to assess what challenges remain. But I think that nobody has a greater stake in President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons than you all, the next generation, and those who will inherit the world that we leave behind.

But nuclear nonproliferation is really only one of the many important issues that we’re tackling today and in recent days that matter both to my generation and to yours. Before we went into the open chamber this morning and talked about nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security, I chaired, as president of the Security Council, an important session on Syria, in which we had to take account for the first time of the Secretary General’s recommendations for an expanded monitoring mission in Syria, which will put squarely back on the Council’s agenda the question of what do we do to stop the horrific violence that persists in Syria?

This afternoon, after we’re done, the Council will take up the recent coup in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and steps that can be taken to address that. We’ve talked about the burgeoning conflict between Sudan and South Sudan just in the last few days, and that’s just to give you a sense, in brief, of the range of issues on our agenda. Of course, also this week we’ve dealt with North Korea and the illegal missile launch that it conducted.

But I hope that as you take a look at the spectrum of our agenda that you will find it as interesting as I do. Now, I’ll confess that some of these sessions can get kind of dry, and some of you might have had that reaction this morning, and you might have noticed that as I was reading both my own statement and the presidential statement of the Security Council, by the time I was done I was almost gasping for air. Sometimes these things can be a bit taxing and tiring, but they’re all nonetheless quite important.

So I hope that one day when you are professionals yourselves, you’ll find your way back to the United Nations, whether as journalists, whether as public servants, whether as representatives of your countries, or in any myriad of different ways in which the world is open to you to serve your fellow human being.

But no matter what it is that you end up doing, I hope you will continue to raise your voice and exercise that vital right you have as a member of our common humanity and a citizen of this country or whatever country you come from to speak your mind, dream your dreams, and have every opportunity to realize those dreams, because, frankly, we need you, and we’re counting on you and you to shape the world that we leave behind.

And in that context, I believe the world needs an effective United Nations. We needed that a generation ago when my predecessors helped to found the institution. We need it today, and I believe we’ll need it even more tomorrow. So thank you, and I look forward to taking your questions.

MS. JENSEN: Great. Ambassador, our first question is going to come from here, our live audience. Please state your name and your school and then ask you question.

QUESTION: Hello, Ms. Rice. My name is Kashema Harvey from Paul Robeson High School. And as I was listening to the Security Council meeting earlier, I just wanted to know, like, what current action is the IEA – wait – IEAE taking on issues regarding nuclear weapons.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is the UN body in Vienna that really polices the Nonproliferation Treaty, makes sure that those countries that are using nuclear energy peacefully are doing so safely, make sure that nuclear facilities operate as safely as possible and that inspect and regulate the behavior of those countries like Iran that are acting outside of international law and their IAEA and UN responsibilities.

So it does a wide range of important work that we strongly support. And the work of the IAEA was flagged as an important element in the presidential statement that we adopted today.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from the U.S. Embassy in Lome: Like Russia, France, the UK, or Israel, the U.S. has nuclear weapons mainly to defend its territory against possible external massive attacks. Why does the U.S. always try to prevent other countries like Iran and North Korea from reaching the nuclear power for the same reasons? Iran probably won’t go back on its refusal to stop growing nuclear power. What is the probability of an international military attack on Iran before the end of this year?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Big question. And I’m not able to see these questions –

MS. JENSEN: You are not. This is directed --

AMBASSADOR RICE: Okay. But I can look at the camera.

MS. JENSEN: Correct.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Okay. Well, that’s a very thoughtful question. And let me begin by saying that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which I described, which is the international cornerstone of use of nuclear power, says that those five countries and those that are declared as nuclear powers have an obligation to move towards disarmament. And that – the United States is in that category, and we are definitely doing that. And we took a huge step when President Obama signed with President Medvedev of Russia the New START Treaty. And we are going to, once that treaty is implemented, take the size of our national nuclear arsenal, and Russia’s as well, down to levels that it hasn’t been at since the 1950s.

The NPT also says that nonnuclear countries should not acquire a nuclear weapons capacity and that all states have the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And here’s the problem. Neither North Korea nor Iran are pursuing, at this stage, nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. They’re pursuing nuclear weapons programs, which is why the international community has consistently condemned and sanctioned them through both the IAEA, which we were just discussing, and the United Nations Security Council.

