Briefing with Acting Department of State Spokesperson Tom Casey on Russian Negotiations with Iran (Excerpts)

March 6, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

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QUESTION: I came in a little late. I didn't hear the opening bell.

There are a lot of questions about Iran and nuclear. One goes back to an article, I think it was in the Post on Saturday, the notion that the U.S. would seek a 30-day cooling off period or moratorium or whatever, and if Iran didn't do something about its nuclear program, then the Council should go ahead and apply sanctions. Is there some notion of a script like that?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I don't want to get ahead of where we actually are right now, and where we actually are right now is in Vienna with a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. And what that meeting is doing is taking a look at the latest report from Director General ElBaradei on Iran's compliance, or really Iran's lack of compliance, and outright defiance of the international community and the international community's desires to see Iran move forward with promises it's already made to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activity, to move towards a negotiated resolution of the conflict that it has with the international community over this issue.

Certainly the resolution of February 4 has already reported Iran to the Security Council. And after the Board concludes its review of the report, we'd certainly expect action to move there. How the Council will deal with this issue, I don't think I want to speculate on at this point. Obviously it's important to us that the will of the international community be adhered to, and that Iran change not only its attitude and its views but its actions in response to the clear calls of the international community.

QUESTION: And more currently, taking ElBaradei's remarks into account, maybe they'll never have to be taken up by the UN Security Council --very hopeful -- "I'm still very much hopeful in the next week an agreement could be reached," and this seems to be pegged to some formula with the Russians. This is being said on background in Vienna. Do you -- is there anything you can do to enlighten us on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'll leave it to Secretary General -- Director General, excuse me, ElBaradei to speak for himself. Certainly, as I said, the February 4 resolution has already reported Iran to the Security Council, so there is no obstacle to that discussion being taken up and we certainly believe that will happen shortly.

One thing that is clear is we all hope that Iran would change its behavior. It would be certainly in Iran's best interests, as well as in the interests of the broader world at large, if Iran were to agree to the terms laid out in several IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, if it would go back to adherence to the commitments it made to the EU-3 under the Paris agreement, and if it would, in fact, deal seriously with the international community's concerns about their 18 years of clandestine nuclear activities. But certainly I'm not aware of any specific proposals or any specific ideas that would require or force any kind of delay in Security Council action.

QUESTION: I guess that really answers it, but the Russian -- the alleged Russian proposal only deals with part of the problem. You have enough of a problem with Iran beyond just enrichment, don't you, that requires UN attention? Even if they solve enrichment, isn't there ground to cover?

MR. CASEY: But again, Barry, I think we need to stick to what the IAEA Board of Governors resolutions call for from Iran. That's a complete and total suspension of any and all uranium enrichment-related activity and a negotiated end to the problems that the international community has seen with its program. Very clear to me that there isn't any wiggle room in that concerning enrichment-related activity.

The Russian proposal, as has been previously discussed, doesn't include that, and, certainly you know, allowing the Iranian regime to pursue enrichment on any capacity, on any scale, would basically allow it to master the kinds of technologies needed to make weapons-grade material, and that's clearly something that neither we, nor the international community nor anyone else, has signed off on.

QUESTION: Nor the Russians?

MR. CASEY: Or the Russians as well.

QUESTION: Well, ElBaradei said today that this seemed to be the sticking point, the idea of centrifuge-related research and development, and that he hopes that the agreement, as Barry said, would come within the week. So would the U.S. ever accept small-scale uranium enrichment work?

MR. CASEY: Look. I think I just answered that, but you can't be just a little pregnant. You can't have the regime pursuing enrichment on any scale, because pursuing enrichment on any scale allows them to master the technology, complete the fuel cycle, and then that technology can easily be applied to a clandestine program for making nuclear weapons.

Certainly if you look at other examples, if you look at what happened in North Korea, they completed the fuel cycle and then very quickly, as Chris Hill said to you guys before, took a civilian nuclear program and turned it in about 30 days into a bomb-making program.

The whole purpose of the approach that the international community has taken to date is to assure ourselves that Iran does not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. And so I think the lines that have been drawn by the international community broadly in the IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, by the EU-3 through the Paris agreement, are pretty clear and that's certainly where we are.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that the Russians are coming here tonight with that proposal in mind though?

MR. CASEY: I don't have anything on that. You know, certainly we do expect to see Foreign Minister Lavrov here this evening as well as tomorrow for meetings with the Secretary, and I expect Iran will be an important topic of conversation among the many they'll cover. But I'm not aware of any specific proposal they're coming with.

