Press Briefing with National Security Adviser Steve Hadley (Excerpts)

June 12, 2008

. . .

Q Mr. Hadley, two questions. One, what's the upshot of the discussion about including Italy in the EU3-plus-3? And secondly, was there any progress made on the caveat issue with the troops, the Italian troops in Afghanistan?

MR. HADLEY: That issue didn't come up. Neither of those issues came up specifically with President Napolitano. They have been, of course, the subject of discussions between the two countries. They may come up tomorrow. On both of them, the -- there is a group of countries that have been for the last three years leading the discussions with Iran, representatives from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Russia. That group certainly has been in the lead, but it has in some sense been imbedded in a larger group of countries. As you know, one of the issues in terms of dealing with Iran is to increase pressure and increase sanctions. And that of course requires potentially action by the European Union, of which Italy is a part.

So Italy has been very much a part of the consultation process. There has been an issue of whether the core group of six should be expanded. It's an idea that has been raised. I think there will be more discussions about it. The President will want to obviously talk to various leaders about it. It came up in Germany, and I think it will come up again over the course of the trip. I think no decision has been made, and the President is aware that this has been an issue. And I'm sure it will be something that will be talked about.

I think the other thing, though, that will be emphasized is that all of us need now to focus even more intensely on the issue about Iran. They have clearly made progress in their enrichment program. As you know, the problem with their uranium enrichment program is that it is a route to giving Iran the indigenous capability to make the material for a nuclear weapon. It is a potential route for Iran to a nuclear weapon. I don't think anybody really thinks that's a good idea for stability in the Middle East, and it runs the risk of provoking something we have tried to avoid, working with Europe for decades, which is a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

So there is room for all countries now to put a greater focus on Iran. I think you can see in the conversations that there's a greater appreciation of the risk, and all countries are going to need to do more.

There is a dual-track strategy, as you know. Mr. Solana, on behalf of the so-called EU3-plus-3, will be meeting with Iranian counterparts, putting on the table an enhanced offer to the Iranian regime, that if they will suspend their enrichment activities, there is the prospect for a series of diplomatic, economic, and other benefits that would benefit the Iranian people, including assurances of a peaceful civil nuclear program.

So that is one track, and we would hope that the regime would respond positively and let the Iranian people have the benefits of that package. But if they do not, I think there is an increasing recognition that there then needs to be an increase in sanctions and economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran. And if that offer is rejected, that's where, I think, the discussions will go -- and there's certainly an important role for Italy to play in that process.

Yes, sir.

Q Steve, what is the U.S. position on including Italy in the P5?

MR. HADLEY: As I said, it was raised with the President in Germany; it's something the Secretary of State has talked to the President about. One of the questions is, well, if you let in an additional country, who else wants to come in? And then it goes to the issue of, well, how big does the framework get? And it has been a group that has been useful to keep small; it's been fairly responsive. But as I say, not all the action is there, because that group of the so-called EU3-plus-3 is embedded in an ever larger set of circles that goes to the point, for example, of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors, which is 40 countries; it goes to the U.N. Security Council, which is 15 countries. So there are a lot of groups involved in this effort. Italy participates in those groups, is a very important member of a number of those groups. And of course, we have talked very intensively with Italy on this subject.

So the narrow issue of do you expand the EU3-plus-3 raises a lot of questions that need to be thought through, and at this point the President hasn't made up his mind. He's going to listen to his Italian colleagues here during this visit and listen to the leaders of the other countries during the course of this trip.

Q And can you clarify something on the relationship between the incentive package and the sanctions? I'm a little fuzzy on whether the United States now says, let's wait to see what the reaction is to the latest package of incentives and then we'll move ahead with fully implementing the last U.N. resolution, and the banking sanctions that were talked about the other day in Slovenia. What --

MR. HADLEY: Well, as you know, this dual-track process is not new. This was really the process after 2003, when there was an active negotiation between the EU3 and Iran. There was actually an agreement called the Paris Accord in 2004, where the Iranians suspended enrichment. There was negotiation of a package of benefits that would help the Iranian people. And those negotiations were broken off by President Ahmadinejad when he was elected in the summer of 2005.

We've tried to resuscitate that effort, get both of these tracks moving. There's been a lot of effort and progress in sanctioning Iran. It was felt that what we needed now to do is to refresh the offer, if you will. And that's what Solana will do.

