Press Briefing with State Department Deputy Spokesperson J. Adam Ereli on Secretary of State Colin Powell's Comments Regarding Iran (Excerpts)

November 19, 2004

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Q Can I change the subject to Iran?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

Q Is there any concern, either on the part of the secretary or this building, that the information that he shared about Iranian effort toward weaponization may be based on unverified intelligence and the potential for a credibility -- compounding the credibility problem that America already has?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speak to the intelligence information available to us. What I will say is that we believe we are on very, very solid ground in pointing to a clandestine effort by Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. This has been a refrain of the United States for well over a decade. It is a consistent theme of our diplomacy, both publicly and privately. And we will continue to call attention to what we believe are Iran's clandestine efforts that threaten the region and U.S. interests in the region.

Q So therefore, do you believe that Iran is in fact weaponizing? Is that -- you know, you talked about solid ground.

MR. ERELI: As I said, we believe there is solid information to substantiate Iranian -- clandestine Iranian efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems. And there's -- this is something we've been saying for quite some time. And I would note, in the context of the current discussion in the board of governors regarding Iran's enrichment program, that four years ago when we started, I think, very forcefully and vocally bringing this issue to the attention of the international community, we were greeted with skepticism and doubt. And that over the course of our persistent efforts to press this issue, we've succeeded in, I think, moving the pendulum in the other direction, where now the international community recognizes there's a problem, believes that our claims from before are substantiated and, as a result, is working together to address the problems posed by Iran's nuclear activity, which is in contravention of many of its treaty commitments.

Q Exactly what countries agree with you that your evidence is substantiated about Iran's --

MR. ERELI: Well, I would point to the fact that --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. ERELI: I would point to the fact that Russia, as a result of this effort, has agreed not to supply fuel to Bushehr until these concerns are addressed, and if they did supply fuel, it would only be on a closed fuel cycle. If you didn't think the concerns were substantiated or didn't think the concerns would have merit, you wouldn't do that.

And I'd also point to seven Board of Governor resolutions, adopted by consensus, that raise serious questions about Iran's program, that point to Iran's failings, and that call for Iran to undertake actions to reassure the IAEA and to reassure the international community. So those are very tangible indicators.

Q None of them come out and say what you've just said, that they agree that the United States has evidence that substantiates that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

MR. ERELI: I would say --

Q Do they? Or do they not? The IAEA has been specific in saying not that, in saying --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. ERELI: Okay. Let me perhaps rephrase it and say that what we're seeing in the IAEA Board of Governors, what we're seeing in our dealings with other countries is that compared to where we were four years ago is that there is a recognition that the position of the United States regarding Iran's nuclear activity has merit and that there are -- that it is of concern, and that therefore, based on the fact that our position has gained currency because of our diplomacy, we see a level of consensus and a level of commitment to dealing with this problem that did not exist.

Now on the question of a covert nuclear weapons program, there are differences of opinion. We believe that -- we believe that the arguments stack up in our favor. We will continue to press this case. We do not believe that a country with the world's second-largest reserves of natural gas has a need for nuclear energy, and that there's no rationale other than non-peaceful for this kind of investment in this kind of activity. And we will continue to -- we will continue to make our case.

Q Was the fact that -- your answer to the first bit -- not that second part, but the answer to the first bit leads directly back to Tammy's question. Yes, you have succeeded in swinging the pendulum of world opinion to share at least, if not your conclusions, your concerns. Is there not a fear that the information that was shared the other day might hurt that effort and the effort to get other people to come around to your conclusions rather than just your concerns?

MR. ERELI: I think the point that we're consistently making is look at this in context. Don't just focus on an enrichment -- uranium enrichment program, don't just focus on a nuclear plant here or a nuclear plant here, but look at it in the totality of -- look at it in the totality of the picture. And the picture is you've got undeclared and -- undeclared nuclear activity, deliberate misinformation on nuclear activity, development of delivery systems, and other technical research that, added all up, paints a very troubling picture. And you need to look at it in that perspective rather than just, you know, one specific issue or one specific aspect of the problem divorced from another problem, from another -- from the totality of it. And in that context, when you add it all up, it's a very troubling picture. And I think that what we're trying to do is explain -- explain that this is all part and parcel of a coordinated attempt.

