Briefing by Department of State Spokesperson Sean McCormack on U.S. Iran Policy (Excerpts)

January 13, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

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QUESTION: Can we go to something else, like consultations on what to do about Iran? The President made it clear today that it's a decision still to be taken after talking to other folks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he -- what he talked about is what to do in the Security Council.

QUESTION: That's what I meant.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: I hope that's what I -- well, that's what I meant.

MR. MCCORMACK: That was what was in your head and I took that. Yes, okay.

QUESTION: Well, I don't quote myself in the stories; I quote what you say. So out goes Burns, out goes Joseph. We've got a sketchy account of who they'll see where. Presumably you have more to say or know more about the process 24 hours later. Anybody else going out? Whatever details you can add to what you had yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. In terms of Bob Joseph's travel, he's going to Vienna. I don't have -- yet have the list of other capitals that he's going to be traveling to. We'll try to get those to you, Barry.

Under Secretary Burns is going to be meeting in London with a number of other interested parties, with the UK, the French, the Russians, the Chinese and the Germans as well. He's going to be continuing on a prescheduled trip to India and the South Asia region and we'll try to get you some more details on that as well. That's the travel schedule as I know it.

QUESTION: About where it was yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: About where it was yesterday, Barry.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I may have missed it. The Chinese were not included in the London list or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, they are.

QUESTION: They are?

MR. MCCORMACK: They are. Yeah.

QUESTION: And that meeting is on Monday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Monday.

QUESTION: What's the format for the meeting? Is it that countries will individually meet with the EU-3 or all those countries you named will be around the same table?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check, Saul, on the modalities. And my understanding is they're all going to be there at the same time.

QUESTION: Can you give us some dates on the Burns trip to India and Asia?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's going to be -- he is -- in terms of the stops, I'll try to get you all the stops. I know that he's going to be in India and Sri Lanka. I'll try to get you some more.

QUESTION: And China?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't -- I'll check for you on his travel schedule. That's all I have right now. Their trip was originally planned as primarily focused on U.S.-India relations. The India stop, he's going to be talking about certainly the U.S.-India agreement on civil nuclear affairs that was signed and how we go about implementing that. Certainly, Iran is going to be an important topic that he discussed -- that he discusses with the Indian Government. Last time around at the Board of Governors, they voted with other countries to find Iran in noncompliance. And this -- at the upcoming emergency session of the Board of Governors, we'll see how these other countries vote. We're not going to prejudge the -- how any particular country is going to vote at this time, but as the Secretary has said, we believe we have the votes in the IAEA Board of Governors to send this matter to the Security Council.

QUESTION: Angela Merkel will be in Moscow, I think, on Monday, to see President Putin, Iran -- there are other issues, Ukraine, et cetera, but Iran is an issue clearly. You know, she doesn't need advice from a third country. But is there some advice that you would like to suggest ever so courteously?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Do you think Russia's aboard on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of Iran, Barry, I'm not going to prejudge or -- how any country, any one country is going to vote. At this point, we are in close consultations with the Russians. The Secretary has spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov. At Under Secretary Burns' level, they've been in regular contact over the past weeks and months on this issue. We're working closely with them. We would hope that the IAEA, the countries of the IAEA Board of Governors choose to send a strong signal, a strong clear signal to Iran that their behavior, their defiance of the international community is unacceptable.

As Secretary Rice pointed out yesterday, Iran's behavior has followed a very clear pattern of trying to face down the international community. That appears to be -- that appears to be their strategy. If the international community retains a united front on this issue, it sends a clear message to Iran. We retain every hope that this will be resolved through diplomatic channels. That is our focus now and that is our focus in going to the IAEA Board of Governors for a referral to the Security Council.

Yes. Libby.

QUESTION: After we heard from the EU-3 and Secretary Rice yesterday about the growing consensus on referring Iran to the Security Council, the Secretary General came out and talked about a call he initiated to the Iranians. It was a 40-minute phone conversation saying that they were serious about coming back to negotiations. So what's the U.S. reaction to hearing from the Secretary General after, you know, hearing from the EU-3 and Secretary Rice and saying that, you know, sort of appearing to undermine really what we had just heard all day?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I certainly don't take it that way. Look, this is an important issue and you would expect that the Secretary General of the United Nations speak out about it, be interested in the issue. Absolutely. Everybody shares the common goal of trying to resolve this through diplomatic means. That's what we're working to do. But you see the Iranian comments just today and even yesterday. They talk about the fact that they still want to engage in serious negotiations, yet in the same breath they talk about the fact that they're not going to give up enrichment technology. This is more of the same that we have seen from them over the past months. The Iranians continue to throw up a smokescreen, to try to divert attention from what the real issue is. The real issue is the fact that Iran has gotten themselves into a position where they are on the verge of being referred to the Security Council because of their behavior, because they have under cover of a civilian nuclear program sought a nuclear weapon, and now the international community is speaking out very clearly in that regard.

