Briefing with Spokesperson Sean McCormack on Possible Venezuela F-16 Sales to Iran (Excerpts)

May 17, 2006

. . .

QUESTION: All right let me ask you something, please, left over from yesterday. The F-16 business --


QUESTION: Suppose, I know it's hypothetical, but sometimes you've got to ask hypothetical questions, is there any way the U.S. can coerce or force Venezuela not to sell airplanes where we don't want them to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I pointed out yesterday, this would be in contravention of an agreement that they have previously signed. And I also went back and looked at some of the news reports and this is something that they have talked about before. I think the last time they said that they were going to sell -- send the F-16s to China. China had no interest in that. And also I would note that there seems to be a little difference of opinion within the Venezuelan Government on this matter. The Minister of Defense, I believe, has backed away from this statement. So Barry, I think this is some overheated rhetoric, but just in case there are any questions about it, there are prohibitions in the agreements that the Venezuelan Government signed concerning such an action.

QUESTION: But should they do it anyhow, you can't throw a rule book at them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said Barry, if we get to that point we'll deal with it. As I pointed out before, this is something that they've threatened to do in the past and have not followed through on it.


QUESTION: The ban -- the U.S. ban on commercial -- military sales to Venezuela extend to any spare parts that will be needed for equipment that's already been sold?

MR. MCCORMACK: Good question. I looked into this. Barry raised this yesterday, I believe - maybe it was George. It was Saul. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: One of these in the front row.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's still a good question. (Laughter.)

Let me run through this for you. Previously authorized retransfers to Venezuela are not affected by the restrictions that automatically go in place as a result of being put on this list. Existing licenses and authorizations for the export of defense articles and defense services and maintenance and parts authorized under existing cases are also not affected. So that's part one.

Part two: Exports of up to $500 in spare parts for previously licensed defense articles may normally be made by a U.S. exporter without a requirement for a license. A registered U.S. exporter may be use this spare parts license exemption up to 24 times a year. Okay. So that's sort of an explanation of the rules.

What does that really mean? That means that in simple English that previously authorized licenses for spare parts, maintenance, that sort of thing are not affected by Venezuela having been put on this list. And the normal span for these licenses is four years; they last for about four years. So as best as I can tell, doing a little research on this, the most recent licenses for spare parts maintenance on the F-16s were done 2005. So it's conceivable that there could be spare parts maintenance on the F-16s up and through 2009 at some point. And then, of course, you have the $500 exemption, so on a F-16 you that will probably buy you a toggle switch. But there are those exemptions.

QUESTION: But the fact that they're talking about, anyway, transferring it to Iran. Would that kind of allow you to stop the export of spare parts and prevention of them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it doesn't matter what country it is, fill in the blank. Any retransfer to a third party has to be authorized in writing from the United States and I wouldn't expect that if such a request were actually forthcoming to the U.S. Government that we would accede to such a request.


QUESTION: Venezuela said that they've -- that according to the original agreement that U.S. is supposed to supply these parts to Venezuela and that the United States has not done so. So under that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's not the United States that provides these things; it's the companies in question. What the United States role in doing this is to provide the license. And as I just went through, there are licenses that have previously been granted for spare parts and maintenance on the F-16s. And those I pointed out, those licenses are not affected by Venezuela having been put on the list a couple of days ago.

Yes, ma'am.

. . .

QUESTION: It's off the talks at least until Tuesday. That's what we're hearing from Europe -- the P-5+1.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Yeah, keep going.

QUESTION: Postpone it until Tuesday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Keep going.

