Press Briefing with State Department Spokesperson Richard Boucher on Iran's Influence in Iraq (Excerpts)

May 16, 2005

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QUESTION: Let me ask you, please, have there been a lot of words about Syrian insurgence that many feel were words about Iran. Could you attempt to give us the dimensions of the Iranian insurgency and how serious a problem it is as you try to move ahead in Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know I can give you the dimensions of it. We have been concerned all along about undue influence by Iran in various ways in Iraq's politics or in supporting various groups within Iraq. You've heard a lot of this from Iraqi leaders themselves. And the Secretary, I think, you'll see in the transcripts as they come out that she talked about neighbors -- Syria and Iran -- during the course of her visit.

And I think the bottom line is that Iran's neighbors -- Iran's relations with people inside Iraq are not transparent and they need to be made transparent. They need to be normal relations, friendly relations between neighbors. But they shouldn't be in the nature of political influence. They should be in the nature of diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: In so far as fighting people -- fighting -- are people coming in from Iran into Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have any new information on that. As they are from Syria, I don't really have any new information on that, Barry.

QUESTION: Can I try -- you want to stay on that? You should make reference of --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Said.

QUESTION: Richard, why is it so difficult to determine, in a way, with a scale of one to ten, how much from Saudi Arabia, how much from Syria, how much Iran -- why is that so difficult? Because they, you know, they're caught, they're killed, and so on. Can you determine their identities just to see, you know, which country is exporting more of these fellows?

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I'm not sure it makes a difference. We do try to determine the routes by which insurgents, terrorists and others get supplies, get support and get people and we try to cut those off. That's what you have to do. But as far as trying to give a numerical percentage of how many people came from here, how many came by there or how many came by there, I'm not quite sure what the point is. But second of all, these people don't declare themselves at border post. They don't fill out a form and say, "I'm going to Iraq to commit terrorism."

QUESTION: I understand. But --

MR. BOUCHER: So you do have, you know, some kind of feel for this. The military on the ground may be able to give you some kind of feel for this. But the point is to stop these people and to stop the insurgents that work with them and support them.

QUESTION: Wouldn't it be prudent or an effort in the process to stop them, if we determine that so many have come from Saudi Arabia, so you can lean more on the Saudis, instead of --

MR. BOUCHER: I think you can identify the routes by which people get there. In some of these routes, there is cooperation in stopping them. There is cooperation with Saudi Arabia on the border areas of Saudi Arabia, which we know are often distant, somewhat desolate parts of the country and therefore difficult to police. But we are, indeed, working with the Saudis to try to cut off transit through that border area, try to cut off any support of any possibilities of people getting through.

Iran -- the Iraqis have made efforts, coalition has made efforts, as you know, to keep people from coming across, but there's less cooperation and that with Syria, as the Secretary's made clear during the last few days as well, the Syrians have made insufficient efforts to try to cut off that border and there are people still gathering and supplying and infiltrating from Syria. And we think the Syrians need to make a much bigger effort to cut that off.

Yeah. Sir.

QUESTION: Yes. As a matter of principle, does the U.S. Government consider terrorists those people who are resisting invasion and occupation forces of their own country? For example, Adolf Hitler was calling the brave Polish people who resisting the Nazi forces terrorists during the invasion and occupation of Poland. Could you please clarify the U.S. position on this crucial matter? Otherwise, how do you distinguish the freedom fighter from a terrorist?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't.

QUESTION: Why?

MR. BOUCHER: Look, this matter of defining terrorism is a major issue of international debate and discussion. We think most of that discussion is worthless -- that when you have people bombing cafes, bombing civilians, blowing up police who are standing in line to blowing up individuals who are standing in line to become policemen, you have terrorists who are kidnapping and killing aid workers, like Margaret Hassan. It's not a matter of defining terrorism. They're out to kill Iraqi civilians in marketplaces. They're out to kill Iraqi civilians standing in line to get jobs. They're out to kill humanitarian workers who are helping the Iraqis. It's not a matter of some international definition. It's a matter of looking at what they're doing and saying, "These are terrorists and they need to be stopped."

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QUESTION: USA Today had an interview with Kofi Annan in which he sort of suggested not take Iran to the Security Council; it'll be a deadlock, it'll be hard to get action on Iran and North Korea. Do you -- that opens, you know, makes me think about whether you're closer to going to the UN. And is his analysis of a potential deadlock, meaning -- I suppose you don't have the Europeans onboard - an accurate one, do you think?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think, first of all, I'm not going to try to comment on the article because I read the article and I couldn't quite understand what he said and what he meant. But second of all, I don't think the U.S. position has changed. We feel that those people who violate the nonproliferation treaty, as a matter of course, need to be referred to the United Nations Security Council. We've made that clear in the past. The Iranians are talking to the Europeans. They have thus far not broken the suspension of enrichment and conversion activities, but I think many have said that the -- if they were to do so, that one of the options is definitely to go to the Security Council. That's something that I'll remind you we have supported all along and we haven't changed our position.

QUESTION: You've still got a chip or two on negotiations?

MR. BOUCHER: That's a question for the Europeans.

QUESTION: No, I mean, the U.S. is still hoping negotiations --

MR. BOUCHER: We've supported the Europeans. We think it's time for the Iranians to come to terms and to comply with their desire. We think it's time for the Iranians to demonstrate to the world that they're not going to develop nuclear weapons and to do so with objective guarantees, as the Europeans say.

Okay, in the back.

QUESTION: But they have to decide -- Barry's question has a point, that one of your ideas is to take Iran to the Security Council where you presumably would have Britain and French support. What are you doing about talking to China, which has said we don't agree with sanctions?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to start counting votes in the Security Council for something that hasn't gone there and hasn't been --

QUESTION: It's not hard to know where everyone is. It's not -- it's just Russia and China that you have to talk to.

MR. BOUCHER: There are 15 members in the Security Council.

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MR. BOUCHER: Right?

QUESTION: Yeah, there are. Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: There's no resolution in front of the Security Council so how are they going to vote on a resolution, if there should be a resolution placed before those countries, saying something under some set of circumstances that haven't materialized yet? I'd say that's pretty hypothetical. I'm not going to try to speculate at this point.

QUESTION: I mean, you can say that it's hypothetical but you for over a year have been saying the Security Council is an option. And I'm asking, because it's hypothetical, are you therefore -- you haven't had any discussions with China about Iran in the Security Council?

MR. BOUCHER: We've had discussions about Iran with members of the Security Council. We've had extensive discussions of Iran with members of the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I think you would find that most of the members of the Security Council are in the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. So there's been an extensive international discussion of the situation with Iran. I would say there is very strong support among the international community for Iran to comply with the requirements of the Board, to comply with the proposals that the Europeans have put on the table. If Iran doesn't comply in that situation, members of the international community will then decide what to do at the Board of Governors and at the Security Council.

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