Press Briefing with Department of State Spokesperson Sean McCormack on U.S. Iran Policy (Excerpts)

January 11, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

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QUESTION: On Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Any other questions on this topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, on Iran.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, new topic.

QUESTION: Yeah. As far as Middle East peace is concerned, Sean -- first of all, Happy New Year to my colleagues and Secretary of State and to you all. As far as Middle East peace is concerned, Iran's new President is now saying that he will make sure that this initiative doesn't go through and he is making some hurdles in the peace process and also he's wishing that Prime Minister Sharon no longer comes back or should die.

MR. MCCORMACK: I've commented on that before. Clearly --

QUESTION: The question is: Where do we stand as far as the madman in Iran? We have a new President and Middle East peace.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'd refer you back to the statement that the Secretary just issued. She talks about how, "We will not tolerate terror from anywhere, including from its sponsors in Syria and Iran." We've talked many, many times about how Iran is 180 degrees off in its policies from where the rest of the region is heading in terms of its nuclear program, which have been in the headlines recently; treatment of its own people; and very importantly, as probably the most significant state sponsor of terror anywhere in the world. So we have called repeatedly upon the Iranian regime to change its behavior in supporting terror. That must cease. There are UN resolutions concerning support for terror. It is something that the entire world abhors. So we have spoken out very clearly on the need for the Iranian regime to cease its support of terror and cease its destabilizing activities.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie.

QUESTION: On Iran, can you bring us up to date on the diplomacy? Has Secretary Rice spoken to any of her European counterparts or others? Have there been any contacts between the U.S. and Iran, as unlikely as that might be? And where do we stand with the Europeans in a decision to go to refer to the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Starting at the top, the Secretary has -- she's been in contact with her staff, most significantly Nick Burns and Bob Joseph who are actively working this issue there and they're in real-time contact with the EU-3 as well as others and members of the IAEA Board of Governors on the issue. She herself has spoken, I think, a couple of times today to Foreign Secretary Straw. I believe she has spoken with the IAEA Director General ElBaradei. I don't have a readout on this phone call. So she's working the phones on the issue.

In terms of contacts with the Iranians, I'm not aware of any contacts that we have had with the Iranians this week on this issue.

QUESTION: This week?

MR. MCCORMACK: This week, yeah.

QUESTION: Last week?

MR. MCCORMACK: What's that?

QUESTION: What is -- does that mean you're saying last week we did have?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have conveyed our concerns at the IAEA last week concerning their failure -- their failure to cooperate with the IAEA, to get back to the -- and to get back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Were they at the table to hear it?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. It was -- I

QUESTION: So there's been no direct contact?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think it was a piece of paper that was sent over to the mission.

QUESTION: Sean, do you see --

MR. MCCORMACK: No direct contact.

QUESTION: But a piece of paper made its way to them you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Sean, do you see China and -- between China and Iran as their nuclear --

MR. MCCORMACK: Wait. We're not done with Charlie's question. I think there was a last part to -- last part to that. Where do we stand right now in the --

QUESTION: Yeah. Where do we stand now? What do we expect the Europeans to do?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'll let the Europeans speak for themselves. You have statements from Tony -- Prime Minister Blair, also from the Italians concerning the state of diplomatic play. I would echo those statements and say that it is more likely than ever that we are headed to the Security Council on this question. The international community is facing, I think, coming up very soon on the decision point on what the diplomatic next steps are concerning Iran. They have time after time defied the will of the international community, defied -- have answered the requests for information from the international community, the IAEA, and others. They have replied with silence or obfuscation or deception on those issues. So I think we are fast approaching a decision point on what diplomatic next steps, the international community is going to be taking. We are in close contact with the EU-3, as well as others on this issue. And I would only add that it is more likely than ever that we are headed to -- that Iran is headed to the Security Council concerning their failure to live up to their international obligations.

QUESTION: Do the others include China and Russia?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're -- you know, we have been in contact with a wide variety of members of the Board of Governors. Yesterday, Secretary Rice spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov in terms of contacts with the Chinese Government. I don't have anything in particular to report.