QUESTION: I don't think I've heard an American official verify, although I don't have any reason to doubt the Europeans, that a light-water reactor is among the incentives. I would ask if it isn't a calculated risk? I'm not a scientist, but I don't how easily one can discern whether equipment is being put to weapons use or to civilian use. Maybe it's a risk, with supervision, you're willing to take to move the thing along, et cetera. Could you bring us up to date a little?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Let me try -- I'll try to pace through that. One the first -- the process point regarding these. I would expect that the political directors probably will now get together next week, as opposed to on Friday. And that simply is because what we're trying to do, and this gets a little bit to the part about the light-water reactor reports that have been out there, we're trying to put together a package and we've talked about this before. The package would include incentives on one side and penalties, disincentives on the other side. And we're not going to talk about the various elements of that potential package in isolation and it is still a matter of discussion right now. I don't think that there is agreement on -- full agreement on exactly what would comprise this package.

Now, why is this taking some time? Why are we going to be meeting Tuesday at the political director as opposed to on Friday? Well, the reason is that what we're trying to do with our colleagues in the P-5+1 is on each of these tracks, both the incentive side as well as the disincentive side, try to talk through not just step one but what is going to be step one, step two, step three, step four and so forth in this process. Meaning, how would the international community react to either Iran agreeing to this package of incentives or rejecting this package of incentives. So what we want to have is a good understanding among the members of at least the P-5+1 as to how this is going to play out. And so that -- you can understand this is complex, complicated multilateral diplomacy. It takes a little bit of time. So that was the reason why the meeting was shifted to next week as opposed to Friday.

Now, I do have to make the point that individual countries are not working in isolation on this and they're just going to come together next week and compare notes. There's almost constant contact among the various members of the P-5+1 at the political director level. Under Secretary Nick Burns is multiple times per day on the phone with his counterparts at the political director level, so there's a lot of activity that's going on. The meeting next week is just intended to get together and really walk through what it is that they have at that point, Barry, in terms of the package, both sides of it, the incentive side as well as the disincentive side.

On the light-water reactor the same answer as yesterday. These reports about light-water reactor and we're not going to talk about, you know, individual press reports out there or try to pick out one element of what might be a package. The Iranian Government has to look at this thing in its totality, both sides of it. There are certainly benefits on one side for cooperation. On the other side there are costs, not only in terms of potential sanctions but also in terms of opportunity costs. You lose something when you don't take an opportunity.

The Iranian regime is going to have to account for that in terms of what's best for the Iranian people. There are, you know, certainly as I pointed out yesterday, real stresses within the Iranian economy that are long-standing, so they have to take a look and see what's best for the Iranian people.

QUESTION: The U.S. is looking for a consensus, both on incentives and disincentives.


QUESTION: That's harder to do because we know the Russians and Chinese may not look at disincentives the same way, at least at this point, the U.S. and the Europeans do. But we have it right. I mean, that is what you want to do. Another way would be to offer them things and if they turn them down then you get together again but* you decide* what to do about it. But in this case you're trying to make those decisions, so to speak, beforehand.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Exactly. Opposite sides of the same coin, Barry. You want to -- the idea here, as the Secretary has talked about, is to provide them a choice. They have said -- I've heard President Ahmadi-Nejad say that they're not going to trade gold for candy.


MR. MCCORMACK: I think that was the quote. I think it's odd that he would reject a proposal out of hand before he's even seen it, which, you know, raises a lot of questions about what exactly his motives are.

QUESTION: Last point. Is U.S. participation in negotiations under consideration at all in these discussions?

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, we think that right now we're following the right course in terms of consulting with our P-5+1 partners on what the incentives and disincentives are. In terms of any future actions on our part, we'll try to keep you up-to-date.


MR. MCCORMACK: What do you make of Ahmadi-Nejad's continued insistence that they're not going to give up their enrichment work? Do you take that at face value?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think at this point we don't know exactly what is behind those statements, whether or not this is a negotiating bluff or this is really the stance of the Iranian Government. The intent -- one of the intents here behind coming up with this package and presenting the regime with a choice is to smoke out exactly what their intentions are. And I think that once this is presented to the Iranian regime, we will have at least better idea of what their intent is. You know, they say that they want to -- that they want to work with, they want to cooperate with the international community and it is the international community that is somehow being unreasonable. Well, I think that that statement will be put to the test, certainly, when the Iranian regime is presented with these choices.