In all of our consultations that we have had up until this point, there is a common thread that runs throughout all of them, and that is that Iran's behavior needs to be addressed in some form, that the world is shocked by Iran's continuing defiance of the international community on this issue and it needs to be addressed.

Libby, you had a follow-up?

QUESTION: Could that have been seen -- you know, the Secretary General not wanting the problem at his doorstep at the UN?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't view it that way.

QUESTION: Following on that, Annan also said that he hoped that the matter could be resolved at the IAEA level but the U.S. is already talking, obviously, about the Security Council. Do you believe that any IAEA resolution is -- that we're already beyond that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Our focus is on the IAEA Board of Governors meeting that will be coming up. We haven't set a date yet with the other members of the Board of Governors and Director General ElBaradei, but we'll be working on that in the coming days.

The focus of that meeting will be to refer Iran, the Iranian Government, to the Security Council for a finding of noncompliance with their NPT obligations. So that's where our focus is and that's where the -- certainly our European partners and some other members of the IAEA Board of Governors is right now and that's where we're focusing our diplomatic efforts.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, you don't believe that there's a resolution still available -- I mean, a referral is not a resolution to the crisis, obviously. You don't believe there's a resolution available any longer at the IAEA level?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are entering a new phase, a new diplomatic phase. The EU-3 negotiations, in their own words, had reached a dead end. And they had reached a dead end because of Iranian intransigence, their failure to come clean with the IAEA and their defiance of the international community. So that diplomatic phase has ended. We are now in a new diplomatic phase, and the elements of those phases -- this phase that we see right now before us -- are the IAEA Board of Governors and then a subsequent referral to the Security Council.

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QUESTION: The question I have relates to the U.S. and Iran. It seems to me a few days ago from the podium, there was a reference to we've communicated something -- sent a piece of paper to the Iranians. Would you elaborate on that or how that went -- through whose offices that went and have there been any further communications?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the details on it, Charlie. It's through our mission in Vienna to the IAEA.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: And I'm not sure the exact mode of communication, but -- whether it was faxed over or sent over via courier or sent through a third party. I don't know. I don't have the details of it. The --

QUESTION: Do you know which day it was?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was Friday or Saturday -- last Friday or Saturday.

QUESTION: Can you confirm it was one document, one common letter or was it different letters?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was from the United States.

QUESTION: China's Ambassador to the UN said referring Iran to the Security Council would complicate the issue? Is that the kind of message just in general terms that Foreign Minister Li conveyed in the phone call?

MR. MCCORMACK: As I said, I'm not going to get into the details of these conversations that she's having. These are all part of -- this is all part of our diplomacy. She's going to be on the phone. Under Secretary Burns and Under Secretary Joseph they're going to be working the phones as well as our embassies around the world. Nick and Bob are also going to be hitting the road to visit capitals as well. So, but in terms of the phone calls, I'll try to keep you updated on what her activities are, but I'm not going to get into the details of the conversations.

QUESTION: While we're on conversations, Mr. Sharon seems to have taken a bad turn --

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?

QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Given the -- given that there's at least one view of a major power that it might complicate the issues, is that something that you also acknowledge? Iran responded to the concerted to effort to have them refer to the Council by saying, look, we're going to stop inspections. And so it's almost like your move has created a negative reaction, has moved you further away from stopping them getting, you know, more technology.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the Iranian pronouncement that they intend to suspend cooperation with the IAEA, I think it only further makes the point that we have been making and that is that Iran is continuing to defy the will of the international community in what one can only discern is as a strategy to try to face down the international community. And it is now incumbent upon the member-states of the international system of the IAEA Board of Governors and we hope the Security Council to send a clear message to Iran that that will not be allowed, that they cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. They can't be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon that, while violating their obligations under the NPT. So that is where our diplomatic focus is and we hope that as Secretary Rice talked about it yesterday that with referral to the Security Council, that comes with it an additional weight, that may not come with activities within the IAEA Board of Governors.

Certainly the IAEA is a respected institution. They recently won the Nobel Peace Prize -- shared the Nobel Peace Prize with their Director General for the work that they have done. But still, the Security Council is a different issue and we have talked before about the fact that we do not believe that the Iranian people want to find themselves isolated from the rest of the world and yet that is where -- that is the direction in which their government has taken them. So we'll see, should the IAEA Board of Governors vote for referral to the Security Council, what sort of change in behavior that evokes from the Iranian Government. We hope that it leads to a decision on their part to return to the negotiating table or use other diplomatic means to resolve this issue. We hope that it causes a change in behavior. But at the moment, we don't seem to have seen any change in behavior from the Iranians. We'll see what the coming days and weeks bring.

QUESTION: Okay. When was the last time the Secretary spoke to either Annan or ElBaradei?

MR. MCCORMACK: For Director General ElBaradei, I'll have to check for you. I'll have to check for you, Saul. On Secretary General Annan, off the top of my head, I can't tell you.

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