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Amb. Rice at Holocaust Museum in Chicago

13 September 2012

September 12, 2012


Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's 2012 Risa K. Lambert Luncheon in Chicago, IL, September 12, 2012

Ambassador Rice: Thank you very much, Mike. Thank you all so much for having me. Josh, thank you for that very kind introduction. I’d like to come to your question about Libya in just a second, if I might, though, just begin by saying how much I appreciate the extraordinary good work of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. As a policy maker, as a citizen, as a mother, I am constantly appreciative of the work that you do to keep not only the memory of the Holocaust alive, but to keep all of us aware of the many subsequent horrors that have occurred and that may yet occur, and to bind us all together in the honor of the survivors, many of whom I know are here today, and their families, and in the honor of our core values to ensure that we make real the notion of never again.

I think, in many ways, that’s a link to what we lost today in Ambassador Chris Stevens and our three other colleagues who were working in our Consulate in Benghazi. Ambassador Stevens was the one American that the President and Secretary Clinton sent back into Benghazi at the very beginning of the revolution. He was our liaison with the opposition. He was their friend and their partner. And then after the revolution ended and succeeded and the international community had come together for once effectively to protect civilians, he was the vanguard of our new Embassy, our new mission in Tripoli, and was sent back to build that partnership that we so value with the Libyan people. And he happened to be in Benghazi yesterday, tragically if not coincidentally on September 11th, when the Embassy was overrun by armed gunmen.

Libyans fought side by side with the Americans to defend that Consulate, and tragically we lost four extremely dedicated and talented people. The Libyans themselves lost a number as well, and some Americans were also wounded. I personally feel this very heavily. He was a friend and a colleague. And I was the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 1998 when we lost our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and this brings back many, many powerful emotions.

And it reminds us all, I hope, of the service and sacrifice of our diplomats overseas. And we always – and very, very rightly – honor the service of our military men and women. And we must, and we should. But we also need to remember that we have civilians – diplomats, development experts, and many, many others – who are also serving every day in harm’s way and tragically pay the highest price, as they did yesterday.

Moderator: Thank you. We have a limited amount of time and a lot of stuff to discuss. I’d like to start, though, with an issue that is very important to the museum and that Josh alluded to, which is the issue of genocide prevention. One of the--the museum has several different elements in its mission--but one of our missions is to try to do what we can to put the spotlight on issues of potential genocide and the issue of genocide. And this is, we think, one of the most important ways in which we fulfill our mandate of honoring the victims of the Holocaust.

And so a couple of years ago, the Museum convened a very high-level panel that included Secretary Albright, former Secretary Cohen – former statesmen of both parties – who had watched in horror as the U.S. and other countries had not done as much as they could to prevent cases of genocide after the Holocaust. And they came together and put together a blueprint of specific recommendations of how the U.S. Government and other governments ought to improve their capacity to prevent these crimes.

So I’d like to just start by asking you, what’s been the impact of this report and what can you say about how genocide prevention has assumed a very prominent place in the national security policy of the United States?

Ambassador Rice: Well, the Albright-Cohen report is among the many things that I think the Museum should be most proud of. The report has played a very important role in elevating the issue of genocide prevention and atrocities prevention in the public policy debate. And it was in August of 2011 that President Obama, substantially informed by the recommendations of the Albright-Cohen panel, issued Presidential Study Directive 10, which was a process – launching a process – that culminated in (inaudible) to revamp the way the United States Government organizes itself, prepares itself, to prevent and hopefully, if necessary, respond to mass atrocities and genocide. And the President declared the prevention of genocide and atrocities a core national security imperative of the United States as well as a core moral responsibility. And we now have really retooled the United States Government to be much more adept at dealing with these challenges than, say, we were 10 years ago or 20 years ago when I served in government the first time.

