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

October 27, 2005

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

. . .

QUESTION: There's no way I can follow that. (Laughter.)

The statement by the Iranian leader, I wondered, of course I can image the U.S. reaction to it, but has the U.S. used its contacts with Iran to follow up in any way?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have spoken out quite clearly in public from this podium as well as from the White House, Barry, regarding our thoughts on the President's statement, as I said yesterday. I think when you take President Ahmadi-Nejad's speech at the UN in combination with his speech yesterday, you start to collect some data points here about really what the true face of this regime is, its underlying thinking and its underlying attitudes. And I think what all of this does is underscores the validity of our, and the world's, serious concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, as well as its continuing support for terrorism and oppression of its own people.

QUESTION: Did this trigger anything on the U.S. side beyond your statements?

MR. MCCORMACK: I will check, Barry. I don't know if we have passed any formal diplomatic messages, but we have spoken out quite clearly on the matter in public.

QUESTION: Do you sense that the rest of the world is as straightforward in opposing what was said as the U.S. Government is? And if it isn't, is the U.S. trying to rally allies, at least, to look at it the way you look at it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that you can look at the public comments for yourself. I saw that Foreign Minister Lavrov had some very strong comments in reaction.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that there are others, although I don't have a catalog of them. We have also made it very clear that our posts around the world should make very clear where we stand on this kind of rhetoric coming out of Iran and from the head of state.

QUESTION: Should Iran be kicked out of the United Nations for this c omment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I've seen the news reports suggesting this. Again, Iran is a member of the United Nations. What I think we would encourage instead is Iran to start behaving in a responsible manner as a member of the international community, cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, end its support for terror and stop oppressing its own people.

QUESTION: So if you're saying the pursuit of nuclear weapon under the guise of a civilian program, is that also -- are you also throwing in the Bushehr project?

MR. MCCORMACK: As we have talked about it before, our concern is with Iran's having the know-how, the technology and the capability to enrich or reprocess on its territory. We have said that that is an important step that would allow, we believe, it to develop a nuclear weapon, which is a shared goal -- which all share the goal of preventing: Russia, the United States, the EU-3.

We have pointed to the Bushehr deal as a deal that addresses the central concern of Iran not having the nuclear fuel cycle on its own territory. It has a fuel take-back provision. We think that that demonstrates clearly Russia's discomfort with the idea of Iran having the nuclear fuel cycle on its territory.

QUESTION: But given that agreement with Russia, this is not a backing off of your support for Bushehr -- with the proviso that the Russians take back their --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the deal as it is structured, I think, was -- it evolved to -- at the current point where you do have the fuel take-back provision, as a result of Russia's concerns about Iran's behavior and Iran's intention to seek nuclear weapons, as well as discussions over the years with the international community about their concerns regarding the Bushehr deal. And as a result, they have structured it in such a way to address the concerns -- their own concerns as well as the concerns of the international community.

Barry.

QUESTION: Why you were working over in that other building --

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on -- it's Iran.

QUESTION: Yes. While you were working in the other building, there was a persistent theory in the State Department by many people, I think the Deputy Secretary of State, in fact, said let's start talking to them and that there are really two Irans -- that there's a more liberal Iran, there's a democratic inclined segment of the population. And of course, there was hope that it would take hold and have influence. Can we throw that theory in the trashcan by now or do you guys still think that there's another -- there is another force in Tehran that you hope will come to the fore that can be cultivated, that there's hope for Iran taking a different world view?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we have consistently stated over the years is that the United States stands with the Iranian people and their aspirations for a more free democratic state. Those aspirations have not been realized, as we have seen the unelected few stand in the way of those aspirations. We recently have offered -- we have accepted requests for proposals regarding promotion of democracy programs. It is our Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor has put out requests for proposals that would help fund programs promoting democracy in Iran. We think that that is an important step. I would expect that at some point this fall that we actually are able to award those grants on the amount -- in the order of about $3 million or so.

So our support for the Iranian people in their aspirations for democracy are steadfast. We believe that it is the unelected few which we now see represented by the current government, President Ahmadi-Nejad, that stand in the way of those aspirations. You are starting to see reports -- news reports coming out of Iran of steps -- steps to sort of increase the oppression within Iran, you know, mobile courts going throughout the country that are, you know, quite disturbing. So this is a regime, again, that is out of step with the general trends in the region towards greater freedom, greater democracy and more openness.

QUESTION: You said that Russia expressed its concern, but actually the Russian Foreign Minister said this doesn't change anything in Moscow position on the nuclear program. He says the position is the same, so I don't see where is the concern.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think again when the Iranian President speaks in terms of wiping another state off the map, that is a source of concern for the international community. I think Foreign Minister Lavrov stated his concern and the Russian Government's concern about this issue.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: With regard to the nuclear issue, this is -- that is a matter for continuing discussion among the members of the Board of Governors. I think that right now there is -- the IAEA is going to produce a report that goes to the Security Council regarding Iran's cooperation with the IAEA. We will see what is contained in that report. What is contained in that report depends upon Iran's actions. And I think we are in discussions with the EU-3, as well as Russia and the other members of the Board of Governors, about Iran's behavior, what further steps that the IAEA might be required if Iran continues to fail to cooperate with the IAEA. It is a matter for continuing discussion among all the members of the Board of Governors.

QUESTION: But he says -- he said these declarations ring forth the arguments of people who don't want Iran to get nuclear civilian program, but it doesn't change Russia's position. So actually, they don't express any more concern today than yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course, Foreign Minister Lavrov is free to speak on behalf of his government, obviously. I would only add that, you know, the issue of Iran's nuclear program is a matter of continuing discussion within the Board of Governors. And in fact, what conclusions the IAEA comes to with this next report, it's going to be up to Iran and how it is that they cooperate or do not cooperate.

QUESTION: As for Iran's nuclear program is concerned, Iranians are saying that they will continue to develop no matter what, under any circumstances, as far as their nuclear program is concerned. Now, recently India working with the European Union in Vienna, in Austria at the IAEA meeting against Iran. Visiting Indian officials here are saying that India had never given its nuclear technology to anywhere to any country. And on the one hand, A.Q. Khan has been given nuclear technology to many countries, including Iran. My question is that have anybody spoke to A.Q. Khan what and how much he has given to Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, our concerns about the A.Q. Khan network are well known. We are working very closely with the Pakistani Government to dig into all of the activities of the A.Q. Khan network. This is, as many of you have reported, a widespread network that was providing nuclear weapons technology and know-how to a variety of different states. And we have stated our concerns about what A.Q. Khan may have provided to a variety of different states. I think the IAEA is looking into this matter, exactly what A.Q. Khan might have provided to Iran. I think is an open -- that's still an open question for IAEA investigators. And we are looking to Iran to provide -- to come clean on these issues and provide the information to IAEA investigators so all of these questions can be cleared up.

QUESTION: But Sean, the U.S. never had any direct access to A.Q. Khan or neither the IAEA, so we are still relying on what A.Q. Khan is telling the Pakistani authorities and what Pakistani authorities are telling the U.S. and IAEA.

MR. MCCORMACK: We are working closely with Pakistan on these questions and I understand that IAEA authorities are working closely with the Pakistani Government. We certainly encourage their continuing cooperation as a matter -- as this is a matter of intense international interest, and so we look forward to that continuing cooperation.

. . .