Department Press Briefing – March 22, 2022 (Excerpts)

March 22, 2022

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Egypt
  • Israel
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Russia


QUESTION: Ned, so there’s been a meeting with the leaders of Egypt, Israel, the UAE – I’m sure you’ve seen – focusing on Ukraine, but mostly on Iran. It looks like there is an Arab-Israeli axis emerging basically to counterbalance Iranian power in the region, and likely because they probably don’t fully agree with the U.S. position on this issue. What do you make of this meeting? Have you been in touch with, like, these governments separately about this particular meeting?

MR PRICE: We’re in regular touch with each of these governments. We welcome the trilateral summit between Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel that was held in Sharm el-Sheikh. It’s yet another example of what is possible with normalized relations. We will continue to support the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds. To advance this goal, we will work closely with Israel, we’ll deepen our diplomatic ties with the Palestinians, we’ll consult with partners in the region and well beyond who have a common interest in supporting efforts to advance lasting peace.

A couple points to your specific question. First, we have been in close consultation – Rob Malley and his team have been in close consultation with our Gulf partners. And you may recall a statement that was issued last year by the GCC after one of these consultations with Rob’s team where it was quite evident that our Gulf partners recognized the threat that had – that was and remains posed by the nuclear advancements that Iran has been able to make since the nuclear shackles were removed in 2018. Countries around the world, including our Gulf partners, have recognized that with Iran’s nuclear program out of the box, we do have a viable option to put it back in the box in the form of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. In that joint statement, we saw that our Gulf partners in fact welcome – welcomed the possibility of a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Now, that is something that is still in the works. We’re still in an effort to determine whether that will be achievable. We are preparing, as you heard from me yesterday, for a world in which we have a JCPOA, and a world in which we don’t. But either way, the President’s commitment to the fact that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon – that is ironclad, that is solid, that is something that we will work to achieve, and that we will achieve, whether there is a JCPOA or not.

You mentioned other groupings in the region. These are relationships that we certainly support, as I said before. We are – we continue the support Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements. For our part, you have heard us speak to new groupings that have also emerged, including in the region. One example is the trilateral relationship between the United States, India, and the UAE. You saw those three foreign ministers here at the State Department together in person late last year. It’s a relationship, a trilateral relationship that we will continue to invest in and continue to develop. The fact is that we share a number of interests with our Emirati partners, with our Indian partners in the case of that grouping, but also our relationship with Egypt is one that we value, and we value Cairo’s relationships in turn with Israel and the UAE.

QUESTION: Right. On the nuclear talks, you used different language yesterday, so can you say how prepared is – that Plan B is and whether you guys have, like, a cutoff point in mind when Plan B should be deployed?

MR PRICE: Well, we have always known since this process began last April that a mutual return to compliance was something that we deemed to be in our national interest, but we always knew it to be an uncertain proposition because, of course, it would take more than our effort to achieve it. It would take a willing partner on the Iranian side. And so, the jury is still out as to whether we will be – in fact be able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. As I said yesterday, an agreement of this sort is neither imminent nor is it certain.

And so that is precisely why for the better part of a year we have been preparing for either contingency, for either scenario, a world in which we have a mutual return to compliance – that is to say, a world in which the JCPOA is the means by which we put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box, we reimpose those permanent, verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

But given that this has always been an uncertain proposition, we’ve always discussed – or we’ve long discussed, I should say – alternatives with our partners in the region. We’ve been doing this with our European allies who are part of the P5+1 – in this case, the E3 countries, so France, Germany, and the UK. We’ve had these discussions with our Israeli partners, with our partners in the Gulf, and farther afield as well. So, we have put a lot of planning and thought into this. For obvious reasons we haven’t detailed publicly what that might look like, but it is not for lack of planning on our part.

QUESTION: And in terms of time frame?

MR PRICE: In terms of time frame, we will continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance as long as that vehicle continues – mutual return to it continues to be in our national interest —

QUESTION: Yes, but you said that – given the breakout time and all that, you kept saying for weeks and months now that the window was closing.