He set up something called the Atrocities Prevention Board, which brings together all of the key agencies across the spectrum of government at the assistant secretary level to meet at least monthly, and of course for us to meet at higher levels of government, to examine instances where we may have information that provides early warning, to ensure that we are optimally integrated and not stovepiped in dealing with these issues, because that’s been part of the challenge in the past.

He’s also infused technology and urged that we train and retrain our diplomats and development experts so that they can perceive the early warning signs and act on them much more effectively. We have now the first ever National Intelligence Estimate being prepared to give us a sense of where we might be most – ought to be most – concerned about the potential for genocide and atrocities.

So, those are just a few of the examples, but across the U.S. Government and the national security apparatus, we are now, I think, much better structured, ready, and organized to warn of new things, to prevent them, and to use 21st century tools, including high-tech tools, to help those who are trying to expose those kinds of actions that could be signs of or precursors to genocide and atrocities. And I think Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen and their teams that were on this important commission really deserve a lot of credit for shining a spotlight on this.

Moderator: If I may just ask one follow-up, because I get this question all the time and people don’t really understand why structures like this are that important. Just, from your experience in government which really goes back more than 20 years (inaudible) –

Ambassador Rice: Are you calling me old? (Laughter.)

Moderator: You’ve done a lot at a young age. But I’m curious if you could just explain to our audience, this is real hard to explain why these kinds of reforms are important.

Ambassador Rice: Well, the U.S. Government is massive and we often operate within the confines of our particular department or our particular regions or our particular focus of expertise, the lawyers, the human rights people, (inaudible) people, the regional policy people. And in recent years, we have in the government seen the benefits of what we call whole-of-government approaches, bringing all of the disparate relevant elements of the government together to grapple with a particular problem.

And in the case of genocide and atrocities – and I served in the Clinton Administration in the 1990s – we were dealing with Bosnia and Kosovo and Rwanda and many other challenges that were in this same vein. And we didn’t have that degree of cross-agency oversight, action, and coherence that I think we are now building. And so I do think it’s not failsafe. It’s not sufficient in and of itself. But it’s an important prerequisite, I think, to more effective action.

Moderator: I’d like to turn to a couple of hot-button issues that are in the news that are of deep concern, I know, to members of our community. One is Iran. Iran has launched a very (inaudible) campaign of Holocaust denial, has grossly violated the human rights of its people, and its leaders frankly threaten to wipe the state of Israel off our map. They’re now trying to get a nuclear weapon. And you hear different things, but they’re pretty close to that.

What can – can anything be done to change Iranian behavior? And I’d like to particularly ask you to answer that question from your vantage point in the United Nations. What can we do in that body to try to address these multiple challenges?

Ambassador Rice: Mike, let me begin by putting it in a larger context. What we can do and have done and are doing in the United Nations is one piece of the larger puzzle, but it’s just a piece. The United States Government has been very clear, and President Obama himself personally has been very clear, that it is a matter of utmost priority and is a matter of U.S. policy that we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And we will do what it takes – (applause).

We will do what it takes to ensure that they do not get one. No options are off the table, including the military option, and we are not pursuing nor will we accept a policy of containment. That’s the bedrock, baseline principle. (Applause.)

So how are we approaching this? Well, through a whole lot of different streams of efforts. There’s the economic pressure, political isolation. There are things that we can’t talk about. And there is what we do in multilateral fora.

The United Nations has played an important role in that in 2010 (inaudible) we have been able to bring the international community together to impose increasingly stringent economic and nuclear sanctions on Iran. In 2010, the passage of Resolution 1929, we took it to a higher level and got a sanctions regime that is now the toughest and the strongest against any country in the world today.

