Daily Press Briefing by Sean McCormack, Spokesman, on Exports to Iran and Comments by Ahmadinejad (Excerpts)

April 8, 2008

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

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QUESTION: President Ahmadi-Nejad also said today that Iran's begun --

MR. MCCORMACK: He's been busy, hasn't he?

QUESTION: He's been quite busy, yes -

MR. MCCORMACK: Very busy.

QUESTION: -- that he begun - Iran has begun installing 6,000 new --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- centrifuges. And then he also said later, about 20 minutes ago or so that Iran has tested a new machine with greater capacity. He - in terms of the nuclear program, he wasn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- more specific than that, but in light of these statements today, do you think that there should be more punitive actions taken against Iran or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're, of course, going to be discussing it at an upcoming P-5+1 political directors meeting, that - talking about all of these issues, talking about the incentive side, talking about the disincentive side. What these announcements and pronouncements from the Iranians underscore is the fact that they are still in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, which have called on them to cease and desist these kinds of activities, yet they continue to poke their finger in the eye of the international community.

Let's all remember that these Security Council resolutions have the force of international law, so he is not defying the United States, he's not defying some international - one single state. He's defying the international community in continuing to take these steps. So we have passed three Chapter 7 resolutions against Iran. They are having an effect on Iran in terms of the economy and opportunity costs for the Iranian economy. And we're going to continue pursuing the diplomacy related to Iran to try to get them to the table. They have to meet certain conditions in order to do that, but we're going to continue to pursue this diplomacy actively and vigorously.

And Dan Fried will attend the political directors meeting on our behalf, and I'm not sure if the hosts have announced that yet, but we would expect it in probably mid-April.

QUESTION: Now the P-5+1 has been looking at new incentives or repackaging those incentives to make them more appealing to the Iranian people. What are you looking at specifically in terms of - are you looking at any new incentives? For example, Javier Solana was talking about, you know, certain amounts of fuel, for example, you know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I'm not going to - I'm certainly not going to talk about in public what we may be negotiating behind closed doors among the members of the P-5+1. But look, we're a full and active participant in this process among the P-5+1. You're going to have different ideas that different states bring to the table. And it's a matter of just working through those different points of view to arrive at a consensus document. We are fully in agreement with our other partners in the P-5+1 that you have to have two robust pathways in order to provide the Iranians with a choice and that there should be some incentive for them to take a different pathway to choose to shut down their uranium enrichment activities, comply with international obligations. And so there is something positive on the other side, so we're fully supportive of that, but we also want to make clear, and I think we have, that there are costs that are going to be paid if they continue to defy the international community.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Sean, do you fundamentally think there's any reason to believe Ahmadi-Nejad's claims? Do you think it's true?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's - you know, it's unclear. I mean, they have, in making these kinds of announcements, tended to follow through in terms of trying to achieve the goals that they have laid out for themselves, whether it's 3,000 or 6,000 centrifuges. I can't attest to how many centrifuges they have right now. I can't attest to how well they may - how well or how efficiently they may be working. And in a sense, that doesn't really matter. All that matters is they're continuing to go down this pathway, they're continuing to defy the international community. So that's the threshold test here, not whether they have 3,000 or 3,500 or 4,000. It's the fact that they continue down this pathway.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Well, in a sense, what matters is how quickly these centrifuges can actually produce enriched uranium and how much of it so it can be used for a weapon, which is what - they say that they're not aiming at actually having a weapon, but you say otherwise. So do you have any estimates on which you might base a concern or a worry that at some point in the next two or three years, they actually are going to have enough enriched uranium to build a weapon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you're right to point out there are actually two aspects to this. There's what matters politically/diplomatically, and in that regard, my answer to Nina holds, the fact that they're continuing to do this.

There's a practical aspect to this as well, which gets to the question of how well, how efficiently and how many they have operating. That's not information that I have at my fingertips. The IAEA may have some estimates. Our intelligence community may have some publicly available information on that matter. They tend to do these estimates every single year in their comprehensive document about proliferation that they put out. Off the top of my head, I can't tell you what their latest estimate is, but they're publicly available documents. In any case, I would just repeat whatever number they had out there.

QUESTION: Sean, and you also said that the three sanctions resolutions are having an effect in Iran. The president seems to be able to rally a lot of his people around the pride they feel in having -- being a nuclear power, or how -- as he calls it. And many of the sanctions have not -- they've been, obviously, very limited and they haven't affected perhaps the oil production or the economy on a larger scale. If you're looking at more punitive actions, then wouldn't you have to actually look at sanctions that affect the economy more than they have now, perhaps so far?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we -- maybe -- and maybe going forward, we can say more about what -- kind of trying to quantify some of these effects on the economy, see if we can do some more for you on that. But essentially, what the effect of the sanction is to raise the cost for the Iranian Government to do certain kinds of business, and certainly make it much, much more difficult for them to abuse the international financial system for their own purposes. And what they do, basically, is exacerbate the effects of the mismanagement of the government of the Iranian economy.

So you already have a case where the government is mismanaging the Iranian economy and you have increasing rates of inflation there and the need for them to dip into some of their reserves in order to fund their budget and to fund the extravagant promises that Ahmadi-Nejad has made to the population. So you already have some significant issues there with respect to their economy, despite record high oil prices.

The effect of the sanctions is to magnify those effects. So you have, in a sense, a multiplier effect. Now, certainly, we don't want to cause any harm or hardship to the Iranian people. That is not -- it's not our intention. It's not the intention of the international community. But they have a government that is making these choices on their behalf, and the choices that the government is making for Iran and the Iranian people is costing the Iranian people. But it is important to note that the sanctions aren't solely responsible for any increased costs or hardship or effects on the Iranian economy solely. Those are - they're fundamentally - have fundamentally to do with the way the government is managing the economy. These things just magnify the effects of that mismanagement.

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