MR BROWN: Hi, good morning, everyone. I’m joined this morning for an on-the-record briefing by Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford, and the U.S. Representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Jackie Wolcott. They want to speak to you today about recent destabilizing and irresponsible actions by Iran on the nuclear front, and developments in Vienna at the IAEA to hold Iran accountable for its – for the obligations it has made to the international community. It’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that the integrity of the international safeguards system is protected and preserved.
Our three briefers will start with some opening remarks and then we’ll have time for your questions. Remember the contents of this briefing are embargoed until the end of the call. We’ll start with Brian Hook. Go ahead.
MR HOOK: Thank you. The news today out of Vienna at the IAEA is significant and it raises serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and its lack of transparency. The IAEA announced that for nearly a year, Iran has refused to answer the IAEA’s questions about multiple locations in Iran related to its past nuclear program.
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted that Iran has nothing to hide. If only that were true. In fact, it seems that Iran does have something to hide. This explains why, for almost a year, it has refused to answer the IAEA’s questions and is now denying inspectors access to potentially sensitive nuclear sites. If Iran really has nothing to hide, then it should have no problem granting full access to IAEA inspectors.
This all comes down to Iran upholding its commitments under international law. Iran is legally obligated to permit the IAEA to access sites it deems necessary to inspect. This commitment arises from Iran’s obligations under the nonproliferation treaty and its safeguards agreements. Iran has a choice: It can answer the IAEA’s questions and comply with the legitimate requests for access, let inspectors travel freely, and be transparent about its activity, or Iran can take its current path of stonewalling and deception. This, however, will only increase Iran’s diplomatic isolation. All NPT signatories, all of them including Iran, have an obligation to uphold their commitments under the NPT. There are no exceptions.
We are pleased that the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution today making clear that Iran must answer the IAEA’s questions and provide full access and cooperation. I want to especially thank our European partners, including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany for the leadership role they played in getting this resolution passed.
Russia and China tried to shield Iran from scrutiny. As nuclear powers, China and Russia have special responsibilities not to support nations who play cat and mouse with the IAEA. Their votes were irresponsible, and the international community deserves better behavior. As nearly all nations will attest, the IAEA has handled this issue with skill and competence. The United States continues to have full faith and confidence in the professionalism and independence of the IAEA.
President Trump is committed to ensuring that the Iranian regime never develops a nuclear weapon. The United States will continue to work with countries around the world to hold Iran to its international nonproliferation commitments. I think it’s worth reminding everyone that just last month, Iran’s supreme leader invoked Hitler’s “final solution.” Iran regularly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. A regime like this which endorses genocide should never be allowed to obtain the means to do so. The United States will never let that happen.
And I’ll turn it over to my colleague, Dr. Ford, and then to Ambassador Wolcott to update you on her team’s excellent efforts in Vienna over the last week. Chris.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: Thanks, Brian. Let me start, for my part, with congratulating the IAEA secretariat and the director general for the continuing professionalism and integrity of the work that they have been doing. This is a very challenging job dealing with some very challenging interlocutors, and they’ve been doing a fantastic, fantastic job of it. But let me also congratulate – especially today – congratulate the Board of Governors on the important statement that it has made with the passage of this resolution. It’s hard to overstate what an important juncture this is, but let me also here, for those of you listening, emphasize what this isn’t.
For the last few years, most nonproliferation-related debate concerning Iran has revolved back and forth and around and around about the merits and demerits of the JCPOA nuclear deal. But this is not that question. What has happened here is that while everyone was staring at the JCPOA, new safeguards problems have arisen in a very different lane. What we have here for the first time since – well, since the JCPOA was agreed, is the emergence of evidence of potential undeclared nuclear material and/or activities being potentially hidden in Iran. That’s the first time these issues have arisen in quite a while, and it is the first time ever by any country anywhere that a government has rejected and refused to comply with its obligations under the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. Those two facts together are rather a game changer.
