Five days after her appointment as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice held her first Town Hall meeting with State Department employees. Two of the questions posed to her at this January 31 meeting addressed issues of science and technology. One dealt with openness and scientific exchange; the second with the stalemate regarding the siting of ITER. (Of the six countries participating in this project, three countries support each proposed host site: the EU, China and Russia support a site in France, while the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea support a site in Japan.)
The text of the questions and Secretary Rice's responses are provided below:
QUESTION: "I'd like to know what you think about Science, as a diplomatic tool."
SECRETARY RICE: "I think science, as a diplomatic tool, is great. I come from Stanford University [Rice was the Provost of Stanford University for six years in the 1990s, as well as a professor of political science]. And just let me say that, first of all, I'm a huge proponent of exchanges, student exchanges, cultural exchanges, university exchanges. We talk a lot about public diplomacy. It's extremely important that we get our message out, but it's also the case that we should not have a monologue with other people. It has to be a conversation. And you can't do that without exchanges and openness. And so I'm very, very devoted to that, and it gets to the question of science.
"At a place like Stanford, the wonderful think is you look around and you cannot find a more multiethnic, multicultural, multinational endeavor than in the sciences, and the United States has always been in the lead of being at the center of international science. And science and knowledge know no boundaries. They can't know boundaries. What's discovered in Russia, or what's discovered in the United States or what's discovered in India or in Israel, it all forms the base of scientific knowledge.
"The other thing is that the United States can lead in problems where science and technology can be the solution. We have been very involved in issues concerning greenhouse gases and climate change, or instance. This is an important issue. And the United States is spending $5 billion a year on these questions. Eventually, energy and the economy and science and technology have to come together to give us better solutions to these problems.
"So yes, we can press on a number of fronts on science: Openness in recognizing that there are no boundaries and therefore keeping ourselves open to other people, making sure that we are at the center of the scientific discourse when it comes to particular issues that science can help, and I think just being representatives of the importance of the international character of science."
QUESTION: "I just wanted to mention to you, both a diplomacy problem and a nonproliferation problem and an energy problem, which is all wrapped up together. We've been working on this for the last 18 years while I've been here. And it's called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER.... The President himself has taken the decision for the United States to reenter ITER. For a while it had to leave because of budget problems. But recently, the United States within the last year or two has gone back into ITER, but we've run into a great roadblock because there are two countries that want to have ITER, France and...the Japanese.... And unfortunately, they're knocking heads against each other. The United States has been quite open about saying, well, either country would be okay, though we, at the moment have a preference for putting it in [Japan]. But unfortunately, because there's six countries involved and it's gotten quite political and difficult, the whole thing is in great danger of going nowhere.
"...[T]his would be a major, major accomplishment if we could do it. But we don't want to lose the opportunity.... And the United States would only pay 10 percent of the cost of the project, which is $5 billion, by the way, over ten years. That's very cheap - just 10 percent of that. The other countries are paying much more. But we're in danger of losing all of that...."
[NOTE: While ITER is estimated to cost somewhere around $5 billion, depending on the conversion rates used and other factors, DOE has estimated that the U.S. portion might be approximately $1 billion, spread over 8 to 10 years.]
SECRETARY RICE: "...[Y]ou'll be very pleased to know that I do know personally about it and, in fact, have done some work on it. And the ITER project is a very important project and we hope it can move forward. We have backed the Japanese site at this point. But we have said to the EU that if they can work something out with the Japanese, then we will do whatever needs to be done here.
"But the scientists, actually, under the direction of Jack Marburger, the Science Advisor to the President, selected the Japanese site as the scientifically best site, and we'll continue to work the problem. I agree with you. It's an important project and we need to try to break through what is currently this logjam, three and three [participating countries supporting each site]. And I want you to know I do know about it."