Briefing with Spokesperson Sean McCormack on the E.U. and Iran (Excerpts)

May 10, 2006

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right into whatever questions you may have.

QUESTION: What do you think the Europeans might do to repackage? Does that mean new proposals, a new emphasis? What's the expectation that the Europeans can do that somehow will turn this situation around?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is on Iran?

QUESTION: I'm sorry. On Iran, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Barry, this has been the subject -- topic of discussion over the past couple days. Up in New York, Secretary Rice had meetings at the ministerial level with the P-5 +1. There were political directors then brought in for a subsequent meeting. She had dinner last night with Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy. It was one of the topics of conversation there. So where we have come out and you've heard from Secretary Rice is that we believe that it's advisable and certainly understandable to take another couple of weeks here to see if we can bring the entire Security Council along on a package and that in that package, it would provide a set of choices for the Iranian regime. You've heard about those choices from Secretary Rice.

On one hand, would be a series of incentives so that they could choose the pathway to a peaceful nuclear program that would also have with it objective guarantees, so that the world is assured that Iran isn't going to try to develop a nuclear weapon under the guise of that peaceful nuclear program. On the other hand, if they choose another -- the other pathway, which is the pathway they now find themselves on, one of defiance and obstructionism, there will be consequences, diplomatic consequences to choosing that pathway.

So we thought that it was a good idea to continue some of the diplomatic discussions for the next couple of weeks here. I want to make one -- underline one thing and you've heard this a couple times from the Secretary already this morning and that is that regardless of the outcome of these discussions with the P-5 and then the wider Security Council, there will be action in the Security Council and we'll see exactly what that action is over the course of the next couple weeks.

As a process point for you, Under Secretary Nick Burns is going to be traveling to London on Monday* so that's the next step in this process in terms of formal consultations at the political director level. And I would expect at that point that the Europeans are going to surface some of their ideas about what incentives might be out there. We're also going to talk about what consequences, what penalties, diplomatic penalties, there might be if the Iranian regime chooses that other pathway. So that will be the topic of discussion. I would expect that there are also going to be informal consultations that Nick has over the telephone and also try to keep you up to date on any conversations that the Secretary has on the topic.

QUESTION: Does parallel - the London talks are parallel to the Brussels talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Brussels talks, I think, are in an internal EU.

QUESTION: One doesn't obviate the other.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. No, exactly. I think the EU wants to get together and talk about what some of their ideas that they might surface regarding incentives. But the P-5+1 meeting is going to be in London so that's going -- the EU-3 will bring to the table its ideas. We'll certainly be part of those discussions as well.

QUESTION: I'm having a little problem, and then I'll let up, understanding the two week concept. This is two weeks for Iran to come to its senses? It's two weeks for the Europeans to repackage and then you go back to the Security Council. What if nothing really changes, you're going to move for a resolution anyhow? I don't understand the two week measurement, the two week --

MR. MCCORMACK: Don't hold us to two weeks from today there's going to be -- we're going to be sitting on the Security Council. It's a couple of weeks.

On the first part of your question about the Iranians, they can choose at any moment and start cooperating with the international community. Given their behavior over the past couple of years, I don't think anybody has that expectation right now. But certainly we, as well as the rest of the world, would welcome that.

In terms of the next couple weeks, we just thought that that was a reasonable timeframe, Barry, after Secretary Rice had her consultations with her counterparts to work a little bit more of the diplomacy, to have Secretary Rice and her counterparts be able to sit down and take a look at some of the ideas that the political directors have surfaced. I would expect also, in addition to working -- as part of this package, they're going to be also talking about language for a Security Council resolution. So this is really trying to take all the various elements that might be in play here, Barry, and have them fleshed out in the course of these discussions with the political directors meeting and then at the ministerial level.

On top of that, I would also expect that there would be separate discussions and a separate line of thought concerning what actions states might take on their own or like-minded states might take together to look at the financial side of this. Secretary Rice mentioned that this morning as well. So there are a number of different elements ongoing on parallel, yet related tracks, Barry.

QUESTION: I promised to let up, but I forgot one thing.


QUESTION: There's an article in the Time magazine, it would seem a letter to Time magazine. I don't know if you know about this. A representative of Khameini now offering what is described as new possibilities of solving the impasse. Maybe we won't drop out of the NPT Treaty, maybe they'd consider an IAEA protocol providing for intrusive and snap inspections. I don't know if you've seen this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've seen the news reports about it, Barry.