What this means is that whatever disagreement there may still be about the JCPOA – and I don’t doubt that there are some – the whole world has an interest in coming together now to protect the integrity of the global system of IAEA safeguards that everybody has relied upon to detect or prevent the diversion of nuclear material to weapons purposes for generations in countries all around the world. In other words, this is not just about Iran, as important as that is; it is also about the integrity of the entire system of safeguards upon which we all rely.
As the director general of the IAEA made clear in his June 5 report, it has now been four months during which Iran has been denying access to two locations at which the IAEA believes that there may be undeclared nuclear material or activity. At one of those sites since July of last year, the agency has also reported that activity that looks like sanitization has been occurring. What this means of course is that while the IAEA has been improperly denying access, and striking a blow at the integrity of the Additional Protocol in the global safeguard system, it may also have been using that delay to hide evidence. What we do know from IAEA reporting is that it has now been over a year in which the Iranians have refused to resolve the IAEA’s questions about possible undeclared nuclear material or activity shown by site sampling evidence at another location. And none of these locations were, of course, declared to the IAEA by Iran.
So this is why it’s hard to overstate the significance. We have evidence of possible material or activity potentially still being hidden at Iran at multiple locations, and Iran is denied access for the first time ever under the Additional Protocol. So that’s why congratulations are in order to the board for a clear and necessary statement. It’s great that the board has spoken to associate itself with the director general’s serious concerns about this, and it’s essential and at a great step forward for the board to have insisted, as it has, that Iran live up to its obligations by providing full cooperation without any further delay. Thank you. Jackie.
AMBASSADOR WOLCOTT: Thanks, Chris. Good morning, everyone, from Vienna. Today, as has been mentioned, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to cooperate without further delay regarding possible undeclared nuclear material and activities. As we explained to the board today, we welcome the adoption of this resolution, which we affirmed the fundamental importance of Iran fully implementing its safeguards obligations without further delay. In the resolution adopted today, the board made clear why this was a necessary step at this time, echoing the director general’s serious concern regarding Iran’s denial of access and refusal to substantively engage to address the agency’s questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran today.
The board’s resolution demonstrates the seriousness with which it views Iran’s dubious distinction as the first state ever to prompt a report to this board that it is denying complementary access under the Additional Protocol. The resolution has also made clear the board’s expectation about next steps, calling on Iran to fully cooperate with the agency and set aside the agency’s request without any further delay, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified by the agency. We hope Iran will take a clear warning from this resolution. It must immediately uphold its safeguards obligations.
This is no longer business as usual. This matter has entered a new phase, and the board has made clear Iran must comply. We hope they will. In addition, I would just like to reiterate what Special Representative Hook said regarding the IAEA and as well as Chris. We have full faith in the IAEA and its highly skilled and professional inspectors to carry out their critical verification and monitoring responsibilities in Iran. The board today made clear it shares this confidence in support. We’re committed to working through the IAEA Board of Governors to provide the agency the support it needs to resolve these very serious matters. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
MR BROWN: Great. Looks like our first question is from Robin Wright.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) transparency, can you detail for us the undeclared materials and activities? And secondly, if they don’t comply, what happens specifically next?
MR BROWN: Ford, you want to handle this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: Sure. Well, I mean, I’m in no position here on this call to say more than what the IAEA secretariat has reported. I guess the – what you’ve asked is exactly the right question: What in fact are the undeclared materials and the activities that Iran is hiding? That’s very much what the International Atomic Energy Agency wants to know, and why it has asked questions of Iran and requested access to locations to find out those answers. That’s what the world is waiting to find out, and it’s on the basis of the answers to those questions that we will all be able to determine how seriously to take this. How – it’s up to Iran what it – what it does here. The longer that the Iranians refuse access and make it look as if they’re hiding something significant, the more reason there will be to assume that it must be something significant. If there really is nothing to conceal here, they need to come clean and make that very clear. We are becoming very concerned by their continued intransigence and by their willingness to throw aside their legal obligations under IAEA safeguards in order to conceal whatever it may be.
