Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby Addresses Russia's Shipment of Natural Uranium to Iran (Excerpts)

January 9, 2017

[...]

QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly on Iran, you probably have seen a story that my colleague wrote out of Vienna about the P5+1 procurement committee approving the shipment of 116 metric tons of natural uranium --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to Iran. People look at this and wonder exactly why it is that this kind of a shipment would be approved. Do you know what it’s for and why it was approved?

MR KIRBY: Well – so a couple of thoughts there, Matt. I think you know that I’m unable to speak about specific proposals that are subject to the procurement working group confidentiality, so I – there’s a limit here. However, and more generally, the JCPOA does permit Iran to import natural uranium, and such transactions were always anticipated throughout the process of working towards the deal. Natural uranium is an internationally traded commodity. It’s not usable in its natural form for building a nuclear weapon. Iran can use any natural uranium it acquires only within the other limitations of JCPOA, so the – all the limits of the JCPOA still are in place. So I think – and you know this – for example, they cannot have more than 300 kilograms of enriched material, and it cannot enrich that material to a level more than 3.67 percent. And again, natural uranium can – is not in its natural form usable. Any natural uranium that would be transferred to Iran would still remain subject to the enhanced verification and transparency measures of the JCPOA and under the terms of that arrangement for 25 years.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – okay, which is fine. So if it’s not usable, why would they want it?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, they’re allowed to bring in natural uranium. I would let – I can’t – sorry, there’s – I cannot confirm these reports. I think you know that. So – but there’s no prohibition on bringing in natural uranium. They are still – regardless of that, they are still held to all the limitations of the Iran deal. That doesn’t change. And we still have the most robust inspection regime in place.

Without confirming this procurement, I’d refer you to Iranian authorities for discussion of whatever desire they might have to bring in natural uranium. But if you’re going to have a civil nuclear power program, you can see that there might be a need for a product like that. But again, I can’t speak to it specifically.

QUESTION: Well, is it not correct, though, that after – or tell me, I mean, if they hold onto this, if they store it away for 25 years, can they then not take this 116 tons and then do whatever they want with it?

MR KIRBY: Well, the – first of all, I really hate – I hate hypotheticals --

QUESTION: Or whatever the quantity --

MR KIRBY: -- particularly the ones that go out two and a half decades from now, but --

QUESTION: Look, the – your whole point is that don’t worry, this is going to be subject to inspection and verification --

MR KIRBY: Which – which --

QUESTION: -- under the JCPOA, but those – that expires at some point.

MR KIRBY: There are – there are --

QUESTION: So after those limitations expire, is it not correct that they could do whatever they want with it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or another here about something that --

QUESTION: I don't know that --

MR KIRBY: -- may or may not happen 25 years from now, Matt. There’s a strong inspection regime in place --

QUESTION: Now.

MR KIRBY: -- to – and for well into the future to prevent Iran from --

QUESTION: For 25 years.

MR KIRBY: -- to prevent Iran from ever being able to achieve a nuclear weapon, and that’s on page – by the way, not 25 years. The deal says Iran will never achieve nuclear weapons capability, but let’s get beyond that. I’m not going to speculate about what might or might not happen 25 years from now.

QUESTION: Well --

MR KIRBY: I just don’t think that’s a useful exercise.

QUESTION: Well, it may not be a useful exercise for you, but I mean, if you’re looking at this from the perspective of other countries in the region – Gulf, Arab countries – I mean, 25 years isn’t that long, is it not?

MR KIRBY: Well, for you and me, it might --

QUESTION: It might be for us.

MR KIRBY: It might be for us.

QUESTION: But we’re talking about --

MR KIRBY: Look, I --

QUESTION: -- generations of --

MR KIRBY: Matt, I do understand where the question’s going. There’s no prohibition under the deal now for them to bring this material in in its natural form. It cannot be enriched – it cannot be used, I’m sorry, for a weapon. There is a very strong inspection regime in place for a very long time. And oh, by the way, in the deal, Iran said they would never achieve nuclear weapons capability. So I can’t – I don’t think either of us can predict what things are going to look like 20 years from now or 25 years from now or what the inspection regime continues to find and continues to be able to see 25 years from now. But we’re confident that the deal makes the region safer, makes our allies and partners safer, will prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. And I think that’s probably the best place to leave it.

QUESTION: John?

QUESTION: Kirby --

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: The --

QUESTION: You’re going to ask on the same thing?

QUESTION: Yes, on the same thing, yeah. So they’re permitted to bring in natural uranium, as you say, but the Associated Press story that Matt referenced seemed to suggest that this particular batch was – has been permitted by some kind of decision. Now, without confirming that, as you say you can’t --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- do they have to inform their partners in the JCPOA when they do bring in natural uranium?

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m going to have to take the question. I don’t know. As – and again, I want to be clear: I cannot confirm the press reporting on this and I’m not going to speak about the working group’s – anything that would violate the working group’s confidentiality. But as a matter of procedure, I’d have to ask. I don’t know. Okay?

[...]