QUESTION: Is that a --

MR. MCCORMACK: From Rohani, who used to be the negotiator --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- and I think he was dismissed by the current regime. He has a position, I think within the sort of structure of that regime there. Yeah, we've seen it, Barry. Look, there are appropriate fora where the Iranians could surface any proposals that they might have if they have something new to say, whether that's with the EU-3 or with the Russians. I think just as a very brief comment without getting into the details, I don't think that there's really anything new that was in there. And I think it really doesn't address the core issue about enrichment. It still talks about enrichment on Iranian territory.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: How are you?


QUESTION: Is it accurate to say then that the United States agreed to this initiative without knowing the exact contents of what this package would be?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we did -- what we agreed to, James, was a process. And we thought that it was important to give the diplomatic process a little more time, as I said, a couple of weeks. And there is a level of trust among our -- the partners in the P-5+1 where there's going to be a good discussion, forthright and something that is -- that everybody brings their best intentions to the table. And so we'll see how that diplomatic process comes out. We hope that we are able to come up with this -- come up with a package.

But as I pointed out earlier, there will be some action in the Security Council and we'll see exactly what that action is. I think we'll have a little more clarity on that as we move forward over the next couple of weeks here, but we have previously said that, at a minimum, what we are seeking is a Chapter 7 resolution that would call upon Iran if, in fact -- actually, a Chapter 7 resolution would require Iran to comply with the previous demands of the Security Council as well as the IAEA. So that's a starting point.

QUESTION: If you'll indulge me, just a couple here.


QUESTION: You've been very candid in saying that -- and the Secretary's been very candid in saying that you felt that this was a reasonable price to pay. What were you buying by paying that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what I had talked about before is what we want to try to do is bring along as many members of the Security Council as we possibly can because it is -- that has been one of our strategic objectives in conducting this diplomacy over the past year or so, and that is to build a broader and broader and deeper consensus on these issues. And we've accomplished that and so we are now in a new phase of the diplomacy and we want to try to bring as many members of the Council along as possible. And we think that spending a couple more weeks working the diplomacy at a high level, at an intensive level, is worth it.

QUESTION: Both the Secretary and you have said that the purpose of this initiative is to make very clear to the Iranians what would await them if they cooperate and comply and what would befall them if they don't. But you have also said dozens of times from this very podium the Iranians know full well what they need to do to be in compliance. So why do you suddenly take the view now that they might not know and it needs to be made clear for them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it does a couple of things, James. I think if we are able to put together this package, it lays out for the world exactly what these very clear choices are. And I think that also -- that, in and of itself, has a uniting effect on the international community.

QUESTION: Did the presidential statement not lay that out?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, what the presidential statement did, James, is it repeated what the IAEA Board of Governors statement asked Iran to do. And the presidential statement has -- it has the force of requesting a country to do something. It doesn't have the force of international law as does a Chapter 7 resolution. So in terms of spending a couple of weeks to bring others in there and construct this package, we think that that, in and of itself, has a positive effect on bringing the international community together.

What it also does is it lays out very clearly for the regime a set of choices. They would find themselves at a crossroads in terms of the diplomacy.

QUESTION: Didn't they already face that crossroads? Did they not already --

MR. MCCORMACK: You could argue clearly, James, that they have faced this set of choices a number of times over again. But what the difference here would be, this would be the international community coming to them in the form of the Security Council or members of the Security Council saying here are your clear choices. Previously, they've had these choices in more informal settings, whether that's in negotiations with the EU-3 or in negotiations with the Russians.

So but what this would do is it would lay out in public for the world to see, as well as for the Iranian people to see, exactly what the choices are that are before this regime. And we'll see what kind of choices this regime will make on behalf of the Iranian people. One of the things I've talked about before is it is not at all clear that the regime has shared with the Iranian people exactly the incentives that have been placed before them, whether that's with the EU-3 or with the Russians.

In the case that we do come up with this package, the Iranian people will have a clear view of the choices before them, before this regime, a clear choice to take a pathway of a different kind of relationship than it looks like they will have now with the rest of the world if they continue down the current path, or the choice of continuing down the current -- down the path on which they find themselves now of continuing -- of greater and greater isolation. That's not certainly what we would want for the Iranian people but, again, their regime has now put them in this situation.

