Press Briefing with State Department Spokesperson Sean McCormack on the IAEA and Iran (Excerpts)

September 22, 2005

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QUESTION: On Iran and the IAEA, what are we to make of the fact that the EU circulated a second draft resolution? Should that be interpreted as an instance of what the President likes to call negotiating with ourselves?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think that there are a lot of diplomatic discussions going on at the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the IAEA right now concerning Iran and its noncompliance with its international obligations. Our views are clear. We certainly are in support of the EU-3 in its decision that it's time to report Iran to the UN Security Council for its long history of noncompliance with its international obligations -- the latest of which was breaking its accord with the EU-3, the Paris agreement. So there's a lot of diplomatic activity that's going on right now. We have said previously that if you had a vote today, there is a majority to report Iran to the Security Council and we think that reporting Iran to the Security Council is long overdue.

That said, we are working with other members of the IAEA Board of Governors right now on the timing of such a move, as well as the language of a resolution that could be voted on in the Board of Governors. As Secretary Rice has said, if Iran -- we have no doubt that if Iran continues on the path that it has chosen to follow for these past years, pursuing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program that they would be reported and should be reported to the Security Council.

As for the timing of such a referral, that is going to be a matter for diplomacy and that's what is working now. So I think what you're seeing is that the diplomatic, the -- any changes in language in terms of draft resolutions are tracking with the discussions that are ongoing now in the IAEA.

QUESTION: So was the change in language offered in consultation with the U.S.? You said that we have been working on language with them. Was this something that we worked on, this change in language?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I'm not going to get into any specific language at this point. I don't know of any drafts that may be circulating around the IAEA, but we are working very closely with the EU-3, as well as other members of the IAEA Board of Governors on this matter.

QUESTION: I guess what I want to ask is you don't disapprove of the fact that a new resolution has been offered?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that we're -- again, we are working -- all working on draft language at the Board of Governors. We're working very closely with our colleagues of the EU-3. We have for, you know, the past months and past time been working very closely with the EU-3 in their negotiations with Iran and we are continuing to do so in Vienna right now.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you can you follow up on that? Russia today made a statement against going to the Security Council. I was wondering if you could react to that, please?

MCCORMACK: Well, again, Russia is part of this discussion in Vienna. Secretary Rice has had discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov, other Foreign Ministers, including those from the EU-3, Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy, Foreign Secretary Straw, I know, have had conversations with Foreign Minster Lavrov and those conversations are also happening at different levels of the government.

Russia shares the same concerns that all of us do. I think that they have stated previously they don't want to see Iran obtain nuclear weapons. They don't want Iran to have access to sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies and know-how, like enrichment and reprocessing. That's why that's part of the fuel take-back provisions of the Bushehr deal, to get to that very matter. There's a reason why those are there. They don't think Iran should have access to the enrichment technologies. And as for the matter of timing of referral to the Security Council and the specific language that would be included in the IAEA Board of Governors resolution, that's something that we're working on them with.

So I think that in terms of the tactical, you know, there's a lot of diplomacy that's going on now, including with the Russians. But in terms of the strategic objectives I think everybody is on the same page and everybody shares the same strategic objectives.

QUESTION: But do you seriously think you can go to the Security Council without Russia and China on board?

MCCORMACK: Again, in terms of the timing and of referral to the Security Council, we think it's over due. We also think that the timing of any such referral is a matter for diplomacy, which is what you're seeing right now ongoing in Vienna.


QUESTION: Are you disappointed though that so far Russia doesn't seem to be going to your side in terms of pushing for a referral? Does this mean your diplomacy is sort of failing with Russia in terms of the pressure that you've been putting on them? While overall they agree with the principles, they're not supporting you in what you want.

MCCORMACK: Well, I think that -- just to back up a little bit -- in terms of the Board of Governors, you are seeing a broadening majority. As I said before, if there were a vote, if there were a vote today for referral to the Security Council, we believe that there is a majority for such a vote. But what we want to do -- working with the EU-3 and other countries -- is to build the broadest possible majority, so that's part of our discussion with the Russians as well as others. And this falls into the realm of diplomatic tactics. I think there are a lot of discussions that are ongoing. But I'd go back to the important point that I think that everybody shares the same strategic objective and that is that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. We all agree that that would be a destabilizing event for the region and for the world.

So again, we're working in Vienna. We have very clearly stated our views. We are working in support of the EU-3 and their efforts. We're working to bring as many on board to our point of view. That has been an evolving process and I expect that we're going to continue to have discussions on that in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: But without Russia you don't really have the same -- it wouldn't have the same impact without Russia, would it?

MCCORMACK: Well, again, let's see what resolution we have coming out of the Board of Governors in the coming days. But whatever that resolution is, whatever language does come out, whatever actions result from the discussions that are ongoing now, you have to be very clear that everybody does share the same goal. And what we're all talking about now is what is the pathway to get to that goal.


QUESTION: You made some reference to Russia putting curbs on use of materials in reactors.


