Briefing with Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary (Excerpts)

January 9, 2006

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Q Scott, when you talk about Iraq being an example for the region -- we have a crazy man in Iran who's ready to develop nuclear weapons and blow Israel up. We have --

MR. McCLELLAN: I point out that that, as you said, "crazy man," that he does not represent the people in Iran. The people in Iran want to live in greater freedom, and we support their desire to live in greater freedom.

Q I mean, in Saudi Arabia, they're exporting a very violent form of the Muslim religion, and they show no signs of stopping. Syria is -- you know, I've talked to Marines, Syria is shooting across their border at our Marines in Iraq. It seems like this good example has to happen sooner rather than later. I mean, what's the timetable for having a --

MR. McCLELLAN: Two thousand five was a year of great advance for democracy in the world. The President began the year by -- in his inaugural address talking about the cause of freedom and the importance of supporting the advance of freedom. And we've even seen in the broader Middle East -- in Afghanistan, where democracy is taking hold, and they're continuing to make significant progress, and elections have been held. We've seen it in Lebanon, where the people there have rejected Syria's interference in their internal affairs. We see great progress being made. We see countries taking steps. They might just be small steps, but they are steps toward a more open and democratic system.

And what Iraq can do is help inspire reformers in places like Syria and Iran. Those who want to live in freedom, we believe -- the President believes very strongly that freedom is a universal right, that all people want to live in freedom. And it's up to those people to determine the type of democracy that meets their culture and their traditions. It won't be based on our own democratic system; it will reflect their own values and traditions and cultures. But there is important progress that has been made, and Iraq can serve as an example and help really transform what is a troubled region of the world.

This is a dangerous region that was a breeding ground for people who hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings here in Washington and New York City. And we're trying to do -- what we're trying to do is advance freedom for our own safety and security, by laying the foundations of peace for generations to come for our children and grandchildren. And that's why it's so important, what we're working to achieve there in the broader Middle East.

Q A couple questions on Iran, Scott. One of the things the administration said it did not want to see happen was Iran resuming its uranium enrichment program. That appears to be going forward today. What does that say about the success or lack thereof of the EU 3's negotiations? And what does the U.S. plan to do about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, we support the European 3's efforts. We continue to support their efforts. But this is a matter of trust when it comes to Iran, and Iran has shown over the course of the last couple of decades that they cannot be trusted. They have concealed their activities from the international community. They have violated their agreements with the international community. It's time for Iran to come into compliance, to abide by the agreements they made, and to meet the demands of the international community. The international community has spelled out what those demands are.

There is real concern within the international community about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program. And there is a growing majority within the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency that has said it's time for Iran to act in good faith and move forward on the negotiations with the European 3. If they fail to do so, then the option before us would be referral to the Security Council. And there is a growing majority within the international community that is looking at that.

Q What is the administration's understanding of both Russia and China's position on supporting a referral to the Security Council?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we will continue to discuss with all our friends -- discuss with our friends and allies and partners how to move forward to address this issue. This is a serious matter. It's a serious concern. Someone earlier in the briefing pointed out some of the comments that were made by the president in Iran. Their actions and their comments only further underscore why it is so important that the international community not let Iran develop a nuclear weapon.

Q Why does the administration think China is opposed to that referral?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll continue to have discussions with others. I'll let China speak for themselves.

Q One last question if I may?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, sure, go ahead.

Q And insofar as the Iranian government appears now to be recruiting potential Shiite militants from Iraq and training them in Iran, what does the United States plan to do about Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, repeat that? Insofar as training of Iraqis?

Q There are reports now that the Iranians are training Iraqi Shiite militants in Iran and then shipping them back to Iraq to create violence. What does the administration --

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw a report earlier today. I'm not in a position to verify the authenticity of those reports, but I think when you read those reports, it only further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran. The regime in Iran continues to move in the wrong direction of the rest of the Middle East. We've made it very clear that countries like Iran and Syria need to play a positive role when it comes to Iraq and they need to change their behavior, and they should not be interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq.

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Q And, finally, on Iran, are you calling for an overthrow of the Iranian leader?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Are you calling for the overthrow of the Iranian leader?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- you've asked this question before and we've stated our position: We stand with the people of Iran who want to live in greater freedom. The President made very clear in a statement what our position is. This is a regime that continues to deny the people their right to live in greater freedom, and that ignores their wishes and pursues nuclear weapons programs and has been a state sponsor of terrorism. I think it is a regime that is out of step with its people. We stand with the people in Iran.

Go ahead, Rick.

Q Scott, what's the White House assessment on the current stability of the Iranian regime?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q The White House perspective on the current stability --

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't even get into that even if I had information for you.

Go ahead.

Q After Les's question about your mother, this should be easy. (Laughter.) Given the fact that when the North Koreans broke through the seals on their nuclear program roughly three years ago this month, that there was no penalty that they suffered other an engaging in what's been three years of talks, what disincentive do you think that there is to the Iranians at this point to not participate in the kind of --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, kind of what I touched on, they further isolate themselves from the rest of the international community. A growing majority of the international community is making it clear to Iran that they expect them to come into compliance and abide by their agreements, and to negotiate in good faith about the way forward. Russia has been supportive of trying to provide some assistance to help move the negotiations forward, efforts that we have said could be helpful. And the Iranian regime only further isolates itself while it continues moving in that direction.

Q But, Scott, you said the same thing three years ago, or the White House did, about the North Koreans when they did something extraordinarily similar, and further isolation does not seem to have greatly affected their lives.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me point out, when it comes to North Korea and the six-party talks, that there was an agreement on important principles at the last round of talks. Now we want to see progress made on moving forward on those principles. So we're working to confront both threats and both issues, and to move forward on them, working in a multi-lateral way.

And the Europeans have our full support in their efforts to negotiate a way forward and to resolve this in a diplomatic way. We continue to support that. If those negotiations run their course, and Iran does not act in good faith and does not come into compliance, then there is no other option for the international community but to look to the Security Council.

Q Scott, one last shot at this. Mr. ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, makes the point that the North Koreans were referred to the Security Council in, I think, 1992 or 1993, and as he puts it so wonderfully, he has yet to hear an answer from them, meaning from the Security Council. Why would that threat be --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's look at where we are compared to where we were when it comes to North Korea. You now have every country in the region saying to North Korea that you need to dismantle your nuclear weapons programs and get rid of any nuclear weapons. You now have a six-party process in place that spells out very clearly what is expected of North Korea. And we expect North Korea to move forward on the principles that they agreed to at the last round of talks. And we'll be continuing to talk about that. So there has been important progress made that was ignored in your question. You have to look at that, and you have to look -- diplomacy sometimes takes time. But we're committed to moving forward and resolving these matters in diplomatic ways. And that's what the President has emphasized on both.

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