So we all agree that countries that are in compliance with their international nuclear obligations have the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But those that have abused that, have violated it, and are under international sanctions like Iran, do not, and North Korea.

I can’t comment on the likelihood of various contingencies with respect to Iran over the coming months or year. From the U.S. point of view, we think that the threat that Iran poses in attempting to acquire a nuclear weapon is very serious. It’s very serious not only for the countries in the neighborhood around Iran, but it’s very serious for the entire world. And that’s why President Obama has made clear that we, like many other countries in the world, are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

We aim to accomplish that through what we call a dual-track policy, one of pressure and sanctions on the one hand and diplomacy on the other. We just met for the first time in over a year in what we call the P-5+1 format, the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and Iran, for a resumed negotiation in Istanbul last weekend. Talks in the past have broken down, sanctions have become more and more biting on Iran, and now the talks have resumed and there’s scheduled to be a second round in – on – at the end of May, May 23rd, in Baghdad. And we hope and we believe that there is still time for diplomacy to be tested, for it to be proved whether or not Iran is prepared to come clean and give up its nuclear weapons program. We hope that the combination of pressure and sanctions and diplomacy will yield that outcome; but if it doesn’t, President Obama has been clear that he’s taking no options off the table.

MS JENSEN: Great, great. We’ll take our next question from you. Please state your name and your school.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Ms. Rice. My name is Nicole Valencia and I attend World Journalism Preparatory School. My question is: As an ambassador, what would you say is the most difficult part of your job?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well – (laughter) – having to talk too much sometimes. No, I love my job. First of all, it’s an extraordinary honor to get to represent the United States, and particularly at the United Nations, where every country in the world is represented. I enjoy working with my colleagues from countries around the world. I love working with the great people who are here at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

So the issues can be challenging. Sometimes the problems are very difficult to solve. And we were just talking about Iran. That’s an example of a very difficult problem to solve that is squarely on our agenda here. But really for me, there’s no greater honor than to get to serve my country, represent the United States of America, and work on the most important national security challenges of the day, which I do here at the UN and I do as a member of President Obama’s national security team and a member of his cabinet.

And so even though some days are long and exhausting and sometimes frustrating or exhilarating, by turn, I have to say I love it and I really don’t have any complaints.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Hafssa Ait Tabamoute from Morocco. My first question is: One, Iran has said it plans to carry out uranium enrichment there for purely peaceful purposes. But the West argues that Iran is building a nuclear weapons capacity. How come the conviction that the nuclear program of Iran will be for military purposes and not for peaceful purposes?

AMABASSADOR RICE: Another good – although I hope we get some variety, and it’s not all on Iran. First of all, it’s not the West that contends that Iran’s nuclear program is for military purposes. The IAEA, the body we just described, has just issued a report which has indicated that they are very real reasons for concern that there are military dimensions, what they call possible military dimensions, to the Iranian nuclear program.

Iran has failed to come clean. We – our position is it ought to satisfy the international community, the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and all of its – the UN members that its program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes. And it could do that by allowing the IAEA to investigate those aspects of its program which the world suspects are part of its military ambitions. It’s refused to do so. It’s refused to provide that access – promised it would and then reneged, promised it would and then reneged.

But the fact is that Iran’s record, its behavior, and the facts all underscore and validate the understanding that Iran’s program is not for peaceful purposes, but rather for military purposes. But the whole purpose of the negotiation that I described at the P-5+1 with Iran is for Iran to take the concrete steps to demonstrate, without any question, if it can and if it will, that its program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes, and put in place this inspection regime, the safeguards, and all of the elements of a legitimate program for the world to see; and if it were to do so, that would satisfy its international nuclear obligations.

MS. JENSEN: Great. Our next question comes from our audience.

QUESTION: Hi, ma’am. My name is Mohammad. I’m a student leader in Global Kids. I’m a senior at William Cullen Bryant High School. I actually have a question about Iran, but a lot of people have asked about it, so I changed it right now.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Good for you. Versatile.

