Briefing with Spokesperson Sean McCormack on U.N. Security Council Presidential Statement (Excerpts)

March 29, 2006


QUESTION: On Iran. Do you -- how close do you think you are to getting the agreement on a presidential statement? And also you've said that the goal of this meeting in Berlin tomorrow is to look at the medium and long-term strategies. What are those medium and long-term strategies? If you could be specific, is it sanctions? Maybe if you could give a few examples as to what those strategies might be to get Iran to change.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the last part of your question, I'm not going to get into specifics. There are a lot of -- number of diplomatic levers that are available to the international community, both acting as a community, as groups of nations and as individual nations. So I would expect that the P-5 + 1 member ministers represented at the Berlin meeting are going to have a discussion about their thoughts about what the medium and long term will hold. But ultimately the key to resolving this is the Iranian regime making a decision to change its behavior, to suspend its uranium enrichment programs, to seek to engage the international community in a serious manner, and to come back into the mainstream of the nonproliferation framework.

Right now this regime has taken Iran far outside that mainstream. They have isolated Iran and the Iranian people from the rest of the world. We see that right now just by the fact that we have -- are having these discussions about a presidential statement up in New York. The reason why we are having those discussions is repeatedly, over the course of many years, the Iranian regime has deceived the international community. The Iranian regime has lied to the international community about the nature of its nuclear program. It is, we believe, seeking to develop a nuclear weapon under the cover of a peaceful nuclear program; that is an abrogation of its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations and it is also an abrogation of commitments it has made to individual members of the international community.

So what the international community did at the Board of Governors was said: Enough -- we are going to hold you to account and one of the ways we are going to do that is we're -- this is issue is going to be sent to the Security Council. And that's where the issue resides at the moment. We're working very hard with other members of the Security Council on a presidential statement and this presidential statement will send a strong clear message to the Iranian regime that the international community is united in its demand that Iran come back into compliance with its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.

And just one brief update for you on that, the Secretary just spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this issue. They did make some progress regarding the language. There have been two meetings already up in New York among the Security Council members and I would expect that there's probably going to be at least one more today. They're working on it -- they have been working on it hard.

We all know that these questions of working out specific language in these multilateral fora take time. And the reason why it takes time in this particular case is because the issue is so serious and we understand that. We understand that people want to take time and look at this statement very carefully because it has meaning. We also, on the other hand, are urging the Security Council members to move forward because while it is an important -- it is an important issue, they need to move forward on this presidential statement and we're hopeful that we will be able to get a presidential statement today or in the next couple of days. If it -- I don't expect it -- it was not planned to be the main topic of conversation at the Berlin meeting. We'll see if it is something that they still need to discuss. We are hopeful that we'll be able to resolve any differences over the language in the next day.

QUESTION: When did the Secretary speak to the Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: Just a minute a go, within the past hour.

QUESTION: Today. So it's the third time in a few days.

MR. MCCORMACK: At least the second time. I have lost count of the various phone calls.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a question about the Foreign Minister Lavrov. He said today that any ideas about the coercive forceful solution to the issue of nuclear -- Iranian nuclear program are highly counterproductive. So do you think it would -- it will help for the (inaudible) you will have in Germany?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we're working right now up in New York to come to agreement on a presidential statement and we're hopeful that we'll be able to come to agreement in the next day. And on the issue of force, we've made it very clear that we're working on a diplomatic --

QUESTION: It's not force -- it's coercive forceful solution. So it can mean sanctions, it's not really military. It's not as precise as the military --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a number of different levers at the disposal of the international community. We are -- in seeking a presidential statement at the Security Council, seeking to use one of those levers -- a presidential statement. And we hope the fact that Iran finds itself in the spotlight of the international community, the subject of discussion, that that will bring more pressure to bear on the regime so that it will change its behavior, so that it will walk back its nuclear program. It will suspend uranium enrichment activities and that it will re-engage the international community in serious discussions. If the Iranians, after a presidential statement, choose not to pursue a policy of engagement in cooperation with the international community and insist upon continuing a strategy of confrontation, then the international community will have to take a look at what steps are next.

We've made it clear and we are showing through our actions that, as a first step, we are not seeking sanctions. But clearly, that is a lever that is available to the international community to individual states, but that's not the matter that's being discussed at the moment. The matter that's being discussed at the moment is a presidential statement and the idea behind it is to, again, create a consensus and send a strong message to the Iranian Government that they have to change their behavior.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to try to predict what future diplomatic measures might be agreed upon by the international community. Right now we are working on a presidential statement.

QUESTION: Who placed the call -- which way did the call go to Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the Secretary called for Foreign Minister Lavrov.