QUESTION: Is there a view here whether Iran has, and what it has already, the capability to turn out nuclear weapons?

MCCORMACK: Well, there are -- these are assessments for our intelligence community, Barry, and there are public statements on that. The CIA does an annual report of what they think the state of the various nuclear programs of those countries who might be pursuing nuclear weapons in a covert manner are, so that's publicly available and I don't have it here in front of me, so I'd refer you to that.

And one thing certainly is it is difficult to know and the type of -- with the type of regime there is in Iran, to know exactly where they might be in terms of their state of development of nuclear weapons. But what we have seen is their programs of hiding their activities at Isfahan and Natanz, as well as other locations, from IAEA and the rest of the world are certainly cause of concern. The IAEA itself has said that there are unanswered questions about Iran's dealings with the AQ Khan network. The AQ Khan network was involved in selling nuclear technology to different regimes for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons. And there's a long list of unanswered questions, so this is real cause for concern. We believe and our assessment is that they are pursuing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.


QUESTION: Did the Secretary have a conversation with Prime Minister Lavrov after their bilateral meetings in New York?

MCCORMACK: There was, to my knowledge, the last time that they talked was around the Quartet meeting which I think was on Tuesday and the focus of that discussion was on issues related to the Middle East and Israeli-Palestinian efforts to resolve any differences they may have. I don't believe they, at that point, talked about Iran but they had multiple discussions during the entire time we were up in New York on this issue as well as others.

QUESTION: And since then she has called him?

MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of.

Yeah, Peter.

QUESTION: Sean, just -- there was a lot of focus on the Iranian President's on the speech -- just on the fiery and negative and the nuclear (inaudible), but there was at least one proposal there that had some substance in it, which is it offered to do partnerships with foreign countries and foreign firms for their fuel cycle work there. Is this seen at all as a positive or as a step forward?

MCCORMACK: Well, I think that, you know, people did focus on the rhetoric and the body language and the tone in his speech. But in terms of the substance there was one thing that was very, very different from what the Iranians had been talking about with the EU-3, and that was they were talking about not doing any enrichment on Iranian soil and that was a cause for discussion. And that was factored into the deal that the EU-3 had on the table with the Iranians.

One of the -- I think, one of the more shocking and disturbing elements of the Iranian President's speech was his insistence in, I think, two or three separate places throughout the speech on doing enrichment in Iran. And that, I think, was a cause of concern for all the world, as we've just been talking about the Russians and their deal and the way they structured the Bushehr reactor deal. It doesn't have that provision. As a matter of fact, that was negotiated in specifically because the Russians had concerns that Iran not have access to reprocessing and technology and know-how in Iran. So Russia would provide the fuel, it would be used in the reactor, then it would be returned to Russia after it was done.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know, but the reason that I mention it is because you have used the Bushehr model as something that is acceptable and may be just a way forward on this. And that one proposal, I know that they said they have an inalienable right to fuel enrichment and that was disturbing.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: But on the other hand, they also said that they're willing to do partnerships with foreign companies and foreign firms to do this sort of work there, which seem to be at least along the lines of maybe the Bushehr model. So I was wondering if that was seen at all as a positive element.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that first, what the Iranians have to do is get back to negotiations with the EU-3 -- something that we have been encouraging all along for them to do. The world wants to see a resolution to this issue. That has been the focus of what we've been trying to do at the IAEA. And so before any consideration of any other ideas that are out there, what Iran has to do is get back to the negotiating table with the EU-3, which they walked away from unilaterally. I think Foreign Ministers Straw, Douste-Blazy and Fischer had a very interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal today in which they did talk. They talked very openly about what their offer was on the table and their willingness once again to talk to the Iranians. So the first step is to get back to the negotiating table, which the Iranians walked away from.


QUESTION: When you say that the enrichment in Iraq, the fact that the Europeans didn't want that, was factored in the proposal, does it mean the former government, the reformer government was agreed on that? It was something which was agreed?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, they didn't. Well, obviously, they didn't accept the proposal. I can't speak to what the various negotiating positions were for the former Iranian Government, as well as this Iranian Government. Although with this Iranian Government, I think the President of Iran, we have to take his words at face value when he gets up in front of the UN and outlines very clearly where he wanted to take Iran. I'll leave it to the Iranians and the EU-3 to describe their negotiations and what their understandings were.

QUESTION: If they didn't accept the proposal, what is the difference between this government who says no and the other one who said no?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not saying that they said no to that proposal. They were in ongoing negotiations. This government walked away from those negotiations.


QUESTION: Are you trying to get a vote in the IAEA before this new group of countries joins the Board of Governors and are you concerned that might delay the process if you don't get a vote before then?

MCCORMACK: What we're doing right now, again, let's wait to see what the diplomacy brings over the next couple of days. Again, we're sort of into the diplomatic tactics of what the resolution says and what action the Board of Governors will do vis-à-vis the Security Council. In terms of the timing of that, questions related to the Security Council, we'll see what the coming days bring.

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