QUESTION: According to you, what step we should take to bring our youth forward and take active – and play an active role in international relationships? And how we can introduce these kind of studies in high school and in college and universities, and ask for students to come forwards and do something for us?

AMBASSADOR RICE: That’s a great question. I think the world is a completely different place than when I was in high school. I’m about to have, in two weeks time, my 30th high school reunion, which is hard to contemplate. At the same time, I’m the mother of two kids. I have a nine-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, both of whom are very interested in the world around them and the issues that we’re discussing here today.

And I believe that the world is different because, first of all, we have all this technology that ties us together. We have social media, we have the internet, we have YouTube. We are living in a world where what happens in a very remote corner of Tunisia or Syria or Utah is available for the world to see.

We’re living in a world where our security and our prosperity depend, frankly and directly, on the security and prosperity of people in all the countries we’re talking to today, and every part of the world. And for the United States to remain a world leader of stature and influence and security and prosperity. We need to be part of that world in a very constructive way. Our economy needs to be integrated. Our people need to have the skills and the interest and the background to compete and to represent us. I don’t mean just in the way that I represent us, but whether you’re a businessperson or working for a nongovernmental organization or a doctor or whatever, you’re representing us in one way or the other. So my wish for young people is, first of all, that they recognize their interconnectedness, and that they aggressively seek to build ties to young people in other parts of the world.

For those of you here in the United States, I hope you will learn foreign languages, live abroad, join organizations like the Peace Corps or other things that get you out into parts of the world that you wouldn’t otherwise live in, and experience personally what the circumstances are of different sorts of people in different parts of the world, because it’s only that way that we can begin to understand, as best we can, the world that we live in. And if the world understands us better than we understand them, if they speak our language but we can’t speak theirs, then we’re not preparing ourselves, you, the next generation, or our country to remain a influential and well-to-do and respected leader around the world.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Radio Mephisto, 97.6, the University of Leipzig, Germany.


MS. JENSEN: Today we read in the German newspaper that there is a big discussion between NATO states about Afghanistan’s future, especially about finance issues. In which ways are the United States able to help solve the country’s problems? Afghanistan.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, in the first instance, let’s be honest. The problems of Afghanistan, the challenges and the opportunities of Afghanistan, can ultimately only be addressed by the Afghan people themselves. We and other partners are there to help. We’re there to help them in the short term, until 2014, to build their capacity to provide security for their country, and that’s what the NATO mission and U.S. presence is doing now, and to deal with the challenges of al-Qaida and the Taliban, and assist the Afghans in taking on that responsibility for themselves. But Afghanistan is also a country that has suffered from generations of poverty and underdevelopment, where women have historically not had equal opportunity for education, for advancement. It’s got to deal with a very serious poppy trade and in a neighborhood which is challenging, to say the least.

We and the NATO partners that are there in Afghanistan, and non-NATO partners, of which there are many, Afghanistan’s neighbors and the entire international community, including the UN, are invested very deeply in trying to support the Afghan people, in developing their economy, improving their governance, having a more democratic system, fighting corruption, and building security. And we’re going to continue to do that through 2014 and well beyond. But at the end of the day, it’s the Afghan people and the Afghan leadership that are going to make or break the direction of Afghanistan. And they know that, and they are asserting, quite properly, their sovereignty. That is a transformation that we support, but I think Afghanistan understands that they will still for some time need the support of the international community, including that of the United States, and we have every interest in providing it.

MS. JENSEN: Okay. Our next question comes from our student journalist.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Yu Jin Jung from Hunter College High School. I just wanted to ask if an unforeseen event such as the Indian missile launch this morning occurs mid-conference or after a resolution is written in the Security Council, how you change, perhaps, your speech to reflect that event, and whether it did at all today.

AMBASSADOR RICE: First, I think your broader point is what do you do – how do we adjust to fast-changing events when we are in the middle of something significant? The specific example you gave of the Indian missile test wasn’t entirely unforeseen, and indeed really wasn’t pertinent to what we were dealing with in the Security Council because that was about nuclear security and nonproliferation. And there was nothing in that missile test – even though we, of course, encourage all nuclear countries to be very careful and restrained – there was nothing that was in violation of international law in the same way, for example, that we dealt with North Korea earlier in the week when it was in blatant violation of Security Council resolutions and international obligations when it launched a missile.