QUESTION: I mean, if you don't -- if it ends up that there is no statement and you're meeting in Berlin, are you able to look ahead and move forward on next diplomatic steps without this kind of in hand, this presidential statement, or are you just kind of -- is it a foregone conclusion that there will be some presidential statement and you'll -- you know, the text of which you may not have at this meeting? I mean, how are you going to look ahead if you can't be in the present?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're hopeful that the presidential statement will be finished by the time they have this meeting in Berlin. If not, we'll deal with that situation. But the original intent of this meeting, which was thought about, I think, a couple of weeks ago, or at least in the wake of Under Secretary Burns's last meeting with his counterparts in this group, was to look down the road. And I expect that that will be the primary focus of the meeting. If there is some residual business that needs to be concluded with regard to a presidential statement or any other action in the Security Council, I'm sure that they'll discuss it.

QUESTION: When you say that you hope that there's be one in the next couple of days, have you seen, you know, a substantial amount of continual progress that you feel that you're very close at this point? I mean, you've been saying for the last, I don't know, week to ten days that you hope to have one in the next couple days.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the use of the word "substantial" depends on your perspective. When you're going at this hammer and tong and we're looking at individual words and word tenses, a little change means a lot. And that's when you get down to the -- when you get down to the end game of these kinds of discussions on these documents that are a product of a multilateral forum, it takes some time and small changes can mean a lot. So that's where the focus is. It's very detail-oriented and I think that it has come quite a way. We are hopeful that we'll be able to get this presidential statement, which would mean the 15 members of the Security Council would be speaking with one voice to Iran on behalf of the international community.

QUESTION: So when you -- so you are in the end game here? There's not like -- like a couple of days ago you were talking about fundamental differences on, you know, some of the main aspects of the resolution and now you're talking end game. So is it just kind of dotting -- well, I know, as you said, that's a big deal, but do you have fundamental agreement on the principles of the resolution at this point?


QUESTION: I mean the statement.

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing's done till everything's done so I'm not going to give you a kind of percentage completion rate on the presidential statement. It has come a long way. There has been certainly a narrowing of differences over language in the presidential statement and we're hopeful that through hard work and some concerted diplomacy that we're going to be able to finish this up.

Mr. Weisman.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, does the United States view Iran's nuclear activities as a threat to international peace and security, and should that be a part of the language of a presidential statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Steve, we've talked about the fact that introduction of a nuclear weapon by Iran into the region is a destabilizing event, not only for the region but for the rest of the world. It is a threat. It certainly is a threat. And that's why the international -- and everybody agrees that that is an action that we want to avoid. Everybody. I don't think -- you might find a few outliers, maybe some of the countries that voted with Iran in the IAEA Board of Governors, but I don't think you're going to find any disagreement with the idea that Iran can't be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon because it would be destabilizing and it would be a threat.

So we are seeking to deal with that situation, that potential situation, to avoid that situation through the use of diplomacy. And we have over the course of the past -- certainly over the past year built a larger and larger consensus among the members of the international community that that can't be allowed to happen. Now we're down to talking about various diplomatic tactics: How can we increase the pressure on the Iranian regime so that they will change their behavior and so that we don't get to that state where Iran has been able to develop a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I mean, some countries on the Security Council are willing to say that that language needs to be in the resolution -- or rather the statement. Is that the U.S. view?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, right now, Steve, we are negotiating specific language and I don't want to, from the podium, start predicting exactly what language may or may not be in a final presidential statement. But what we want to accomplish in doing this is to send a strong, clear -- the strongest possible, most clear message we can to Iran. So that has been the principle under which we have been working and as well as other members of the Security Council. And in terms of specific language, I don't want to get into exactly where we are on specific language, but we're hopeful that we'll be able to conclude something here in the near future.

Yes, on Iran.

QUESTION: Yes. Just before this meeting, the P-5 meeting, the German Foreign Minister said today that the agreement, the India nuclear agreement is --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a tricky was of getting to Iran.

QUESTION: No. He said it was not helpful --


QUESTION: -- because of the timing of this agreement during the negotiations with Iran. So --

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the quote and he also said that Germany wasn't going to impose any changes in the Nuclear Supplier Group. Look, the Secretary and the President as well as other members of this Administration have talked about the importance of this agreement between the United States and India. And certainly we have talked about it in the past, how we would differ with anybody who tries to make any comparisons between the behavior of Iran and the behavior of India.

Our view, in sum, is that at the end of the day, India has been a responsible member of the international community when it comes to issues of nonproliferation. Iran, on the other hand, has abrogated its treaty obligations not to seek to develop a nuclear weapon, continually lied to the international community about that, continually deceived the international community about that. And certainly we do have concerns about Iran's involvement in proliferation of WMD. Certainly we can -- one great example is going back to the contacts between the Iranian regime and the A.Q. Khan network. The A.Q. Khan network was in business for one thing, and that was to help parties develop nuclear weapons.

So the track record of Iran with regard to nonproliferation behavior, I think is -- stands in stark contrast to the -- over the recent history, the behavior of India in this regard and that is the reason. And it is on merits of that behavior by the Indian Government that we have concluded the agreement between the United States and India and are now working with the Congress to seek some changes in U.S. law that would allow that agreement to be fully implemented.

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