Briefing with Scott McClellan on Iran's Resumption of Uranium Enrichment Activities (Excerpts)

January 10, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I think that the American people today are seeing that Judge Alito is someone that we can all be proud of, and someone that will do an outstanding job on our nation's highest court. He is answering questions in a very open and straightforward manner. The Judiciary Committee began the hearing yesterday, and I think Judge Alito, very clearly, summed up the foundation of his judicial philosophy when he made it clear that "no one is above the law and no one is beneath the law." I think that's the kind of openmindedness and fairness that the American people expect. And so we look forward to continuing to see the hearings move forward, and then the Senate moving forward on his confirmation.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

Q What's the White House doing, and the administration overall, in response to Iran breaking the seals at its Isfahan enrichment plant?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are consulting with our European friends and others about how to move forward. Any resumption -- any resumption -- of enrichment and reprocessing activities would be a further violation of the Paris agreement that Iran agreed to. Such steps would be a serious escalation of the nuclear issue by the regime in Iran. There is serious concern throughout the international community about the regime's behavior, and given Iran's history of concealing and hiding their nuclear activities from the international community, and its continued noncompliance of its safeguard obligations, such concern is well-founded. It's also why the international community has sought objective guarantees from Iran that the regime is not developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program.

And so we are in close contact with the Europeans and others about how to move forward. The International Atomic Energy Agency, last fall, found that Iran was in noncompliance of its safeguard obligations. There's an obligation in the statute of the Atomic Energy Agency to report such noncompliance to the Security Council. Everybody in the international community is sending a clear message to Iran that it needs to abide by the Paris agreement, come back to negotiations, act in good faith, and provide objective guarantees that it can be trusted and that it's not developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program.

Q Do you think you'll get an emergency meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors and do you think that they will --

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, we're in discussion with the Europeans and others about how to move forward. This is a serious matter. It's a concern. You've heard the concern expressed by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency; you've heard the concerns expressed by the European-3 -- Britain, France, Germany; you've heard concern expressed by Russia; you've heard concern expressed by many throughout the international community about the steps that they are taking.

Q Even if you got a referral to the Security Council, where can you really go with it? You got one a couple, three years ago on North Korea, and the Chinese stood in the way of any action.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is about Iran and Iran's continued non-compliance and its continued behavior that is moving in the wrong direction. And there are options that are available to us if Iran does not come back to negotiations. We are trying to urge Iran to abide by its agreements and get back to negotiations. If it continues down this road and the negotiations have run their course, then there is only one option to pursue, and that is referral to the Security Council. And that's what we will be talking with our -- are talking about with our European friends and others.

Q But if North Korea is any indication, there's a good chance that the most prominent option that you have is not going to go anywhere, because a member of the Security Council, China, will block any action on it. What do you do?

MR. McCLELLAN: There is a growing majority within the international community that is telling Iran that if it does not come into compliance, if it does not negotiate in good faith, there is only one option that will be left, and that is referral to the Security Council. And then that matter would be discussed at the Security Council. I'm not going to try to speculate about what happens at this point. At this point, we are in discussions with Europeans and others about how to move forward and get Iran to get back to the negotiating table.

Q Scott, the President has said that the United States really doesn't have much leverage against Iran at this point. Do you still feel that's the case?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Iran is the one that is isolating itself from the rest of the international community. And the international community has come together and is sending a clear message to Iran. There are additional steps that can be taken if Iran continues on the path that it is currently pursuing. This regime is out of step with its people, and it's further isolating the country from the rest of the international community.

Q But does the President believe --

MR. McCLELLAN: He has said previously --

Q -- that there's not a lot of leverage?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would look back at exactly what he has said previously. But what we are doing is working with the international community and supporting the efforts of the international community to resolve this matter in a peaceful and diplomatic way.

Q When the President was last in Germany, and he met with Chancellor Schr der, that was the time that he really sort of threw himself behind this idea of the EU-3 taking the lead role in this.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q Has he reached a conclusion that apparently that diplomatic channel has no longer -- is not working?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're discussing how to move forward with our -- Europeans. That's why I said that everybody has sent a clear message to Iran, the Europeans and others, that they need to come back to the negotiating table, they need to adhere to the Paris agreement, and they need to provide objective guarantees about their nuclear program, so that we know that they're not trying to develop nuclear weapons. And that's the message that has been sent to Iran. If Iran continues on this path, and we realize that the negotiations have run their course, I think the international community is prepared to move to the next step. They've already been found in non-compliance. And being found in non-compliance by a growing majority of the International Atomic Energy Agency leads to one more step if they don't come back to the table.

Q Did Britain's Foreign Secretary take military action off the table today?

MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to ask them what their views are. I haven't see the full context of his comments.

Q So you don't have any interpretation of what Jack Straw said today?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll, we're trying to resolve this, we're all working together trying to resolve this in a diplomatic manner, and that's been our focus.

Q Is the U.S. taking military action off the table? Is the U.S. taking unilateral military action against --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has made it pretty clear, he said previously Iran is not Iraq. We are working with the international community to resolve this in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. That's what we've been doing and that's what we continue to do. In terms of options, you know the President has already addressed that. The President has made it clear we never take options off the table.

Q So you have to build a coalition again?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I just answered your question. You're jumping way ahead.

. . .

Q Going back to Iran. Iranian President, why he's behaving like this, because he thinks and he did say in the statement that China is behind Iran, and China is helping Iran's nuclear weapons and to produce, and they will back Iran all the way through United Nations Security Council.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen those exact comments suggesting that.

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