MR PRICE: And that hasn’t changed. That hasn’t changed. What also —

QUESTION: That’s been a very long wait (inaudible).

MR PRICE: What also has not changed is that, based on non – again, the chronological clock, and I know we often deal in chronological clocks, but you’ve heard us —

QUESTION: We always deal in —

MR PRICE: We often deal in —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Is there another kind?

MR PRICE: There is a technical clock when it comes to the JCPOA, as you’ve heard us —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a sundial without a second (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: — as you’ve heard us discuss before. And that technical clock – again, it’s not based entirely on chronology, but it is based on the advancements that Iran has been able to make once those nuclear shackles were removed from it in 2018 or once it distanced itself from the nuclear agreement in 2018, and the continued advancements that it has been in a position to make. So, until we determine that a mutual return to compliance is no longer in our interest – that is to say, that the nonproliferation benefits that that agreement would convey to us, to our European allies, to our partners in the region and beyond are obviated by those advancements – we’ll continue to pursue it.

But what we’ve always – what we’ve long said about the short runway, that remains true. We know that there has to be a great deal of urgency. And we know that now the onus is on Tehran to make decisions regarding its willingness to enter into, once again, a mutual return to compliance or not. So, we will have a good sense of all of this before long.


QUESTION: Well, given all that that you’ve said, we still don’t know what happened in the past week. A week ago, you, others were optimistic that a deal could be signed this week or could be reached this week.

MR PRICE: Could. The emphasis is on “could.”

QUESTION: And – could be. But – no, but there was a —

MR PRICE: And that remains true today.

QUESTION: My emphasis was —

MR PRICE: If difficult decisions are made, including in Tehran, that could and would still be true.

QUESTION: My emphasis was his tone of optimism, and yesterday then you said there’s no imminent deal. There was a – there’s a change in tone. What happened from last week to this week? What happened in these discussions where people though that something was going to be – an agreement was going to be reached, and now that we don’t hear that from you at all?

MR PRICE: Paul, last week, if you recall, we were talking about really two different sets of challenges. One, we were referring to, perhaps somewhat obliquely, as external factors. Of course, we’ve heard a very different tone from Russia in recent days when it comes to their approach to a potential return to compliance with the JCPOA, but we still made the point at the time that we’re working through, we were working through a number of difficult issues. Now that those external factors are not at the fore of these negotiations, and we’ve heard a different tune from Moscow, we are still working through a number of difficult issues.

As I said before, the onus is on Tehran to make difficult decisions that it might consider difficult, but we have negotiated for the better part of a year – of course, indirectly through our allies and partners – in good faith in a constructive manner to get us to this point. We are still at a point where if those decisions are made, we could reach a mutual return to compliance very soon, but it will take some decisions.

QUESTION: So, are you at a real impasse right now?

MR PRICE: Again, I wouldn’t want to characterize it beyond the fact that there are a number of difficult issues that we are still trying to work though.

QUESTION: Sorry. Can I just clarify something? You just mentioned when you were talking about Russia and the external factors, you said something about Russia and a return to its compliance with the JCPOA. Is it your position that Russia is not in compliance?

MR PRICE: No, I did not intend to say that, and if I did it was a mistake.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay.



QUESTION: Ned, you said that you support alliances in the Middle East. Yesterday, it looks like, the – three leaders have discussed the possibility of creating a new alliance against Iran. Do you support such alliance, too?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to other countries to discuss the aims of their partnerships, their groupings, their alliances. What I will say broadly is that it is no secret – and in fact we have made quite clear – that we are facing a shared challenge and, in some ways, a shared threat from Tehran. We’ve seen that in terms of Tehran’s support for terrorist groups, for regional proxies, its use of malicious cyber activity, the way in which it is funding and supplying some of the movements that are creating a much more volatile, unstable region. So, for our part, we are – we will continue to partner closely with our partners in the Gulf, with our partners throughout the Middle East, to push back on Iran’s malign activity in whatever form it takes.