But to answer your general question, we are obliged to be on our toes all the time. And we – like everybody who deals with fast-changing events in the real world, we have to be nimble and we have to adjust. And sometimes that’s challenging. Syria is a great example. The situation on the ground is evolving day by day. One day the Syrian Government said they were going to implement a ceasefire, and briefly it looked like they might, and then within 48 hours they were resuming the shelling, and the killing was intensified. And we have to be able to – we the Security Council, we the UN, we the United States – have to be able to adjust our words and our actions accordingly.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Carolina Calkin. What are the strategies to reinforce --

AMBASSADOR RICE: Where is she?

MS. JENSEN: Javeriana University.


MS. JENSEN: I don’t know.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Perhaps in Spain?

MS. JENSEN: Maybe. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR RICE: Guatemala, I don’t know. Go ahead.

MS. JENSEN: What are the strategies to reinforce border control and make non-signatory countries of the NPT comply with international affairs regarding this topic?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Border controls in the Nonproliferation Treaty typically are not one and the same. They’re kind of different issues, and we talked today in the Security Council about one aspect of nuclear security, which is guarding against the illegal flow of nuclear materials across borders. And we at the United Nations have in place a regime that – we call it the 1540 regime, which is designed to try to prevent the flow of nuclear materials across borders, and prevent their – prevent these materials from getting into the hands of terrorists or other kinds of non-state actors.

And we reaffirmed the importance of that resolution this morning, and we also reaffirmed this is an area where there’s broad agreement in the international community, that it’s important to help countries that want and need the help to strengthen their own capacity to control what is coming and going across their borders, particularly if it’s illicit nuclear material.

And I’ll say next week in the Security Council, the U.S., under our presidency, will be hosting a different kind of event, what we call an open debate, where every country in the UN has a chance to speak on this question of what we called illicit flows, illegal goods, whether it’s nuclear material or drugs or terrorists or contraband that’s moving in violation of sanctions. How do we help countries that need that kind of help to strengthen their own ability to control their borders and preserve their sovereignty? So that’s an issue that we’ll take up not so much in the nuclear context, but in the broader context of what we call transnational security challenges.

MS. JENSEN: Carolina comes from Colombia, by the way.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Thank you. Sorry about that.

MS. JENSEN: (Laughter.) You’re welcome. Next question, please.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Samantha Velez and I go to the Cinema School ,and my question is: When the UN succeeds in securing nuclear weapons, what will the UN do to keep it secured after?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, it will be a combination of actions taken on a national basis by states and what organizations that we discussed earlier, like the International Atomic Energy Agency and others, can do that will ultimately be critical in the goal of securing all nuclear materials. At the end of the day, it’s – nuclear material is found within the confines of individual states, and a lot of states – our own included – have taken extraordinary measures to protect and secure that kind of material. Some may lack the capacity or the resources or sometimes the will to do that, and so the challenge is building that capacity, providing those resources, strengthening the will.

And we do that through a variety of means. We had a nuclear security summit last month in Seoul, South Korea. We had one in 2010 in Washington, D.C. where countries made very specific commitments as to how they would act, what steps they would take to secure materials within their countries. And that’s been a particular initiative of President Obama, who feels very strongly that one of the worst threats we could possibly face would be nuclear materials in the hands of a terrorist.

And so we’re working very much towards the goal of securing all of those nuclear materials. We’re making progress, and when it’s accomplished, the United Nations will be able to play a role in assisting countries in maintaining that security and strengthening it, and then the United Nations plays a role in making sure that countries that are – as we’ve discussed, like Iran and North Korea – that are acting outside of the bounds of their international responsibilities are dealt with in a comprehensive and effective way so that they’re – they do ultimately have to comply.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Elena Sorokina from Russia: Dear Ambassador, I want to ask you about Russian-American relations. Most people agree that our countries have reached certain success in the reset of our relations. Since we have the new president very soon, and Russian policies towards Syria, can we expect a switch from this positive path?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I don’t think so, and I certainly hope not. I think one of the most positive developments, achievements of the last several years has been what has been called the reset in U.S.-Russian relations. And while we face a number of different issues, we – there are many on which we still don’t agree, Syria being the most immediate one. Although we are coming together, I hope, and that I hope that unity can be sustained. But there are many, many issues in which the United States and Russia work together very well on a daily basis.

