- South Korea
- United Arab Emirates
QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s just start with – let’s just start with Iran, because we’ve been expecting now you guys to deliver your response to the EU – to the Iranians’ response to the EU. It seems to go back and forth like this. Has it been delivered yet? If not, why not? Are you waiting – there – the Israeli national security advisor is supposedly – is coming to town. We’ll be having meetings this week. Are you waiting for that meeting before delivering your response to the EU?
MR PRICE: Sure. So to take a step back and to remind of something we’ve said since the earliest days of this: we have taken a deliberate, we have taken a principled approach to these negotiations from the start. We have said, since we had first started down this road in the Spring of last year, that if Iran is prepared to fully implement its commitments under the 2015 deal, then we are prepared to do the same. That, of course, remains as true today as it was last year.
This negotiation, it is true – and you all in this room know this – has at times languished, and it has languished at times for months and months because of the action or, oftentimes was the case, inaction from Iran. The notion that we have delayed this negotiation in any way is just not true. We stated in March when there – after the – after months of painstaking diplomacy and dialogue, we arrived at the text essentially of a deal that we were prepared for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA based on that text that was on the table at the time. It was Iran, of course, that was not prepared to say the same.
The EU, as you know, did table a text more recently. That is the text that has been the topic of some discussion between the various parties over the past couple of weeks. The EU based this text on the March text that we were prepared to accept. The High Representative Mr. Borrell has described this as the final text. Iran in turn responded with several comments. This is why it has taken us some additional time to review those comments and to determine a response of our own.
We are seriously reviewing those comments. At the same time, we are engaging with our partners, with the EU, with our European allies on the way ahead. These consultations have taken place at various levels. Rob Malley, of course, is deeply engaged in this, but even at the senior most levels – you saw yesterday the White House issued a readout of the President’s call with his E3 counterparts, where Iran was discussed.
We are encouraged by the fact that Iran appears to have dropped some of its nonstarter demands, such as lifting the FTO designation of the IRGC. But as you’ve heard from us over the past couple days, there are still some outstanding issues that must be resolved, some gaps that must be bridged if we are able to get there. We will respond to Iran’s response as soon as our internal consultations are completed and as soon as our consultations with our close partners —
MR PRICE: — are concluded as well.
QUESTION: Well, that was kind of a defensive answer, at least in the beginning, because I didn’t ask – I didn’t suggest – I don’t think I did – that you have delayed this negotiation, and you just seemed to come out and reject that without that kind of allegation being made. I realize that some may have said that, but that wasn’t part of my question, right. I’m just wondering when you’re going to respond so —
MR PRICE: We will respond as soon as —
QUESTION: So —
MR PRICE: — we have a response prepared, as soon as those —
MR PRICE: — those consultations —
QUESTION: Well —
MR PRICE: — that we’re undertaking internally, as well as our close partners – as soon as those are completed.
QUESTION: Okay. Well does that mean that – then that you’re going to talk to the Israelis first before sending in your response?
MR PRICE: We’ve been discussing this with our Israeli partners since day one, since going back —
MR PRICE: — to the start of this process in Vienna in the spring of last year and really before that. At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program. Of course, Israel, just as we do, has deep concerns about the state of Iran’s nuclear program. For our part, we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective means by which to address those concerns, but we’ll continue to discuss this —
QUESTION: Okay. I —
MR PRICE: — with our Israeli partners.
QUESTION: I get that, but in – at this moment in time – Monday, the whatever it is – 22nd of August – are you waiting for – to speak with the Israeli national security advisor before you respond to the EU?
MR PRICE: We are taking – we are undertaking a number of consultation – some of them internal, some of them external, some of them we’ve spoken to, some of them we have not spoken to, but I’m just not in a position to detail all of them.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Iran? Thank you.
QUESTION: — would you say –
MR PRICE: To follow up? Are you —
QUESTION: Yeah, just to follow up on what Matt just mentioned, Mr. Borrell said that he hopes to hear your response by the end of this week. Is this a reasonable timetable considering what you just said about March that there has been alteration and changes, and you need your time before you can respond. Is end of this week – are we talking about, like, days or we’re talking about weeks before we hear your response?
