CBS "Early Show" Interview with Ambassador Susan E. Rice, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on the UN General Assembly

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
September 21, 2011

ERICA HILL: Joining us now here in the studio is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Ambassador, nice to have you with us this morning.

CHRIS WRAGGE: Ambassador, good to see you.

MS. HILL: We do want to ask you very quickly, before we get to all of this, the latest on those hikers in Iran, of course, the breaking news we're following this morning. Any developments that you've been made aware of?

AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE: Well, we're very much in touch with the Swiss embassy, which is the U.S. protecting power on the ground in Tehran. And we are as well hearing very encouraging reports. But frankly, until our hikers are out of Iran and back on American soil, it'd be premature to celebrate. But we obviously have been working very hard for the last two years in all measure of diplomatic channels to try to secure their release, and we hope very much that that will happen today.

MR. WRAGGE: Let me just talk about the timing of this. Do you see this as a goodwill gesture by Iran, or is this their way of undercutting the president on a day where he's giving a major speech in front of the U.N.?

AMB. RICE: I don't think it's undercutting, but it -- you know, I don't want to interpret for the Iranians what they are trying to transmit. We are -- we view this as really about two human beings who have been held too long in very difficult circumstances, and we want to see them back reunited with their families.

MS. HILL: Looking at what we're going to hear today, of course, we just heard Bill play some of that sound for us, President Obama last year talking about a sovereign Palestinian state. And now there's the vow to veto, of course, the membership push. How much concern is there on the part of the U.S. about what this will do to credibility in the region? Because as we've already heard from Mark Phillips, the U.S. -- it's hard to find a time when the U.S. may have had less influence on the region.

AMB. RICE: Well, first of all, what President Obama said last year was very specific. He said he wanted to see an agreement that resulted in the seating of a Palestinian state. And indeed, that's very much what we do want to see, because it's in the interest of the Palestinians. It's in the interest of Israel. It's very much in the United States' interest.

But the key word is agreement. And the two parties, which last year at this time looked like they might again sit down and stay at the negotiating table, have failed to do so. And we have been working since President Obama's second day in office to bring the two parties back to the table. And we're going to continue to do that through this week and thereafter, because the reality is there's no shortcut to statehood.

It's not going to happen at the United Nations unless and until there's a negotiated settlement between the two parties so that the borders are sorted out, security is sorted out, the capital is sorted out, refugees are sorted out, water issues, all these critical things.

So our view is not that the Palestinians shouldn't have a state. Indeed, they should, living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. But that can only happen through negotiations. And that's the message that President Obama will convey today to President Abbas.

There's -- we're quite certain that he's going to go ahead and deliver his bid to the Security Council. And there it will not succeed. But the point is what happens the next day. And the people we heard from in Ramallah aren't going to have anything more as a result of this bid the next day unless both sides return to the negotiating table.

MR. WRAGGE: What does the president need to do, though, to bring back those who feel as though they've lost faith that the president can no longer moderate this conversation? It seems as though we come back to point A each and every year -- not that this is a resolution that can be done overnight; this has taken decades -- but for the people who feel that this is falling on deaf ears.

AMB. RICE: You know what? We have been -- the United States, the world -- at this for over 60 years. And if it were easy, it would be done by now. But, you know, President Obama took this difficult but very important task on from the earliest days of his administration. He didn't wait till the end or his second term to do it. Why? Because it's important to American security. And just because it's tough doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. So we're going to continue to do that, because it's in our interest to do so and in the interest of our ally, Israel, and in the interest of the region and the Palestinians.

But the fact is that, as hard as this is, there is no shortcut. There is no magic wand that can be waved or paper adopted at the United Nations that changes the real-world circumstances on the ground for the Palestinian people. Both sides know, even the Palestinians know, as they pursue this gambit at the United Nations, that at the end of the day they too have to get back to the negotiating table or there won't ever be a real Palestinian state.

MS. HILL: Mark touched, though, a little bit on some of the discontent that he has seen in the streets. Are you concerned at all about any sort of an uprising following this vote?

AMB. RICE: Well, one of the reasons why we have made the case to the Arab world and the Palestinians and others that this is an unwise and potentially dangerous course is because we have predicted that there's this great gap that's been created between the expectations of the Palestinian people and the reality the day after.

And that's of concern, because, you know, you hear the people on the streets. On one level they know nothing's going to change. On the other hand, nothing is going to change, and they have had this big public push. And that's got to be of concern in the context of what is going on in the broader Middle East, which is one of the many reasons why the United States has made the point that this is an unwise and diversionary gambit. But it is indeed certain almost to occur. What transpires when and if it comes to a vote in the Security Council, we'll see.


AMB. RICE: It's not just the United States that has reservations about the timeliness of this approach.

MR. WRAGGE: All right, thank you, Ambassador.

MS. HILL: We'll continue to follow it. Thanks very much for your time.

AMB. RICE: Thank you.