And the topic we are discussing today in the Security Council, of nuclear security and nuclear nonproliferation, is a great example. And when we started this initiative, the first country that we reached out to to discuss the possibility of today’s event and try to agree that we ought to work on this together in addition to our – what we call our P-3 partners, our – UK and France, was Russia.

And throughout this negotiation that resulted in the production of the presidential statement today, the United States and Russia worked very closely and cooperatively. And there are a lot of issues where that is the case. And I’m very hopeful that continued effort and attention on both sides will enable that to continue.

MS. JENSEN: Great, great. We have time for two more questions. Our next question comes from here in this room.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon, Ms. Rice.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: My name is Shashorna Bailey from Paul Robeson High School. And as I listened to Pakistan and India speak today, how does the fact that they are neighbors that don’t see eye-to-eye sometimes affect nonproliferation?

AMBASSADOR RICE: That’s another great question. Well, let me say candidly that the issue is not only that they’re neighbors that may not see eye-to-eye on certain issues, including nuclear issues, but the other complication or challenge is that they are both countries – one of the few countries – among the few countries in the world – that are nuclear powers, nuclear-capable but not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

And so unlike in 2009 when they were not members of the Security Council and President Obama chaired the summit that I mentioned in September of 2009, they are on it today, both of them at the same time. And so we had to focus our collective energy and attention in this instance on those areas of most broad agreement, and nuclear security is an area that the Security Council hasn’t delved into in great depth before. We have definitely done nonproliferation, but the nuclear security piece was relatively new. It’s something we’ve sort of only touched on lightly in the past. And – but it is a subject on which the members of the Security Council, including India and Pakistan, both agree. And they were present at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, and that gave us a foundation on which to reach an agreement on a presidential statement that we think advanced our collective efforts on nuclear security.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. JENSEN: Great. We have time for one more question. It comes from Musi Kahimbaara from the University of Pretoria, South Africa: Would you say there is likely to be a clash of interests between the UN Security Council’s approach to peace and security in Africa and that of the African Union’s, with special reference to the situation in Mali?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Another great question. I’m excited by the quality of what you all are coming up with. I think the answer is no, both specifically with respect to Mali, but more broadly, between the United Nations and the African Union. Although it’s a very good question because there had been times when the approach that the African Union has favored has differed from the approach that the United Nations or the Security Council has favored, even when there are members of the African Union, obviously, on the Security Council at any given time and who may vote one way in the Security Council but then be part of a consensus in the African Union which might be slightly different.

And the place we saw that most manifest, or the issue over which we saw that most manifest recently, was Libya, and to a lesser extent Cote d’Ivoire. But that having been said, I think members of the Security Council respect that the African Union has a potentially very important contribution to make. I think the African Union recognizes that the United Nations is sort of the global body with the responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

And so we’ve tried very deliberately to improve understanding, dialogue, and coordination on policy between the African Union and the United Nations. We meet on an annual basis. We consult regularly, including just a couple of days ago when we had the African Union chair of the High-Level Panel on Sudan and South Sudan, your former president Thabo Mbeki brief us, the Security Council, from Addis Ababa. And we had a very important exchange on what to do about the seemingly burgeoning border conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.

And similarly on issues like Mali or Guinea-Bissau, which we’re discussing in the Council today, we consult; we try to coordinate; and in most instances, we’re able to concert our efforts in a way that is constructive.

I want to say thank you all for coming here, for your interest in the United Nations, for your interest in journalism, and for your energy and commitment as young members of a world in which we all have a stake. I’m honored to have been able to spend some time with you all. I’m inspired by your wisdom, your intelligence, and the thoughtfulness behind your questions. And I wish you all the very best, and I look forward to seeing you all make us proud in the future. So thank you very, very much. (Applause.)