And what we did, it not only set the bar higher so that every nation on the planet is legally obliged to prohibit all kinds of engagement with Iran in the financial sector, in the insurance sector, in terms of nuclear materials, in terms of ballistic missiles, in terms of arms trade. But it laid a foundation as well for the United States, the European Union, some of our Asian partners, some of our Arab partners, to layer on additional national sanctions. And Congress and the Administration worked very closely together and (inaudible) sort of put on one after the other layer of incremental tougher and tougher sanctions such that, in July, came into force really for the first time a combination of sanctions from the European Union, including their oil ban and Central Bank of Iran sanctions – all of this now so that since July, Iran has been facing the toughest economic pressure that has ever been mustered. And it’s having a devastating impact. Their oil production is down 40 percent in one year. Their economy, which had been growing robustly, is now shrinking at 1 percent a year. The value of their currency has plummeted 40 percent. And this is all relatively in the last few months as these sanctions have been layered on. And we anticipate that with additional pressure, additional enforcement, and some degree more time that their impact will be even more powerful.

So the UN has played that role. We also have seen the United Nations General Assembly pass resolutions condemning Iran’s human rights record by ever more wide margins each successive year. They’ve condemned the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador. We’re tightening the enforcement of sanctions, imposing secondary sanctions on those that violate the existing sanctions regime. But this is all part of a larger strategy of pressure which we hope will yield a change in behavior and a change in approach so that diplomacy can be the tool which yields the only sustainable end to the Iranian nuclear program, which is the decision like others have made for Iran to ultimately give up a nuclear weapons program.

Now, we’re not naïve. This is not – there is not an open-ended window for pressure and diplomacy to succeed. But we also think that there’s still time and space for these sanctions which have just reached their apex to have a meaningful impact. And we’ve been very plain to the Iranians in private and in public that the window is closing and that they have to make a decision to give up their nuclear weapons program or face the consequences. And as I said at the outset, the President’s been very clear that he leaves every option on the table to accomplish that ultimate goal.

Moderator: Amazingly close to running out of time, but I would like to ask you about another issue that I think is connected to Iran – the issue of Syria, which faces just a horrible civil war with very high degree of violence against civilians, ethnic groups there are under threat. Can you give us a little bit of the view from New York about how that crisis is unfolding? Do you have hope that the current regime might fall soon?

Ambassador Rice: Well, Mike, as Libya and Cote d'Ivoire and even Iran – as we were discussing with respect to sanctions – show what the Security Council can do when it comes together. Syria is a glaring example of how high the costs are when we fail to do so. And in this case we have been profoundly frustrated by the Russian and Chinese triple-veto of resolutions in the Security Council on Syria that were, frankly, quite mild resolutions. These were not even resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Syria. Russia and China had made a decision that they were going to go down fighting on behalf of the Assad regime.

And so while the General Assembly has voted 130-some to 12 with Russia and China in the 12, to condemn in very strong terms the actions of the Syrian regime, the Security Council has been silent. So to be very candid, I am not optimistic in the short term that the Security Council is suddenly going to achieve nirvana and be able to work constructively together on the issue of Syria. But the United States is not allowing that to block our larger effort, which is to speed the day when Assad departs. And we’re doing that through a variety of means. First of all, the United States, the Europeans, many others have imposed very stringent sanctions on the Assad regime separate and apart from the Security Council. And it is already showing very significant results in terms of the foreign reserves and the ability of the Assad regime to sustain its current posture.

We’re also supporting the opposition quite actively both politically – helping it unify, which is no small challenge – but also materially through increasingly robust support, nonlethal support, but in – the sort of material that is very useful whether it’s communications equipment or medical supplies or the like. We’re the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and their refugee population – over a hundred million dollars in just the last several months. And, relevant to the topic we were discussing, we have put in place mechanisms to ensure accountability. And we are supporting – through the Commission of Inquiry – we’re supporting the Syrian atrocities accountability mechanisms so that when all is said and done, the day that the evidence will be there to hold the worst perpetrators accountable.

So we’re not going to rest until this regime is gone. It is unbelievably heinous in its actions and behavior, but this is one of those circumstances where there’s no black and white simple solution, no switch we can flip without great risks that solves this problem (inaudible).

Moderator: Ambassador Rice, believe it or not, we are out of time. I want to thank you again for your public service and I want to thank you for being here today – (applause).