So I think we will get a reaction fairly quickly. The President Ahmadinejad has already ruled out acceptance of the package. We'll see what happens when Solana goes, but I think you've heard a number of countries are getting ready and doing the internal processes required, so that should that package be rejected -- and a number of people believe it will -- we are ready to go to continue the sanctions effort that has already been well along. As you know, there have been three U.N. Security Council resolutions. We've taken a lot of action. A number of European countries have also taken a lot of action.

Steven Lee.

Q Follow up. Assuming they reject it ,s they signaled they would, when do you expect to see the next diplomatic steps? I mean, will there be an additional meeting of the P5-plus-1? Will there be a Security Council resolution? I mean, what and how soon do you expect to see --

MR. HADLEY: Well, we'll see. I mean, look, what we ought to do is we ought to -- you know, one of the things we want to make clear is that this is a genuine offer and we hope the Iranians accept it. So the more we're very visible about, well, we're going to get ready for this meeting and talk about moving forward on sanctions, I think our concern is that it would suggest to some -- Iranian people, for example -- that this was not a genuine offer and was not a genuine effort to resolve this issue in a positive way for both the Iranian people and for the international community.

It is a serious effort, and that's one of the reasons we have refreshed the offer. That's one of the reasons we want Solana to go, notwithstanding the comments that we've heard from President Ahmadinejad. Let him speak directly to the leaders of Iraq. He will have an opportunity to speak to the Majlis. Hopefully he will have opportunities to speak to the Iranian people. And let's see what impact that has. Let's let him go. Let's let him come back. We'll have an opportunity to see what he learns on that trip and to see what the response of the Iranian government is.

But at this point we want to make it clear to the Iranian people this is a genuine offer and a genuine way out for them that will provide a better life for the Iranian people if their regime will only let them take it.

. . .


Q I beg your pardon if I go back to the 5-plus-1 issue, because according to some Italian officials, America favors the extension of the 5-plus-1 group to Italy. Now, my question is, does the President support the Italian wish to be part of the 5-plus-1? And did he raise the subject with Chancellor Merkel, and does he plan to do it with President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Brown?

MR. HADLEY: It came up in the discussions with Chancellor Merkel. It will probably come up in the other discussions. I think it will probably come up tomorrow. And as I said, the President is listening to the arguments. There are some questions of the sort that I described before, and the President is in a listening mode.

But I think the bottom line is Italy is very much a partner in this effort with dealing with Iran, and Italy has -- very much has responsibilities in dealing with it. As you know, Italy has a very robust set of commercial relations with Iran. This is always a problem for countries when their commercial ties sometimes seem to be at variance with their national security requirements.

And the message that the President is taking to all countries in Europe is, this is a real threat to the security of the Middle East and potentially to the security of Europe -- the prospect of Iran with nuclear weapons. And we all need to make the tough decisions to, in some sense, look past our commercial ties and put the kind of pressure on Iran that is going to be required if they're going to make it -- are willing to make a strategic decision to stop their enrichment programs, suspend their enrichment, come to the table, and negotiate.

It is going to require us to make some tough decisions that are contrary to commercial interests. This is an issue that the President is going to be talking about at every stop. This is something that all of us are going to have to do together if it's going to succeed, and Italy is going to have a very important role in that.

Yes, sir.

Q The fact is that Italy is the strongest partner, as you said, but is really the strongest trade partner of Iran.

MR. HADLEY: Right.

Q So it is exactly for that that Italy wants to play an active role within the 3-plus-3. And it seems from what you've just said before that the President has not made a decision. Can you tell us what Merkel said, if they discussed about that? Was she open about the idea?

MR. HADLEY: You know, we generally --

Q Is there a --

MR. HADLEY: -- we generally don't get into the details of the conversation. I think it's right to say that the President's mind is open. And I think, you know, the first issue is, do we have an understanding with all the key countries that this is the path we're on, this two-track strategy? And if Iran rejects -- the Iran regime, rejects this offer that Solana will take, then we have to be willing to make some hard decisions, even though they go against the commercial interest.

That's the issue. That's the strategy question. We can deal with the process issues. But I think the President is going to be focusing first and foremost on, do we have a common commitment to the strategy to make the hard decisions, and then he will be listening on these process issues. That's really all I've got to say on that issue.

Yes, sir.

Q Just to follow on Iran -- I'm sorry, on Iran --

MR. HADLEY: That's really all I've got to say on that issue.

. . .