QUESTION: One last one, and I appreciate your forbearance and that of my colleagues.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. We have time.

QUESTION: In saying that you feel that a couple of weeks, which you're now defining as perhaps more than two --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not -- I'm just trying to give myself a little bit of leeway in terms of a day here and a day there.

QUESTION: If a couple of weeks is a price that you felt -- and the Secretary said this explicitly -- is not too much to pay, that obviously reflects a calculation made in the context of time here and the urgency involved. And I wonder what you would think would be too high a price to pay? In other words, I'm trying to get from you some assessment as to what the real timeline for diplomacy is here. If two weeks is not too much to pay, what would be too much to pay? How much time do you really have to continue a diplomatic course?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the root of your question is, well, what's the world's -- what's our assessment of where Iran stands in terms of its nuclear weapons program. There are public estimates to that effect; I would point you to the intelligence community. I know Ambassador Negroponte has talked about it recently in testimony that he has had up on Capitol Hill.

QUESTION: And Bob Joseph said we're very close to the point of no return recently.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it is -- what is clear is that the Iranians are proceeding along with their nuclear program. But in terms of our assessments of where they stand, we have public assessments, they're out there. I would point you to those assessments.

I would note, however, that in making these assessments, we're dealing with a hard target in terms of a closed society and a regime that is very clearly trying to hide what it is doing from the rest of the world and those are difficult assessments to make. But what you have out there in public right now is the best assessment of the intelligence community.

QUESTION: So you would -- I mean, when saying that two weeks is not too much of a price to pay, it suggests -- could you disabuse people who might tend to see that statement as a suggestion from you that, you know, there isn't a terrific urgency about this time wise?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would say that there is a sense of urgency in the need to mobilize the international community on this topic. Multilateral diplomacy takes some time; there is a certain rhythm to it. What we are trying to do is move in -- sort of increase the pace of that rhythm, I think. And you've seen that over the past several months. It took many weeks to negotiate that IAEA Board of Governors statement and it took a shorter time to negotiate the presidential statement. And what we're now looking at is, again, a shorter period of time to put together this package, which I would expect will also include penalties in the form of a Security Council resolution.

Jonathan Karl.

QUESTION: Sean, how big of a problem has Russia been in this process? I mean, if you can't even get the Russians to postpone arms sales to Iran while all this is going on, do you really think that they can be brought along to anything that would have any kind of serious bite to it coming out of the UN Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: These are weighty issues. This is serious stuff. And the Russian government -- Russia, which shares a border with Iran, is very, I think, very concerned about Iran's continuing down the pathway to developing a nuclear weapon. So we all have the same strategic objective. I think it's clear that we have had tactical differences along the way, over the past several months. But when we have -- when we've really focused on narrowing and closing those differences, we have, at the IAEA and with the presidential statement. And we're, again, willing to invest some time to bring the Russians, to bring the Chinese, as well as others onboard with this package. And I don't think Secretary Rice and the President would have made the decision to take this course if we didn't have some reasonable expectation that we could bring along other members of the Council, including Russia and China.

. . .

QUESTION: Wolfs. Of course. (Inaudible). No. You say that you don't think that the Secretary and the President wouldn't have agreed to this if they didn't have a reasonable expectation that the other members would come along at the end of this two-week price to pay. Do you have something stronger than that from Russia and China? Because otherwise, what makes you think you're not going to be in the same position with them at the end of two or so weeks? You must have had something more tangible from them that this was their last delaying tactic, or what's the use?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm certainly not using the word or phrase "delaying tactic." I'll let them speak for themselves. But the conversations up in New York were constructive. They were useful. The ministers had an opportunity over the course of two hours, just the ministers, to talk about this issue. And they really drilled down on the issue, not only looking at where we are but how this - diplomatically -- how this plays out. And it was as a result of those conversations that we agreed to give this some more time, give it another couple of weeks.

In terms of the specific exchanges, I'm not going to get into those. But I would just point out, as I have said before, everybody said that we wouldn't get a vote out of the IAEA, that we wouldn't get a strong statement out of the Board of Governors. Everybody said that we weren't going to be able to get a presidential statement. And we have gotten those things. And we have worked cooperatively with the Russian Government on -- in both of those cases and that same spirit of cooperation, I would argue, continues now and is part of the reason why we're going to be having these discussions over the next couple of weeks.

