Briefing with Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary on the Possibility of Direct Talks with Iran

May 24, 2006

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Q The President apparently has gotten several messages, underground, back-channel and so forth, through intermediaries for direct talks with Iran. Surely he is not going to blow a -- speaking of opportunities with Iraq, this is an opportunity to talk directly to Iran. And why doesn't the President do it? And don't give me the -- I'm sure the three other allies and so forth would be very happy if we talked directly to Iran.

MR. SNOW: Well, if you don't wish me to answer the question, then I'll just move to the next questioner.

Q I want you to answer after I've told you what my premise is. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: This from Secretary of State Helen Thomas. The position has always been clear. We are not going to divide --

Q If elected I will serve. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Boy, that's going out everywhere today. (Laughter. The position has always been the same, which is if Iraq, in fact, proceeds with -- we think that Iraq -- Iraq -- Iran -- thank you very much -- needs to be very serious about suspending all enrichment and reprocessing of uranium. They have to agree to do it. They have to do it in a verifiable and credible manner and a permanent manner. When that happens, all right, then there may be some opportunities. But the first precondition right now -- and we've been working with our allies on this -- is to make sure that Iran does nothing in terms of advancing its ability to build nuclear weapons.

Now, we also are not going to divide up the coalition by trying to engage in side conversations with Iran. We have said that we will work with the P5; we have said that we will work with the EU3. And that is not going to change.

Anything -- Iran -- what Iran is trying to do, I think it's safe to say, is -- there are a couple things going on. Number one, the Iranians clearly are feeling some pressure here. This is the sort of thing that would not have happened if Iranians were not feeling pressure both from the international community and economically. I think it's also safe to say that we still believe that Iran has to take that fundamental step when it comes to enriching or reprocessing uranium. They've got to suspend all activities. Until they do that, there's going to be no change in the administration's posture and the President's posture when it comes to one-on-one negotiations. We will continue to use appropriate international forums and work with, and through, our allies when it comes to dealing with the government in Iran.

Q Why don't we sound out whether these are true opportunities, or not?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, Iran -- I mentioned before --

Q -- lay down laws for everybody else. This is true negotiation.

MR. SNOW: This is more an argument than a question, Helen, and I'm not going the engage in arguments about what constitutes or doesn't --

Q No, it isn't. It isn't. I'm asking you, why don't we take advantage of these feelers?

MR. SNOW: You are assuming -- I am not going to tell you each and every thing this government is doing diplomatically when it comes to Iran. I'm not telling you that there are --

Q -- you're more amenable to them?

MR. SNOW: I am telling you that nothing happens, the position has not changed. Iran has an obligation -- what Iran is trying to do is to negotiate through the press right now.

Q -- no --

MR. SNOW: Sure, it is. And you're doing an able job of it, Helen. So what's going on here is that Iran, in responding to pressure, is trying to change the subject. And we're not going to let them change the subject. The subject --

Q It isn't changing the subject --

MR. SNOW: Of course, it is.

Q -- it wants direct talks with the United States.

MR. SNOW: But it already knows what the preconditions are for American talks.

Q Are they, in fact, putting out these feelers that Helen is talking about?

MR. SNOW: I cannot advance you beyond anything that's been in the press. The answer is, Steve, I don't know. I have not been briefed on what they have or have not been doing. It's pretty clear that they have been talking with our allies, and we've obviously had the letter from President Ahmadinejad. So to that extent, I suppose you could catagorize it as a feeler. I don't know about -- I can't give you any insight.

Q When you say there may be some opportunities if they take some steps, what are you talking about?

MR. SNOW: I'm going no further. I think what we've always said is that there is simply -- the first precondition of Iran is renounce the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium. Just stop. Stop doing that -- of nuclear materials. What Iran is now trying to do, as I said, in a response to pressure -- I think it's very clear the pressure has begun to pay off -- that they want to change the subject. And we're not going to let them.

Q It's the same subject. You are -- you're right, they are responding to pressure. They're probably really fearful --

MR. SNOW: You know what -- if and when they meet their obligations before the international community of suspending the production or enrichment or reprocessing of uranium, we'll --

Q So you're laying down the law to them, really, that they have to do that, or there's no negotiation? No running room.

MR. SNOW: -- and we'll see.

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Q Back to Iran. You talk about there being a single, in effect, it sounds like, a single precondition. But there are so many other subjects that are of extreme importance not only to Iran, but the United States -- all of those. Has there been any thought to somehow increasing the dialogue on many of those subjects?

MR. SNOW: It's interesting because for all the complaints about American unilateralism, here we are -- we're working through international forums; we're working through multiple international forums; we're working through the United Nations; we're working through the EU. It's not as if the Iranians don't have a place to express themselves. At this point we do not have direct diplomatic ties, so we are trying to the very best of our ability to go ahead and use the appropriate forums. So I don't know -- for critics who say, why don't you reach out, I think the United States is trying to engage in the proper and appropriate forums as fully as we possibly can.

Q But turning around your point, might it not be argued by some that the United States has suddenly discovered something that it has not as much believed in in the past, that this might be an occasion --

MR. SNOW: No, as a matter of fact, the United States has worked through international forums throughout. It's a good debating point, you know. But these --

Q I'm not debating you, but certainly --

MR. SNOW: -- the "some might say" question doesn't tell me who the "some" are and what they might say.

Q I don't think that that's how it would be described. But my point is, is what if that point is made? What is your response to the fact that the United States has often decided to go it alone, to use an expression, or to operate unilaterally?

MR. SNOW: I disagree with the premise.

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