Q Doesn't it strike you as unusual that you're using the exact same -- the exact opposite rationale on this that you used with Iraq, where you were telling people to focus on particularly one specific thing? Doesn't that give you any pause at all when you're standing up there?

MR. ERELI: I don't understand -- I don't understand the question.

Q Never mind.

Q Adam? Adam?

Q Oh, but I have a question. You said -- it's now a few days out there -- that intelligence support the opposition groups' claim that Iran is trying to adapt missiles to nuclear weapons? Which intelligence? We learned from Iraq -- the Iraq experience -- of, number one, that it's not an off -- out-of-bounds question because the CIA was identified as the primary source of Secretary Powell's speech to the U.N., and we also learned that the State Department intelligence, which is a smaller outfit, didn't go along on all fronts. So who's -- which intelligence? Who is corroborating an obviously biased group's report of what Iran is up to?

MR. ERELI: Barry, I'm not in a position to talk about intelligence --

Q Why not? Because we're in a position to talk about Powell going over to see the CIA director for four days, getting a total fill. What you guys neglected to tell us is that not every intelligence part of the government was in agreement with what he was hearing over there, and of course what he was hearing over there was baloney. So -- or mostly baloney.

MR. ERELI: I'd dispute that. But anyway --

Q Well, where are the weapons of mass destruction?

MR. ERELI: But -- but -- I'm not in a position to discuss with you the kind of intelligence we have or the --

Q Well, which part of the intelligence --

MR. ERELI: -- or the status of debate within the interagency community about that intelligence.

Q Well, which part of the intelligence apparatus of the U.S. government is verifying this opposition group's accusations?

MR. ERELI: I don't know.

Q Adam? Adam?

Q Adam --

Q Excuse me.


Q The secretary himself -- I mean, I know you don't want to get into intelligence, but the secretary himself mentioned that he saw some intelligence that is now, you know, whoever it is, on background or whatever, some U.S. officials are discrediting as not fully vetted, not fully scrubbed.

So does the secretary stand by his remarks in terms of him -- his backing up his claims referring to this intelligence?

MR. ERELI: I don't think this is a question of backing up claims or not backing up claims. The secretary did not misspeak. The secretary knows exactly what he was talking about. And there is a firm basis for the secretary making the remarks that he made, and there should be, I think, no question of -- in our mind of casting doubt or walking it back.

Q Okay, but when you say that there's a firm basis, he's citing his firm basis on the intelligence that he saw.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I'm not going to get into a public debate about the nature and quality of information. I'm just -- it's not --

Q Well, when you say "a firm basis," are you referring to the intelligence that he had seen, in terms of that being reliable and solid, or are you talking about he had a firm basis for saying what he said in terms of he saw a piece of paper --

MR. ERELI: The secretary used the word "information."

Q Okay. The secretary saw information --

MR. ERELI: And the information is totality of inputs --

Q But -- but --

MR. ERELI: -- leading to a considered conclusion.

Q Well, but that information, then, he regards as solid, that he would --

MR. ERELI: The information --

Q -- and he would not have mentioned it or spoken of it unless he was certain that it was solid. Is that correct?

MR. ERELI: That's -- I think that's correct.

Q You think that's correct. Okay. Well, then -- that hasn't always been the case. Has it? Or was it -- or it was in fact on February 5th?

MR. ERELI: You're -- you know, I'm not going to get into sort of parallels with other situations.