QUESTION: Is there going to be an emergency IAEA meeting to refer them to the Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: That is certainly an option that is under discussion, Saul. I would only point out at this point that we are -- we, as members of the international community, are quickly coming up on a decision point about what next steps to take.

QUESTION: When you say more likely than ever, that suggests that you now have more support from certain quarters than you had in the past. Is it that Russia and China have said they will support you in referring them to the Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we've always said that we have -- we believe we have the votes in the -- at the Board of Governors for a referral to the Security Council.

QUESTION: You said more likely, so have you got more votes?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it is more likely than ever that that is, in fact, where we are headed. We have always said that we think -- we had believed that this was going to end up in the Security Council, given Iran's past and current behavior. We also always said that we would choose to work with our partners in the international community to see that happen at the time of our choosing. I would only point out now that it is more likely than ever that that is what the -- what will happen at this point.

QUESTION: You're saying the votes, do you really mean the votes -- more likely than ever that you would not be blocked from such a --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we -- Barry --

QUESTION: You don't need a vote to get it through -- you don't need China's vote (inaudible) to get it through. You need them to not veto --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, how individual countries may --

QUESTION: That's what you mean by voting, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's right, yeah. There are two issues here. There is the IAEA -- when we talk about what votes -- the vote -- we have the votes for referral to the Security Council, we're talking about votes in the IAEA Board of Governors.

QUESTION: Excuse me, I'm sorry. I thought you meant at the council.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding about that.

QUESTION: So you're saying it's more likely than ever that that's the route, the Security Council will --

MR. MCCORMACK: That we'll end up in the Security Council.

QUESTION: Does that mean the EU-3 talks are over, there's no where they can go?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that I'll leave any discussion about the state of play of the diplomacy that the EU-3 has been engaging in with Iran to the EU-3, but you've heard some very straightforward statements coming out of Germany and coming out of Britain, coming out of France as well.

Saul, did you have anything else?

QUESTION: Still on Iran. Yeah, just a small thing on what you said about last week's conveying a message to the Iranians, a piece of paper. Was that the -- are you referring to the demarche that each of the P-5 delivered or did you, over and above that, deliver something separate that said more?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would -- in terms of what activities other states may or may not have taken, I would refer you to them. But we have been in close contact with a variety of members of the IAEA Board of Governors, including China, Russia, France and the UK on this issue.

QUESTION: Sean, the China angle --

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on. Hold on, Goyal. We're going to move around here. We've got a lot of other hands up. Okay? Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, all right. Elise, and then we'll move around here.

QUESTION: When you say this is likely to go to the Security Council, what is the goal of --

MR. MCCORMACK: More likely than ever.

QUESTION: More likely than ever. What is the goal of sending it to the UN Security Council? Is it an effort to institute some punitive measures against Iran? Is it an effort to increase pressure on Iran to get it back to the negotiating table? I mean, what is the aim of actually moving it to the Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks for your question. As we have talked about, the goal of these diplomatic activities is to address Iran's failure to live up to its international obligations. Under -- countries sign treaties and under those treaties they say that they have certain rights. Well, along with those rights come certain obligations, to live up to the -- what you have signed up to in the treaty. In this case, it's the Nonproliferation Treaty.

The IAEA Board of Governors has found that Iran is in noncompliance with its treaty obligations. The goal of this diplomatic exercise is to bring Iran into compliance with its treaty obligations.

Now, what they say is that they want to be able to develop a peaceful nuclear program to provide energy for the Iranian people. Now, put aside the fact that they have some of the world's largest hydrocarbon reserves, and I think it's a legitimate question to ask why they need nuclear energy when they have all these energy reserves. Put that aside.

So what the international community has done, the Russian Government in particular, they have laid out for the Iranian regime a proposal that addresses their desire to have peaceful nuclear -- to develop peaceful nuclear power while giving objective guarantees to the international community that they will not use the activities -- their peaceful nuclear power activities to develop a nuclear weapon. That is what the international community suspects that they are doing right now, that for the past 15-plus years, they have, under the cover of a peaceful nuclear program, sought to develop, systematically, a nuclear weapons program.