So I wish I knew the answer to your question about what there is, but that’s exactly the issue, and that’s why we all need to support the IAEA and ensure that Iran gives the only acceptable correct answer to requests for information and access. And that, of course, is to say yes.
MR HOOK: Jackie (inaudible) like to add?
AMBASSADOR WOLCOTT: If I could just – I’m sorry, I was just going to add that it might be useful to the press on the line to know that the reports of the director general from the March board meeting and then from this board meeting have been made public now at our request. And those should be available online, and they detail the concerns the director general gave in pretty stark terms and fairly detailed. Of course, there are confidentiality considerations, so it doesn’t go into site names and so forth, but it’s pretty clear what the problems are.
MR BROWN: Okay. A reminder if you want to get into the queue for questions, dial 1 and 0. Our next question comes from Said Arikat.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Cale. My question is to Ambassador Hook, just to follow up on what Robin just asked. So you’re not – you don’t know exactly the material that is – Iran could be hiding? And my second question is: What incentive, or should there be incentive for Iran to comply? Thank you, sir.
MR HOOK: Well, the first question I think Chris and Jackie just answered. On the second, let me ask Chris to explain what I think shouldn’t require explaining: Why Iran needs to comply with its obligations that it signed up for.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: Sure. I mean, there are actually three sort of interrelated instruments that are in play here. The most fundamental one is, of course, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has been a member of for a long time, although clearly was in violation of for quite some time some years ago, both for its safeguard violations and for its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
At the moment, the issues in play are Article 3 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires that all states party to the treaty have safeguard arrangements with the IAEA. It’s long been understood that if you are in violation of your safeguards agreement, then you’re not living up to your NPT obligations under Article 3. The second instrument in play is Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement itself, which is a legally binding instrument that it agreed with the IAEA. And the third is the Additional Protocol to the IAEA, which is a package of IAEA inspection authorities that have become a de facto standard for global safeguards over the last 20 years. The Iranians agreed to sign up to the Additional Protocol and to apply it under the JCPOA, but having done so it is now in addition to those other two instruments a freestanding obligation of the Iranians.
So there are three things in play here, and if Iran has indeed been concealing undeclared material or activity, and if it is – and if it continues to refuse to do what those instruments require it to do in terms of cooperating with the IAEA, then we have a threefold compliance problem.
MR BROWN: Great. For our next question we’ll go to David Sanger.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) much for doing this. Can we talk a little bit more about what kind of threat this may actually pose? I mean, one of the advantages you got out of the 2015 deal, even if it wasn’t your favorite, is that the Iranians ship 97 percent of their existing fuel stockpiles to Russia. So the breakout time that they would have, even if it’s reduced in recent months and in recent times – and I’d be interested to know if you have a rough sense of what that is, Chris, at this point, or if there’s an unclassified assessment of that. It would be quite a while before they had – it would be months at least before they had enough for one weapon. And as we’ve all discussed before, one weapon doesn’t do you much good.
So that affects what the urgency of sorting this out is, because you’re not going to be able to stand up and say they are – have enough material now to build a weapon for some time. Can you take this topic up a little bit? I have one follow-up when you’re done with that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: Sure, I mean, although you’re – to some degree you’re asking JCPOA-type questions rather than safeguards questions, which is actually, as I was emphasizing before, those are different – slightly rather different questions. My understanding of where the Iranians are right now, according to IAEA reporting, is that they now have something on the order of nearly 1,600 kilograms of enriched uranium stockpiled at about up to maybe four and a half percent – most of it up to four and a half percent degree of enrichment. I don’t know off the top of my head what that comes out to in terms of potential bombs’ worth of material were it to be enriched further and then turned into a weapon, but —
QUESTION: I think less than one, Chris, wouldn’t it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: I know enough of my own abilities not to try to do math on the fly in front of other people, but —
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: — this is a noble thing. But the key point for this – from the safeguards perspective here is the sort of slightly different question of well, what else might there be. And the whole point of the Additional Protocol is to allow the IAEA to hopefully verify the absence of undeclared material and activities. The problem in this case is that the IAEA has actual evidence of potential undeclared material and activity at at least three sites here, and that’s why it’s so essential that we all support the agency in it doing its job and trying to answer those questions, because what Iran might have to add to its capabilities either in terms of potential material or in terms of – who knows what they may still be hiding from their old weapons program.