MR PRICE: We are working as quickly as we can to put together an appropriate response to the Iranian paper. This is a process that we want to make sure that we undertake with the rigor and with the attention to detail that is necessary for an issue that is as important as this one is. I can guarantee you that we will not take one day longer than is necessary to provide our response to the EU. As I’ve said before, we have been prepared, going back to last spring, to return to compliance with the JCPOA on a mutual basis. There has been a text – there had been a text on the table that we were prepared to accept this past March, March of 2022. It was Iran that was not in the position to say the same.
So we are working as quickly as we can, as methodically as we can, and as carefully as we can to see to it that our response is complete, it takes into account the Iranian feedback, and we’ll provide that to the EU just as soon as we’re able.
QUESTION: While you consult with Israelis regularly as part of this ongoing Strategic Dialogue, can you just tell us that if this visit specifically – and when it’s going to happen – between the national security advisor – Israeli – and the Secretary? Because my understanding was it supposed to be today, and his meeting with Jake Sullivan tomorrow, but I haven’t seen anything on the schedule. Can you confirm when he’s meeting with him?
And is it significant that basically as, what Matt was – alluded, is it basically part of the response? You’re waiting for him, is this part of the general pictures of briefing the Israelis, or specifically to coordinate a response to the Iranian proposal?
MR PRICE: I don’t expect we’ll be in a position to arrange a meeting between the national security advisor and the Secretary, but there will be high-level consultations between the Israeli national security advisor and individuals in this building, in addition to the other interlocutors that Mr. Hulata will be meeting with this week in Washington.
As you know, our relationship is deep with Israel. There are also a number of issues that we have to discuss together, including Israel’s security, our support for it, regional security – but as part of regional security, of course, Iran looms large. In just about every one of our in-depth engagements with our Israeli partners, Iran is a topic of conversation. Oftentimes, it is a central topic of conversation, and I expect that will be the case with the discussions this week.
QUESTION: Ned —
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Ned, would you say the two remaining obstacles, if there are two, the two remaining obstacles, that one is the – Iran’s insistence or Iran’s request or demand that the
IAEA inspections are stopped or reduced or whatever? And the second one is that you are really having difficulty with the members of your own party in the Senate. I mean, that’s what’s coming up? Are you convinced that you can convince members of the Senate that matter – and I asked you about this last week – to go along with whatever new deal there is?
MR PRICE: Said, we are looking at this, at Iran’s nuclear program as a national security challenge. We are consulting internally with our partners as well through the lens of foreign policy and national security. Any political considerations are not factoring in to the response that we provide back to the EU. We will continue to make the case, including to Americans here at home as well as the lawmakers, of the utility of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, especially in relation to where we are now with Iran’s nuclear program, a nuclear program that was in a position, has been in a position to gallop forward in ways that are of deep concern to us, to our Israeli partners, to our European allies, to partners around the world since the last administration left the JCPOA.
So we’ll continue to have those discussions with lawmakers, but we’re approaching this as the national security challenge this is. I’m not in a position, of course, to detail the negotiations that are taking place by and through the EU high representative, but we have been clear on a couple of issues. On the questions of safeguards, this is a question that goes really to the core of the mandate of the IAEA. Safeguard investigations are not political. They are not leverage or bargaining chips. No one should try to treat them as such. Once the IAEA director general reports to the Board of Governors that outstanding issues have been clarified and resolved, we expect Iran would come off the board’s agenda. Not before. There are no shortcuts to this.
Our position always has been and will be crystal clear on this, and we’ve communicated it both in public and indirectly to the Iranians. Iran needs to answer the IAEA’s questions. This is the only way to address these issues once and for all. Our position is not going to change regardless of where we express it – in the text of an understanding of mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, in public, or elsewhere. We are unbending in our support of the IAEA, in support of the IAEA’s mandates, and the independence of the IAEA that is core to that mandate. We are in the midst of the ongoing NPT RevCon, the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. No one should require any reminders about the indispensable role of the IAEA amidst the many nonproliferation challenges we face today.
QUESTION: Last question. Are you concerned with the level and intensity of Israelis rallying opposition to this deal? I mean, this is – this comes out in modes of expression or statements by Senator Cotton, for instance, or Senator Lindsey Graham, or Senator Ted Cruz, and so on. Or are you just fine with that; they do whatever they want?