And let me make a couple more points. At minimum, what we expect to come out of this process at the bare minimum is if you continue to see Iran go down this pathway of non cooperation that you're going to see a Chapter 7 resolution that would demand that the Iranian regime come into compliance with what the IAEA has asked them to do and what the Security Council has asked them to do in terms of the presidential statement.

And also, none of that activity on the multilateral front precludes individual states or likeminded states from talking to one another about what other actions they might take, either whether that's on the financial front or on the -- what we have called the Proliferation Security Initiative front and that is to prevent any transfers, either incoming or outgoing with respect to Iran and their nuclear program. So those are discussions certainly that we're having with other states and I know other states are thinking about those very things themselves as well.


QUESTION: Back to the meeting planning again. What were -- I know that you always say diplomacy takes time, so you know, don't make a big deal about changing and updates. But what it is that happened that has happened since they initially thought they could get -- they would be ready on Monday to do this and then Friday? Could you just give us some behind-the-scenes understanding of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. On the Monday meeting, I have to clarify. This was my -- this was -- I got some bad information that I passed along to you. The Monday meeting was always intended to be the EU, getting together.


MR. MCCORMACK: And the question was whether or not Under Secretary Burns was going to be traveling to London on Thursday or Friday to meet with them. The assessment was Nick Burns talking to the Secretary as well as others, made the assessment that, look, it's better to move the meeting to a few days later next week on Tuesday to allow more of the discussions both internally within the EU in capitals and then among capitals to take place and to really, as I said, walk through what these steps would be, looking out into the future. The discussions we're having right now aren't intended to just look at the immediate next step. It's intended to look down the road. And that -- you can imagine that that's a complex series of discussions, you know, how do you react to a given action on the part of the Iranians and really talk about how all this is going to play out. So that's the reason. That's the thinking.

QUESTION: So is that a change in the agenda that they had originally envisioned?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. It's just --

QUESTION: Why did they used to think they could do that by Friday and they can't anymore?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you just -- you make the best estimates in terms of when you want to get together, both as a realistic assessment of when you might be ready, as well as an action forcing event -- force people to put their -- roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Made the assessment that they needed a few more days. As you can imagine, you're --

QUESTION: Who is they? Everybody?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's among the political directors, but certainly we make our own assessments here. Under Secretary Burns in consultation with Secretary Rice and others makes the assessment here in Washington, then they talk about that among the members of the P-5+1 as well.

QUESTION: What does the U.S. need a few days for?

MR. MCCORMACK: What do we need a few days for?


MR. MCCORMACK: It's not us, in particular. I think it's just the group as a whole, like I said, to walk through to these series of steps.

QUESTION: Does this have to do with any pushback about the light-water reactor proposal?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, but nice try. Nice try.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Well, I mean to reconsider what maybe was -- has been floated out there.

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry tried. No, we're not going to talk about any --

QUESTION: How about news reports on the light-water reactor?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know. There have been a lot of news reports. But like I said, we're not going to talk about any particular or alleged element of the whole package.

QUESTION: But these are next steps was exactly what was supposed to have been discussed during the P-5+1 dinner in New York last week.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And that happens at the ministerial level. Okay, so that is talking about --

QUESTION: It was decided.

MR. MCCORMACK: What they're trying to do at the political director level and this is just a function of when ministers get together, they talk at a certain level. Sometimes they delve into the minutiae and the details of it. But very often, it's a matter -- it's a discussion about principles, strategy. And the discussions at the political director level are intended to be much more at the working level in terms of minutiae, and the details of it. You know, really sort of hammer out specific language and hammering out specific understandings. And then you bring the ministers back in so that they can walk through those details themselves. But at -- just for sheer sort of efficiency and use of time, you want to have the political directors be the ones that really work on those minute details.


QUESTION: Is offering the Iranian security guarantees under discussion?

MR. MCCORMACK: From the United States' perspective, is the United States going to be providing security guarantees? That's not something from the United States that's on the table.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let other speak for themselves.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. MCCORMACK: But from the United States, that's not on the table.

