Department Press Briefing – February 7, 2022 (Excerpts)

February 7, 2022

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


QUESTION: With the restoration – with the restoration of the sanctions waiver on Iran, which is akin to lifting sanctions in the sense that it enriches them to a certain degree —

MR PRICE: No, it does not, Ben.

QUESTION: But wasn’t that —

MR PRICE: But it – that’s not true. It does not do that.

QUESTION: Well, was the restoration of the sanctions waiver in any way an incentive to get them back to the table and continue negotiations?

MR PRICE: So to be very clear, what you said was not true. The issuance of the so-called IFCA waiver in no way enriches Iran. This is about two things. This is about nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety. I would suspect most reasonable observers would agree that both of these things are in our vital national interest regardless of what happens with the JCPOA, if we’re able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA or if we’re not. We decided to renew and to restore this sanctions waiver to do one thing, and that is to enable third-party participation in nuclear non-proliferation and safety projects in Iran, owing to the growing proliferation concerns we have, in particular with respect to the increasing stockpiles of enriched uranium in Iran, the stockpiles that have grown following the last administration’s decision to abandon the JCPOA.

Absent this waiver, the sort of detailed technical discussions with third parties regarding the disposition of stockpiles and other activities of non-proliferation value, they couldn’t take place. The Trump administration, as you know, provided a similar waiver for years even after its foolish decision to leave the JCPOA, precisely because the last administration recognized the non-proliferation value of these waivers. I don’t know that I’ve quoted Secretary Pompeo before from here, but Secretary Pompeo said about this waiver, quote, “This decision will help…reduce proliferation risks.”

So additionally, the technical discussions facilitated by the waiver are necessary in the final weeks of JCPOA talks, as the waiver itself would be essential if we were be in a position – to be in a position to – if Iran were to resume compliance with its nuclear commitments. But again, even if talks do not culminate in a mutual return to compliance, these sorts of technical discussions could still contribute to our non-proliferation goals.

Non-proliferation, nuclear safety – these things may not mean a lot to a whole lot of people. So just to give you a few examples of activities that these waivers – this waiver would cover: for example, the modernization of the Arak reactor based on the design approved by the JCPOA, the conversion of the reactor to a much less proliferation-sensitive design. This waiver would approve the preparation and modification of the Fordow facility for stable isotope production. It would remove a potential impediment to efforts to end uranium enrichment at Fordow, as Iran committed to do under the JCPOA. It would facilitate the transfer outside Iran of enriched uranium to result in a reduction in Iran’s stockpile to no more than 300 kilograms of up to 3.67 percent enriched LEU.

I could go on, but the point is that this waiver is not about providing Iran with funds. This waiver is about what is manifestly in our nonproliferation interests, in our – in service of nonproliferation safety to the United States, to our partners and allies around the world.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the timing of it, though, and why the decision was taken on Friday?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: Did it have anything to do with —

MR PRICE: Well, the fact is if we are in a position to resume compliance with the JCPOA, this waiver will need to be in place in order to effect some of the steps to make Iran’s nuclear program less dangerous. If we are not in a position to achieve a mutual return to compliance, these are still – these steps are still in our interest.

QUESTION: What makes you think that that next step that they are – that we’re one step closer to rejoining the JCPOA then?

MR PRICE: I didn’t say that we were. I’m saying that this prepares us in the event we are able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. This could still very much go one of two ways: a mutual return to compliance if Iran is in a position and willing and able to make the sort of political commitments necessary; or the alternatives that we’ve talked about in some less deal – detail but that we still talked about.

QUESTION: Ned, are you – that long list of things that you said that these waivers give, you’re saying that there’s no benefit to Iran in any of that?

MR PRICE: I am saying that the net benefit of this is a nonproliferation benefit for us.

QUESTION: Iran gets nothing out of it?

MR PRICE: When you say sanctions waiver —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about – hold on a second.

MR PRICE: Matt, you don’t need to raise your voice. You don’t —

QUESTION: But you’re the one – you’re the one who – you guys are the ones who said you were restoring the waivers, right? Okay. So if Iran really gets no benefit at all out of this, then why even bother?

MR PRICE: Why bother? I just explained to Ben. Because if —

QUESTION: No, well, you – tell me why Iran doesn’t benefit from this.

MR PRICE: Matt, this is something that redounds —

QUESTION: You’re talking about – you’re assuming that everyone thinks that sanctions relief equals dollars —

MR PRICE: Well, that was the question.

QUESTION: — going to Iran.

MR PRICE: The question was you just waived —


MR PRICE: It was.

QUESTION: That wasn’t really the question.

MR PRICE: It was.

QUESTION: That was the way you interpreted the question.

MR PRICE: You can refer to the transcript.

QUESTION: So sanctions relief does not necessarily mean only dollar bills flying across the table into Iran – into the Iranian treasury’s coffers, does it? Or is —

MR PRICE: In this case, it will allow Iran to undertake nuclear nonproliferation and safety activities that would otherwise be proscribed.

QUESTION: Yes, which is a benefit to Iran that it was not getting before.