MR PRICE: I’m going to let lawmakers speak for themselves. What is our charge, what is our obligation, is to continue to ensure that our partners around the world, the American people, and American lawmakers understand the dynamics at play, understand the details of where we are, understand the advancements that Iran has been in a position to make since May of 2018. We continue to believe, on the basis of all of that – and I can tell you our Intelligence Community, this building, others throughout the interagency, constantly look at these issues. It is still the assessment of the United States Government that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be profoundly in our national security interest.
Still on Iran, anything else? Sure, Nike.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. So UAE is returning its ambassador to Iran for the first time in 60 years to improve relationship. Do you have a U.S. assessment on this diplomatic detente?
MR PRICE: Well, the UAE across a number of issues has demonstrated time and again that it can play a constructive role in resolving and de-escalating sources of regional tension, including by enhancing its diplomatic ties. They also recognize, as do we, that this cannot succeed, this proposition cannot happen unless Iran ends the nuclear crisis that it has precipitated and the United States, following a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, returns to that deal and lifts sanctions as part of that.
We are on the same page with the UAE and our other GCC partners. There is a broader trend towards de-escalation in the region; it’s a trend we fully support.
QUESTION: And in Secretary Blinken’s phone call conversation with his South Korean counterpart last Friday, do you know if there was any discussion on freezing the Iranian funds in South Korea banks?
MR PRICE: There was a public readout issued of that conversation. What I will say is that the Republic of Korea has been a stalwart partner in terms of sanctions enforcement, and our sanctions on Iran will remain in place until and unless there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Then, Ned, you mentioned that the U.S. is not going to remove IRGC from the FTO list. Did Iran decrease its financial and material support to foreign terrorists in the years when JCPOA was in effect?
MR PRICE: Did Iran – sorry, what was the —
QUESTION: Decrease its financial and material support to terrorist groups in the years when JCPOA was in effect?
MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you what we can say, at least on an unclassified basis, and that is something that observers of this dynamic were able to see with their own eyes. In – while the JCPOA was in effect, and actually in the period leading up to the conclusion of the JCPOA and its implementation, and while both sides were in full compliance with it, we did not see the types of attacks targeting our partners, targeting American diplomatic facilities, targeting Americans in the region. Of course, Iran became emboldened when the last administration opted to abandon the JCPOA, and in that period – whether this is causal, I couldn’t say – but in that period we did note a marked increase in the number and the tempo of Iran-backed attacks against our partners, against our interests, and against our personnel and facilities.
My recollection is that the pace of Iran-backed attacks after the last administration abandoned the JCPOA went up by about 400 percent. So the idea that a new strategy of so-called maximum pressure would somehow cow Iran into submission not only in the nuclear realm but also when it comes to its support for terrorist groups and proxies, that has been a demonstrable failure. I made this point last week. But it is no longer a question of a thought experiment what would happen if we tried an alternative path to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and to constrain Iran more broadly. We have seen that play out before our eyes over the course of the past four years or so.
We have seen an Iran with a nuclear program that has been in a position to gallop forward, the breakout time shrinking, in many cases month over month, going down from a year at the height to now weeks or less. We have seen Iran’s funding and support to terrorist groups and its proxies continue, and in some ways the implication of – the implications of that becoming even deadlier, certainly for a period during the final years of the last administration after the last administration left the deal.
When it comes to the FTO and the IRGC, look, the President has been clear. He’s been firm. He’s been consistent, that he will not lift the terrorism designation on the IRGC. Iran’s demand that we do so has been removed from the latest version of the text that we have seen, and that’s part of the reason why a deal is closer now than it was two weeks ago, but the outcome of these ongoing discussions still remains uncertain as gaps do remain. We in the end – President Biden in the end – will only sign off on a deal that meets our core national security interests.
QUESTION: Well, hold on a second. Are you saying that what you – your response to that, that between 2016, implementation day – 2016, January of 2016 – and 2018, the U.S. could not detect any increase in Iranian support for its proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria?