QUESTION: Okay. Just -- I'm not quite sure of your criterion for what you will and won't talk about then because it seems that you will -- you'll tell us that's not under discussion. That's not on the table. But then when we mention the light-water reactor, you won't rule that one out. People will infer from that that it must be in that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. I made an exception. I made an exception to the rule. This was -- it's an important question, Saul, in terms of the security guarantees and I don't want any misperceptions about that particular issue.

QUESTION: Okay. So, you don't want a misperception thinking the light-water reactors in the --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- on that as well as other issues, Saul, I'm not going to try to steer you one way or the other on it.

QUESTION: When you made sure -- didn't have a misperception about security guarantees, you said U.S. wants, okay. I'm ruling out that U.S. security guarantees are not in this package.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not on the table.

QUESTION: What about the Europeans offering security guarantees?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll let them speak for themselves, if they want to address those questions.

QUESTION: Sean, have you had a chance to follow up on the Shanghai summit in Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we posted an answer yesterday on that.

QUESTION: You did?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, I didn't see it. Sorry. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, that's OK. (Off-Mike.)

QUESTION: I'm mean, you're not going to talk about the light-water reactor, but --


QUESTION: -- I mean, it's important, isn't it. Because if you're having negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program, I mean, are you looking at these incentives for Iran in isolation or are you looking at them in the context of your discussions with other countries' nuclear programs that you have concerns about?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think in terms of both those issues, we're not making a linkage between what might be done in one set of proposals and what might be done in another set of proposals. The histories with respect to North Korea and then the other five parties to the six-party talks and then Iran with their interlocutors is their separate histories and, you know, we're not going to make a particular linkage between the two.

QUESTION: Well, you might not. But others will, won't they? You'd be sending one signal to one country and another to another country.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, like I said, we take each of those cases separately on their merits as well.


QUESTION: Sean, security guarantee is something pretty fundamental when it comes to these things and he offered that to North Korea. I'm wondering why it's not on the table--

MR. MCCORMACK: But the President -- you can go back and check the record -- you know, what the President said is that we have no plan to invade or attack North Korea. And you know, Saul asked a question about Iran and I gave him our answer on that. So we'll let the record stand.

QUESTION: So you're not saying that the United States doesn't have - has no intention of attacking (inaudible) Iran as you did North Korea. You just think it -- that that issue is not on the table at the moment.

MR. MCCORMACK: The specific question Saul asked about security guarantees in the context of this negotiation -- it's not on -- it's not something that's on the table. With respect to Iran, the question of the military option has come up many, many times before. The President has been very clear on that. He's answered it. There's no change to that answer. We are on a diplomatic course now.


QUESTION: Oh, I just -- is it correct to assume that as you talk about the scenario as it unfolds in the future, that the discussion would include what would happen if the Iranians ignore a Chapter 7 resolution, what might follow in the UN? Is that part of the scenario?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's part of -- yeah, that's part of the discussions that I'm talking about. That's what the political directors are talking about -- how this might unfold. For a given action, what would be the reaction among the P-5+1.

QUESTION: So you're talking again in this scenario about more than one UN resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are talking about how the entire scenario might unfold on both sides. On the incentive side as well as the disincentive side.


QUESTION: I know this is getting on your nerves, but I have to ask one more --

MR. MCCORMACK: Getting on my nerves? Where did that come from?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I'm just being sympathetic. I have to follow up on Sylvie's question. Aren't these the exact questions that they've been discussing forever and ever? Why would these --

MR. MCCORMACK: What questions?

QUESTION: Well, the future, how Iran will react. I mean, yeah, what would we do then? They've been talking about it forever, including last week. Why would they just have to sit down and talk about that again?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the decision --

QUESTION: Is the light-water reactor -- (Laughter.) No, I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: The decision --

QUESTION: That's the new element there, nothing else is new.