Q Well, the problem is --

MR. ERELI: What I think is -- what I think we need to keep in mind is that our concerns -- we've had long-standing concerns about Iran's weapons programs. That includes WMD material and delivery systems. We believe there is justification and good reason to conclude that Iran is intent on developing weapons of mass destruction and the delivery -- and the systems capable of delivering them, and that this program, coordinated program, represents a threat to the region and to the U.S. interests. We have said this very clearly for a long time -- and the secretary's remarks should be read in that context --

Q But --

MR. ERELI: -- and that the threat posed by Iran and the nature of the Iranian program is unique and distinct from other cases.

Q Adam --

Q Does the State Department share the view of the -- share the view of officials who were quoted this morning as -- that that information that the secretary was referring to is not entirely backed up and solid?

MR. ERELI: No, the State Department stands by the comments of the secretary and believes with -- and what the secretary said is valid and stands up.

Q Well, I realize that -- what the secretary said. But what the secretary said was that he had seen information. Now no -- is that what you're trying to defend? Is that what you're standing behind --

MR. ERELI: I'm not trying to defend anything.

Q -- that he had seen this information?

MR. ERELI: I'm not trying to defend anything. What I'm trying to tell you is --

Q Well, you just said the State Department stands by what the secretary said.

MR. ERELI: What I'm telling --

Q And what I'm trying to get at is do you stand by the actual words that the secretary said --


Q -- or the import behind them?

MR. ERELI: Both. Both.

Q Both. So you disagree, then, with these people who are quoted this morning as saying that this intelligence is wishy-washy and not --


Q May I follow, Adam? Can you confirm something? One, if Iran's nuclear program is connected in any way with A.Q. Khan? And two, there was a report that Iran is capable of making a bomb within a year. And finally, if Iran at any time, or U.S. or any European allies made any statement or any agreement that Iran is willing to give up or dismantle its nuclear program on conditions.

MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of any agreement by Iran to dismantle its program under conditions.

Q (Off mike) -- like Libya.

MR. ERELI: No. There's no such -- I've not seen any such offer.

On the question of A.Q. Khan, I don't have any information to share with you about the connection between A.Q. Khan and Iran. I would tell you that obviously Pakistan has acted, I think, decisively to break up and dismantle the A.K. Khan network, are working to find out where its tentacles reach, and that obviously this A.Q. Khan network has had connections with other countries. And it's certainly a subject of interest, but I don't have anything specific to share with you on it.

And the third question was?

Q Within a year, a bomb; Iran can make a bomb within a year.

MR. ERELI: There's a lot of different, I guess, analysis and thought being given to that subject, but I don't have a considered judgment to share with you.

Q And finally, let's say Iran really doesn't agree with IAEA or global pressure, U.N. pressure and all that, just like Libya was doing in the beginning. Where do we stand now, because the threat is growing from Iran and also there is a resolution by the Canadians in the U.N. about the human rights violations or people are suffering in Iran as far as human rights are concerned. So what I'm saying is, is U.S. going to take action, military action, if Iran doesn't agree on any conditions?

MR. ERELI: Military action is not something that we're talking about. We have said quite clearly that we are committed to dealing with this threat through multilateral diplomacy. And that remains our position.

Q And human rights violations?

MR. ERELI: Human rights violations are a constant, recurring concern of ours. We speak to the matter publicly, we work with others to try to address the problem, and it remains an issue.

Q Speaking of multilateral diplomacy, Adam, can I move to Iraq for a second?

MR. ERELI: Are we done with Iran?

Q No.


Q To complicate matters even more, there was a later report this morning about -- out of Vienna -- diplomats are saying that the Iranians are hurrying up to produce this gas, and then another diplomat came out and said this first diplomat might be confusing the two. Do you have any information on what these diplomats are talking about?

MR. ERELI: We've seen reports of UH-6 production going on in Iran. I can't substantiate them. Obviously, they're of concern. If true, they would yet again raise serious concerns about Iranian good faith and intentions. It was our understanding that the November 14th agreement between Iran and the EU-3 required the immediate suspension of enrichment activities. And so we will be consulting with the Europeans and other Board of Governors on this issue.

These allegations only heighten our concerns that Iran is -- continues to pursue nuclear activities and does not honor its commitments.

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