We know that they stored away a giant cache of weaponization-related legacy information – perhaps saving it for a rainy day – which the Israelis rather brilliantly have made available to the world, but I don’t know what else there might be still hidden away someplace, since the Iranians have demonstrated that they are very interested in hiding capabilities to preserve options for later. That’s the point of actually using the Additional Protocol authorities and getting access to sites and having questions answered. So we would love to find out exactly what the Iranians are hiding, or ideally to find out that they aren’t hiding anything, but you can’t answer those questions without the Iranians complying with their legal obligations.
QUESTION: Okay, and my follow-up to that was in —
MR BROWN: Sorry. Sorry, David. We’ve got a bunch of other people in the queue.
MR BROWN: Joel Gehrke.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wondered – the safeguard agreements issue is distinct from the JCPOA portfolio to some degree, but I wonder: Do you see these lines intersecting? Is this – is there more unanimity on the safeguards issue or consensus on the safeguards issue that might affect the question over the arms embargo resolution later this year? And what’s your plan to convince Russia not to – not to veto a resolution or abstain from a resolution related to the arms embargo?
MR HOOK: Chris, you want to do the first part?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: Sure. I mean, on the safeguards question, I think one of the most significant – there are – it has its own significance substantively in terms of what Iran might or might not still be hiding, of course, as I’ve just said. But I think in a sort – in the larger politics of the question, the safeguards issue is I think very significant because it illustrates the degree to which – because this is a separate question from the JCPOA, we now have an opportunity to either stand together or not stand together in insisting that the rule of law be followed here, that Iran live up to its safeguards obligations, that the institutions, the international organizations that the world has built in order to handle these problems are able in fact to do their job and get our support when people try to stand in the way of them doing the job. That’s the sort of challenge that we face right now, and this resolution in an important step forward in that.
And I guess the follow-on question then is to what degree are Russia and China willing to publicly admit that they are not in the business of supporting those kinds of values. This is not about whether we agree or disagree about the JCPOA, and in fact the remaining participants in the JCPOA now seem to be publicly at loggerheads with each other, with Moscow and Beijing having emerged as – in public, in the open, quite self-admittedly as protectors and enablers of Iranian safeguards violations and facilitators, therefore, of proliferation threats. I really wish that were not the case, but since it clearly is the case, we absolutely should acknowledge it as such, and all of us should come together to frankly try to shame them into doing the right thing.
MR HOOK: I think, Joel, on the arms embargo question, where the United States and Russia have shared interests, we should find a way to advance those interests together. Russia and the United States, and China for that matter, have a shared interest in a more peaceful and stable Middle East. And no one can argue that Iran’s inability to be at peace with its neighbors merits the sale of conventional weapons to Iran. Iran is still – it still leads the world in supporting terrorism, and the last thing the Middle East needs is more weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime. And I think it’s in Russia’s interest to extend the arms embargo. One of the preambular paragraphs in the Iran nuclear deal states that the deal will contribute to regional peace and stability. Iran has not upheld its end of the bargain.