MR PRICE: I did not say that. Matt, what I said is that between —
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I thought that was – she asked, did you – while the JCPOA was in effect, did you see –
MR PRICE: And I said what I can say that is unclassified and that is apparent for at least observers of the region was the sharp uptick in the pace and in some ways the lethality of the attacks that the IRGC and its proxies launched against our partners and our interests in the region.
QUESTION: Okay, but that wasn’t – her question was about while it was in effect.
MR PRICE: And I’m just not in a position to speak to what would be intelligence information about any Iranian funding of the IRGC. This goes back to the points that you know well, Matt, from –
QUESTION: Right, exactly. That’s why I’m asking, because it surprises me —
MR PRICE: — from 2015 and 2016, that Iran did of course receive sanctions relief in return for the permanent and the verifiable limits that were imposed on its nuclear program in return for the assurance that we and the international community had at the time that Iran would not be in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon. That sanctions relief, much of it was obligated to outstanding debts and to other outstanding obligations that the Iranian regime had.
QUESTION: Right. But you’re not —
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to say with —
QUESTION: Right, you’re not in a position to say whether they increased their funding for these proxies or not, or if you’re —
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to say from —
QUESTION: What you’re in a position to say is that after the withdrawal of the – after the Trump administration withdrew, you are in a position to say that you saw an increase.
MR PRICE: That was —
QUESTION: But you’re not in a position to say that the JCPOA actually stopped or reduced funding, Iran’s funding for these proxies.
MR PRICE: There are two questions. One is funding, and one is the conduct of these operations. I think in some ways the more important question is the conduct of these operations. What was the threat that American service members, American diplomats, our partners, were facing on the ground from the IRGC and from other Iranian proxies? There is no question that the pace of attacks, the loss of life that we saw owing to this Iranian aggression that came after May of 2018 when the last administration began – abandoned the JCPOA and pursued this strategy of so-called maximum pressure – there is no question that Iran was much more unbridled in terms of the attacks that we saw.
Now, it’s also true – and this would be true if this administration were to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA – we would continue to use every tool in our disposal to go after the IRGC, to go after proxies, Iran-backed proxies in the region who would do us harm. The JCPOA would not take any of those tools off the table, and in fact it would allow us to train our focus in some ways much more effectively on these threats were we to take off the table what would be the core, the central threat to all of us, and that would be an Iranian nuclear weapon.
On Iran, still? Yes, in the – in the back.
QUESTION: Going back to your response to Iran, your response and its nature, would it require Iran to give you a yes, a no, or how is the drafting? Is it going to open more space for even more negotiations and we are going to see more back and forth?
MR PRICE: Well, again, I am not in a position to detail negotiation that is taking place through the EU. We’re conveying our feedback directly and privately to the EU. But I will say this: Had there been a clean Iranian response, a clear yes answer, I’m not sure that we would be in a back and forth the way we are now. As we said at the time, the draft that the EU has put on the table, what the EU has called the best and the last proposal, that was substantially based on the March agreement that Rob Malley and his team were painstakingly involved in bringing to conclusion. It was Iran, not the United States, that was not in a position to accept that draft. We want to see this mutual return to compliance completed as quickly as we can, knowing the stakes of the status quo.
QUESTION: And at least —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Excuse me. Actually, in the last 10 days, did you have any negotiations about a prisoner swap with Oman and Qatar?
MR PRICE: So, again, throughout this process and actually before the process began in Vienna in the spring of last year, in the spring of 2021, we have been crystal-clear, including to the Iranians, about the priority we attach to the safe return of the American and dual-national detainees that Iran continues to wrongfully detain. We are in a position to convey those clear and unequivocal messages regularly, and it is not dependent on negotiations regarding the JCPOA, and in fact we have sought to see to it that the issues are not linked just because the JCPOA continues to be an uncertain proposition.
Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Thanks. I want to go back to Iran very briefly. You said that Iran has dropped the IRGC FTO demand. Is it your understanding that this is a permanent decision on the part of Iran, or should the JCPOA be revived, it may be brought back up again by them?
MR PRICE: You’ll have to ask them their ultimate intentions. What I can tell you is that the demand had been removed from the latest versions of the text that the EU had circulated.
QUESTION: Thank you.