QUESTION: Could you expand on that?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: What other issues will they talk about? And also there was a Council on Foreign Relations report released over the weekend which suggests that Russia is increasingly becoming an obstacle to U.S. interests.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Yeah. Let me try and walk you through a little bit of what we're expecting. First of all, as you know, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov will be in Washington today and tomorrow and will have discussions with the Secretary. We're really expecting these to cover pretty much the full range of both bilateral issues as well as a number of international concerns. As I said, Iran and Iran's clandestine nuclear program will be one of them. Certainly expect they'll be covering and talking about the Middle East, and in particular the continuing efforts by the Quartet related to the Mideast peace process. Russia, of course, also has the presidency of the G-8 right now and we'll be interested in hearing from them on preparations for the St. Petersburg summit, as well as the developments on the agenda that Russia has laid out for the G-8 at this point.

On bilateral issues, I think as the Secretary has made clear, we have the kind of relationship with the Russians where we can have a frank discussion of those issues, including areas such as their latest law on nongovernmental organizations and some of the issues in the energy sector where we've already expressed our concerns.

In terms of the Council on Foreign Relations report that you were referring to, George, we have had a chance to take a look at it but not really in full. Certainly we'll study it carefully. But I think the main point for us is that the U.S. and Russia have an active and constructive dialogue on a broad agenda of priority issues. Certainly we're cooperating well with them on counterterrorism issues, on nonproliferation issues, as we've discussed, and through the Quartet and on a variety of other areas as well.

There are areas where, as I said, we differ and we think we can have a frank and candid exchange of views with them on those subjects. And we're certainly going to continue to make clear our concerns about those areas where we do have problems.

QUESTION: I know you want to be a polite host, but could you tick off some of the areas? How about the way -- their justice system? How about the way they throw people in jail?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I think the things that we've pointed out recently again are things like the law on nongovernmental organizations, concerns that they not use energy supplies as a political weapon, and a variety of other things as well. We've spoken out on the Yukos case and other instances where rule of law concerns exist. But I don't have anything particularly new to add to what we've already said on this subject.


QUESTION: Still on Iran. Yesterday, Ambassador Bolton gave a pretty tough speech at AIPAC, warning of "painful consequences if Iran continues to isolate itself." Was he speaking for the Administration with that speech? It seemed to be he was hinting at a harder line, you know, possibly a military strike or something along those lines.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, again, I don't want to get ahead of where we actually are right now -- the discussions in the IAEA. We certainly expect and anticipate a detailed discussion of this issue to take place in the Security Council, and at that point all tools are certainly available and we'll use all diplomatic tools at our disposal to deal with this situation. I certainly would expect that the Security Council would respond to this in a way that reinforces the diplomacy that's already taken place at the IAEA. But I don't have anything specific again that I would share with you in terms of action.

Certainly though, if -- I understand Ambassador Bolton's comments to indicate that Iran certainly needs to take steps to deal with the concerns of the international community. And as we've always said, the Iranians are only hurting themselves by continuing on the course of defiance that they've taken. They're continuing to isolate themselves in the international community. There has been a broader and growing consensus on the need for the Iranians to respond to this, and clearly that has consequences for Iran. And that's what I read into Ambassador Bolton's comments.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a very quick question?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: This so reference in the newspaper, so how did they -- anyhow, that the Board of Governors has to vote to refer the Iran situation to the UN. Is that true?

MR. CASEY: No, that's not true. The February 4th resolution already reports Iran to the Security Council and the Security Council can take it up, at this point, at any point that it chooses to. The resolution, as you know, did call for a month period for Director General ElBaradei to be able to produce and come up with the report that's currently being discussed, but there is no requirement for an additional vote or resolution or anything of that kind.

QUESTION: If I can follow up on that. Does ElBaradei need to go to the Security Council or the Security Council can seize itself without any --

MR. CASEY: No, at this point, the Security Council will choose at what particular moment it wants to address this issue. But that simply becomes a matter of internal deliberations in the Council as to when it will come up. There's no action required either by the Board of Governors or, as I understand I, from the Director General himself.

Joel. Sorry, Sue. Are we still on Iran?

QUESTION: Yes, on Iran.

MR. CASEY: You're on Iran? Well, I'll tell you what, let's do Sue first and then we'll go over there. Go ahead, Sue.

QUESTION: So when would you like the Security Council to take this up? You have said previously that the fact that they're being reported to the Council, or referred, or however you may like to phrase this, is important in itself. So when would you like them to take it up?

MR. CASEY: Well, "reported" is the term of art. I'd certainly expect them to take it up in the near future, but I really don't have a specific timetable for you. This is obviously -- like any other issue coming before the Council, it's something that needs to be discussed internally there as to when it'll specifically come up as an item on the agenda, but I do expect it'll be soon.

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