MR PRICE: The fact is, Matt, that what is in our nonproliferation interest can also be, in some ways, in Iran’s interest. That doesn’t change the fact that it is manifestly in our interest.

QUESTION: Do they – so do they get a benefit of —

MR PRICE: Matt, I was referring to the sort —

QUESTION: Do they get any benefit out of this or not?

MR PRICE: It is – some of these steps redound to their interest.

QUESTION: Do they get any benefit or not?

MR PRICE: This is in our interest to do, which is precisely why the last —

QUESTION: Is it in Iran’s interest as well?

MR PRICE: — which is why the last administration did it. In 2018, Secretary Pompeo, as I quoted before, said precisely this decision will help reduce proliferation —

QUESTION: And two years later – and two years later when he rescinded the waivers, he said that – he accused of Iran of taking – of participating in nuclear blackmail and said that they weren’t – that they weren’t deserving of the benefits that accrue to them under this.

You’re stuck on this idea that – and interesting that you used the word “enrich” because I think you’re talking about it in terms of money, but enrichment obviously has a different kind of meaning when it comes to Iran. But I don’t understand how you can say that Iran gets no benefit and that this isn’t some kind of sanctions relief that you – that the administration has offered to Iran before it has made any of its own concessions.

MR PRICE: Matt, the question I was responding to took this in a vein —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, forget about the question you were —


QUESTION: — you think you were responding to. Answer my question: Does Iran benefit at all from the waivers that were signed?

MR PRICE: You will need to ask the Iranian Government whether they think this is a benefit to them. We know —

QUESTION: Well, who do you think this benefits? Just you?

MR PRICE: We know this is of benefit to us. The ability of third-party entities to work on nuclear nonproliferation projects —

QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry, now is the U.S. —

MR PRICE: — and nuclear safety projects in Iran in the face of our growing concerns, nonproliferation and nuclear safety concerns – that is in our benefit, yes.

QUESTION: The people that this benefits, in fact, are actually Russian, Chinese, European companies, right? Is that what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: Matt, I am saying that it is manifestly to our advantage —

QUESTION: And not Iran’s?

MR PRICE: It benefits us to —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you can argue that —

MR PRICE: — be able to address nuclear safety and nuclear nonproliferation concerns on Iran.

QUESTION: If you’re able to argue that Iran gets no benefit out of this successfully, which you haven’t convinced me of, but anyway – but if you’re able to, then good on you. Now, do you think that these waivers trigger INARA?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have a robust conversation with Congress on progress in Vienna. We have briefed Congress regularly on the discussions. I have every expectations that those briefings will continue in the days and weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Well, do you believe that this triggers the requirements of the Iran Nuclear Review Act?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that we’ve had conversations with Congress about requirements should we be in a position to resume compliance with the JCPOA, but I don’t have anything for you on these particular – this IFCA waiver.


MR PRICE: Right, but you’re saying “these” in response to IFCA.



QUESTION: Yeah. Well, so you’re aware of the requirements of INARA, right? That any agreement reached with Iran has to be submitted. Are you saying that it did trigger INARA and your notification to Congress on Friday fulfills the requirements of INARA?

MR PRICE: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying —

QUESTION: Oh, well, then why did you even notify Congress in the first place?

MR PRICE: We regularly notify Congress when it comes to —

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay. Well – so did it trigger INARA or not?

MR PRICE: Matt, when it – we will carefully consider the facts and circumstances when it comes to any potential U.S. return to the JCPOA to determine the implications under INARA.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that this falls under the scope of INARA.

MR PRICE: I have no reason to believe that this was done pursuant to INARA. This is something we, as I said before, we regularly engage with Congress when it comes to developments in Vienna —

QUESTION: Well, it’s a technical issue. I get that, and probably boring the hell out of everybody, but it is an important one, because if it – even if the notification wasn’t done under INARA, do you think that the waivers trigger the – trigger the INARA requirements for any agreement with Iran related to its nuclear program? These do relate to its nuclear program, right?

MR PRICE: This is, as you said, a technical question, so we’ll get you a technical answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ned, why shouldn’t Iran benefit – why shouldn’t Iran benefit from the waiver? I mean, I thought the whole purpose of negotiations is so everybody goes back to the deal and sanctions will be lifted, Iran will pull back from any nuclear threat and so on, and everything will be hunky-dory. So why is that such a bad thing if Iran benefits?

MR PRICE: You’ll have to ask —

QUESTION: No, I’m asking you because you – you’re the one who’s —

MR PRICE: I am not speaking to what Iran may be saying about this; I am speaking to the benefits that we accrue.

QUESTION: Isn’t that the incentive for Iran to go on in good faith in these negotiations and so on?

MR PRICE: Well, the basic formula of the JCPOA, leaving aside Matt’s questioning about these specific measures, is in fact permanent, verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.


QUESTION: Do you have any indication that the talks resume tomorrow, that the Iranian negotiators are coming back empowered by the political decision you were expecting for —

MR PRICE: We will have a better idea of that once the talks resume.