QUESTION: But since every reference to this is a finite -- is as a finite period, there must be an end point at which you think the circumstances will change, not necessarily in Iran but in the Security Council, in the P-5.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's why Secretary Rice, the President and people that work for them get paid the big bucks, to make those sorts of judgments. And, clearly, as a result of the history of the diplomacy, the weight of the issues and the fact that we share the same strategic objective, we made the assessment that it was worthwhile to put in this time that we have a reasonable expectation that we will be able to build a consensus. So I can't offer any, I think, deeper explanation than that. People make these judgments every single day about the course of diplomacy, how fast to push, when to call an end to diplomacy. So those are the kinds of decisions that Secretary Rice and her team and the White House make every single day.


QUESTION: While you've been in New York at the UN, it appears that President Ahmadi-Nejad is off to Indonesia and he's again talking trash talk. He's saying that the United States is pushing the Europeans with hypocrisy and also calling it the big lie to end their nuke program. And he was putting in place a "Satan Park" at the former U.S. Embassy. Clearly, it's not just the nuke program but other forms of their behavior. Why should we even pay any attention to both he and/or the cleric regime in Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we've seen the sort of overblown -- overheated rhetoric from President Ahmadi-Nejad before. Look, he's the president of the country and this is a -- it's an important culture with a deep history. The Iranian people have a lot to offer the world and we want to do what we can to see that they are able to make that contribution to the world, that we are able to benefit from their culture and their society as well.

But the current regime is engaged in a number of behaviors that are of real concern to the international community, whether it's developing nuclear weapons or being the central banker for terror or their treatment of their own people. The human rights situation in Iran is really deplorable. So that is the reason. That is the reason why the international community really is focusing its attention on the variety of behaviors that this regime is engaging in.

QUESTION: And a follow-up. There's a Gulf summit that just concluded with a cooperation council and they're saying that the Gulf Arabs have asked Iran to guarantee no atomic bombs. Have you in any way monitored their particular meetings there?

And also, right at this hour Under Secretary Karen Hughes is delivering a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations in New York City. What specifically will be in her speech and what media concerns would she be speaking to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you're just going to have to look at the transcript of that, Joel. I appreciate your being here as opposed to tuning into the speech. You know, in terms of the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the states of the Gulf have a real interest in seeing that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. It would be a destabilizing event for the entire region, so I think that you are hearing very clearly from an increasing number of states and Iran's neighbors that they call upon Iran not to develop a nuclear weapon and to turn back from the path that it is now on.

Yes, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Can we go to Palestinians?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. Do we have anything else? Charlie.

QUESTION: Just clarification. Nick Burns in London Monday. Leaves Monday or leaves Sunday to be there for a Monday meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the meetings are on Monday, Charlie. Let me check afterward and we'll confirm that for you. But I believe the meetings are Monday.

QUESTION: And that's his only stop, as far as we know so far?

MR. MCCORMACK: As far as I know. I'll check if we have any -- if he has any other stops, we'll let you know.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Could you be a little bit more specific on the incentive? I understand Douste-Blazy talked yesterday about the partnership with Iran on civil nuclear energy. What does that mean?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of -- there have been offers on the table with respect to how the Iranians could have a civilian nuclear program and that I expect would be a big part of what the political directors and the ministers talk about as part of this package. I don't have anything -- any specific insights to that aspect of it, but we'll -- as these things develop and as appropriate, we'll try to keep you updated on the discussions.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Anything else on Iran? Yes, David.

QUESTION: Sean, you've spoken of the generation of the incentives package as kind of a collective process with the Europeans, so I'm just wondering if the United States itself is going to, you know, in a sense, pony up an incentive or two? You did it a year ago.

MR. MCCORMACK: David, I'm going to let the diplomacy play out on this. Let's let the first meetings take place. I will try to keep you updated on those discussions and I would add the caveat, as appropriate, as we want to be able to have open, honest, productive discussions with the other members of the P-5+1 and sometimes that's best done in private, but we will try to keep you updated.

QUESTION: But you don't rule it out?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's let the meeting take place. Let's see how the diplomacy plays out.

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