MR. MCCORMACK: The decision to look at this in its totality, the incentive side, the disincentive side, and consider it as a package is a decision that the ministers made just last week, while we were up in New York. So it hasn't been that long that we have actually had this particular set of discussions. Yes, we have been talking step by step.

QUESTION: Everyday, numerous times.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right. And this -- look, these are serious issues. It's complicated diplomacy. There have been -- it's you know, been in public some differences in terms of the tactics. So what we're trying to do is we're trying to address in one fell swoop those differences that might exist among members of the P-5 about how this might play out. That's important because we have been trying to build a consensus among member of the P-5+1 and members of the international community to maintain pressure on Iran to get them to change their behavior on this score. And so Secretary Rice believed that it was -- it would be a useful way to approach this, instead of just taking it step by step, one Chapter 7 resolution, then what might follow after that and then do it serially in that regard. Let's have the discussion in its totality before something might happen, before we --

QUESTION: So she suggested the delay? Is that what you're saying?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I would -- she did -- she did up in New York and I wouldn't say delay, I would say because, in fact, what you're doing is you're having discussions now on the front end that you might otherwise be having after a given step. For example, we could have gone to a vote on the Chapter 7 resolution that would compel Iran to comply with the IAEA Board of Governors statements that would compel them to comply with the presidential statement. We could have done that. And we could have taken that step, seeing how Iran would have reacted, then had another set of discussions about what might follow that, what might follow in terms of sanctions, what might follow in terms of individual or likeminded states acting together. So instead of having that discussion in the serial manner, let's have it all at once. Let's have it on the front end. So that's the approach that she decided to take.

QUESTION: So things are going to move really quickly after this then, right, because you guys are going to have it all figured out?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll see how they play out, Teri. You know, we don't have an agreement on the package yet. That's what we're working through.

QUESTION: But it's the idea now to come to -- you've sort of -- you've worked out your tactical differences now and that'll hold maybe Russia and China to account when later Iran doesn't do what it's going to say and you have the Russians and the Chinese word that they said they would do this, when Iran doesn't comply--

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we're trying to work through what are the steps: one, two, three, four five and beyond.


QUESTION: You seem to have red lines of what you won't offer Iran in terms of incentives, such as a security guarantee. But do you have red lines on the disincentives? I mean, is there a Chapter 7 resolution kind of your red line? Would you accept anything less than a Chapter 7?

MR. MCCORMACK: We think -- we have stated from the very beginning that we think at a minimum what should be required and what should be an outcome of these discussions if Iran persists in their behavior is a Chapter 7 resolution that compels Iran to comply with and heed the call of the international community. So we think that that's a minimum coming out of this, if they continue down the pathway that they're on.

QUESTION: You weren't able to get that. The Russians and the Chinese didn't want a Chapter 7 resolution, so then you came up with this idea of a incentive-disincentive package, so are you still standing firm to the idea of a Chapter 7 resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: If they continue down this pathway, if they continue in their intransigence, if they continue in their defiance, if they continue in their obfuscation, then we think that at a minimum a Chapter 7 resolution compelling them to heed the call of the international community is called for.


QUESTION: Change the subject to Sudan?


MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, Iran. Okay, yes.

QUESTION: Partly Iran. I'm just trying to raise my hand for several hours. Anyway, Turkish Prime Minister has said recently that he wants to visit Washington for talks to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iran crisis. Do you want anybody else's mediation, mediation by anyone like Turkey?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we welcome the input of other countries from around the globe who have an interest in seeing that Iran is not able to obtain nuclear weapons or the know-how or the technology to produce nuclear weapons. So Secretary Rice was just in Ankara. And she had part of her discussions with the Turkish leadership. She met with Foreign Minister Gul, she met with Prime Minister Erdogan, she met with President Sezer and they talked about Iran. And certainly we welcome discussions with our Turkish colleagues on Iran and welcome their suggestions.

QUESTION: But mediation?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of mediation, you have to define what you're talking about. I am not aware of any specific proposal that's on the table.

. . .