Interview of the Vice President

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- West Wing 10:35 A.M. EST Q It's an interesting time, so we really are eager to talk to you about especially a lot of the stuff that's happening on...


Q Do you question the interpretation that many people have made upon the release of that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Interpretation?

Q Well, a lot of people are saying, well, look Iran was not the threat that you said it was, or it isn't the threat going forward.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's important to be precise in terms of what it means, and it's important to put it in the broader context of what we've been dealing with in Iran . The reality is that if you go back to a few years ago, Iran had two programs. They had one program to enrich uranium that was headquartered in Natanz, that was covert until it was disclosed in about 2002, if you remember, by political opposition figures inside Iran . And Iran at that point acknowledged, yes, they do have an enrichment program at Natanz. And after that it was subject to IAEA inspection.

They had a separate program, we now know, based in part on the latest NIE -- the covert program that was aimed at the weaponization of fissile material for the creation of a nuclear weapon. What the NIE shows is that in about 2003, they, in effect, halted both those programs. You may remember that the then-public one about the enrichment efforts was suspended, and we know from intelligence now that the covert one that dealt with weaponization was also suspended about that same time.

In January of '06, they resumed their enrichment activities at Natanz, and have continued to pursue those very aggressively. Much of what we've said as an administration, and what we've done diplomatically and so forth, has been aimed at that enrichment program, in terms of getting -- trying to persuade the Iranians to give up their efforts to enrich uranium. That's unaffected by the NIE. The NIE doesn't deal with that. In fact, in the -- what we released by way of the key judgments, there's a footnote at the bottom of the first page that makes that distinction between, on the one hand, the covert weaponization program that they did halt in '03, and the now overt enrichment effort at Natanz.

I look at the concerns that we've had with respect to their enrichment activities, and I'm still concerned. As the President said yesterday, I guess it was, we still think there's need to continue the course we've been on to persuade the Iranians not to enrich uranium. The long pole in the tent in terms of developing nuclear weapons, traditionally, historically, has been developing fissile material, either highly-enriched uranium or plutonium. In this case, they're embarked upon the program to develop uranium, obviously.

Q How badly does this complicate your strategic objectives, given that you were making some progress with the European allies, or other allies, to put pressure on Iran ? If you read, in everything from the Journal op-ed page today to Robert Kagan's piece in the Post to even the front-page piece in the Journal, you've got a lot of people reacting, whether it's China , or folks in the Middle East , saying that this is going to probably give them less incentive to join with the United States in putting pressure on the Iranian regime.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we don't get to say we only pursue those policies if they're easy. It's very important, I think -- and the President clearly does -- that we proceed down the road of trying to persuade Iran diplomatically to give up their efforts to enrich uranium. That has not changed. There's nothing in the NIE that said we should be -- not be concerned about their enrichment activities.

Q Just a related question. Why was it released, given the degree to which it might tie your hands?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think there was a general belief, that we all shared, that it was important to put it out; that it was not likely to stay classified for long anyway and -- in terms of trying to deal effectively with this kind of an issue, especially in light of what happened with respect to Iraq and the NIE on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq , that we be up front with what we knew. This is what we know. This is the latest intelligence we have and this is what the analysis says it means and it signifies. So it was our judgment it was better just to lay those key judgments out there, publicly, in an unclassified form. I think that's the right call.