Now, finally, these activities have come to light. The IAEA has a long list of questions concerning these activities. The EU-3 has grave concerns about Iran's activities. Russia has serious concerns about Iran's activities. We have gotten to the point now where the world understands that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. That would be a destabilizing event.

So, over the past year, the international community has come together. They have come together to try to send a clear, strong message to the Iranian regime to negotiate in a serious manner, to get Iran back in compliance with its NPT obligations. And the EU-3, as well as the Russian Government, have laid out serious, fair proposals to achieve that. Thus far, the Iranian Government has chosen not to take them up on those offers, so we now find ourselves in the position where, because of Iran's actions, it is more likely than ever they will find themselves before the Security Council on this issue.

QUESTION: But to what end? I mean, I know you said you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I just went through a long --

QUESTION: No, no, no, but -- I mean, are you trying to change Iranian behavior or are you just trying to cite them for noncompliance? I mean, you can do that --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's what this is --

QUESTION: -- at the IAEA.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's what this has been about, changing their behavior.

QUESTION: So -- but through negotiations or through punitive measures?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have sought diplomatic -- to achieve a change in behavior and still seek to change Iranian's -- Iran's behavior through diplomatic channels.

QUESTION: So you still think there's a chance? (inaudible) made a rather strong speech about a month ago to a university in Virginia, I forget which, and -- you know, he was quite -- it was a quite ominous speech, that they have one more redline to cross. There are reports now that they got 5,000 centrifuges to go. There's already platforms built for them and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is --

QUESTION: And a nuclear weapons center.

MR. MCCORMACK: This is --

QUESTION: Do you really think there's still a way to keep them from developing nuclear weapons?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's why we're working so hard on this, Barry.

QUESTION: I know.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's why the President and the Secretary and a lot of other people in this government are spending so much time on this issue, because it is so important. It's serious business and that is, I think, the shared realization and the shared view of the -- many European countries and a number of other countries on the IAEA Board of Governors. That's why we're working so hard at this, Barry.

QUESTION: How does getting Iran into the Security Council further your goal of bringing them into compliance?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is a diplomatic next step, Saul. They've already been found in noncompliance and the hope is that once they have now found themselves before the Security Council, that that would be an incentive for them to engage in serious negotiations on this issue. There have already -- as we talked about at length yesterday, there have already been consequences for Iran, in the fact that they find themselves almost completely isolated from the rest of the world on this -- most of the world on this issue.

You want to account for the fact that perhaps they have miscalculated in the steps that they have taken, their failure to engage in serious negotiations. So, the thought, again, as it always has been with the possibility of referral to the Security Council, is to send an even stronger diplomatic signal to the Iranian regime that they need to comply with their international treaty obligations. And the world will not stand aside as they drive towards building a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: But Sean, they did everything they possibly could to push it to the UN Security Council, because you said that if they don't come back to the negotiations, that's exactly where it's going. And they did exactly what they said they were going to do, knowing that you were going to refer them to the Security Council. So, what makes you think moving it to the Security Council is going to change their behavior when they knew all along it was going this --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we have not gotten to that point, but if, in fact, Iran does end up at the Security Council -- the very fact that you are there, that they have crossed those lines that have caused the international community to put that issue before the Security Council, perhaps that is a signal that is strong enough to the Iranian regime that would get them to the negotiating table, in a serious way, to address these concerns.

Let's move around here. All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iran -- is China helping Iran with their nuclear program --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no information on that, Goyal.

Saul, do you have anything on --

QUESTION: Still on Iran. So, if I'm interpreting you correctly, the short-term goal is, get them referred to the UN Security Council so that they realize they've miscalculated -- so that they realize the international community really is serious about this and the consequence of that is, they go back to the negotiating table.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our hope has always been, Saul, to resolve this through diplomatic means through negotiation, so that -- and our hope is that Iran will change its behavior. That's why we go through these diplomatic processes. The process is not an end in and of itself. It's a means to an end. The end -- the desired end is to change Iranian behavior.

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