MR BROWN: Great. For our next question, let’s go to Kanbiz Tavana.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for this. My question is: There has been calls for opponents of JCPOA for bringing back the snapback sanctions on Iran. Does this lack of cooperation based on safeguards from Iran – is it grounds for that? And what administration thinks about this? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Our focus – this is Brian Hook – our focus is extending the arms embargo. That is our preferred diplomatic path, and we will be – we have drafted a resolution that we hope will win the support of the UN Security Council. I think the opinion piece that I wrote in The Wall Street Journal some weeks ago says what needs to be said on the subject of snapback.
MR BROWN: Great. I think we have time for one or two more. Can we go to the line of Nick Wadhams?
QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much. You mentioned Russia and China, but could you talk a little bit about your other partners, particularly the E3? Obviously they voted with you, but do you feel that they appreciate the urgency of the matter at hand as much as the U.S. does? Thanks.
MR HOOK: I think with Jackie on the ground working with her E3 colleagues, she’s probably in the best position to answer your question.
AMBASSADOR WOLCOTT: Sure, Brian, thank you, and thanks for the question. This resolution that was passed today was actually tabled by the E3, which I think is fairly – actually very significant. They obviously saw the threat from the safeguards noncompliance or they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of taking this step, including extensive consultations with all members of the Board of Governors to get support for the resolution, and of course we supported it. So I think they clearly have taken a step that has – it’s not a JCPOA step. It’s a – strictly looking at safeguards challenges and knowing that we have a responsibility in the Board of Governors to protect that regime. And this really goes beyond Iran. If Iran can pick and choose what they’re going to comply with, then that really threatens the entire safeguards regime worldwide.
MR HOOK: Okay. Next question, let’s go to Humeyra Pamuk.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. There were some pretty important nuclear countries who abstained from the resolution like India, Pakistan. I wonder what you make of that. Is that, you think, evidence that there is a limit to how far you can push this?
And my second question is like a follow-up to some colleagues. Iran basically says the IAEA has no valid reason to inspect these sites. If basically – if they don’t grant access, what are you or what can you do about it? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Maybe have Jackie take the first question and Chris take the second.
AMBASSADOR WOLCOTT: Yes, thank you. The resolution got overwhelming majority support today from the 35 members. There were some abstentions. This board is used to working by consensus as much as possible, but I will say in the past there have been 12 resolutions passed in the Board of Governors on Iran. Six of them have been consensus and six have been voted, so I don’t think this is out of the ordinary that we would have a – one, have a vote, and two, that there would be some that were perhaps not comfortable yet since this is moving along, this is evolving in a way in the board that hasn’t happened in some years, really. So I – once it passed today, now it’s our board’s resolution and I think it was a very strong vote.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: And for my part, you asked about the reasons for the requests by the IAEA to have access to these facilities. It’s not our – well, I mean, it’s neither ours nor Iran’s responsibility or it’s not open to us to assess or second-guess what the professionals in the IAEA safeguards staff think that they need to do in order to complete their mission. The agency, as detailed in the reports by the director general, has provided Iran with detailed information that shows – demonstrates the basis for these access requests. It’s not up to Iran. Iran has no right to pick and choose which reasons or which evidence it’s willing to allow the agency to move on. If host governments could do that, there would be no safeguards system. It would just be a – everything would be entirely voluntary and people could hide whatever they wished. The whole point of these being legal obligations is that when the professionals at the IAEA secretariat and their inspections staff decide that something needs to be investigated, then it needs to be investigated, and anyone who has bounded themselves to this system is obliged to comply with those requests. And that’s Iran’s situation right now.
So we have great trust and faith in the integrity of the professionalism of the IAEA safeguards staff. They have done a fantastic job on these issues for a very long time. There is every sign they continue to do that and they deserve our full support, and what they don’t deserve is to be second-guessed by Iranians who very clearly seem to be hiding things.
MR BROWN: Thanks. I think we’re a little bit past a half hour on this call, so thank you to our briefers for their participation today, and thank you to everyone who joined the call. This concludes the call and the embargo on the contents is lifted.
MR HOOK: Thanks.
AMBASSADOR WOLCOTT: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FORD: Thanks, everyone.