State Department Briefing with Spokesman Sean McCormack on P-5 Plus 1 Meetings (Excerpts)

March 20, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

. . .

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the UN Security Council and Iran meetings today? And also the P-5 plus Germany, what the goal is there this afternoon when they meet?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Nick Burns is going to be traveling up to New York for meetings this afternoon of the P-5 + 1, the Permanent Five Council members plus Germany. They're going to be talking about how to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue.

And just to update people, right now the stage at which we find ourselves in the UN Security Council is drafting a presidential statement. Progress is being made on drafting that presidential statement and we are going to continue to work on that. That is not going to be the focus of this particular meeting although I wouldn't be surprised if they touch on it, as it is part of our diplomatic efforts. In part, this meeting is one -- another in a series of this particular group. I think the last one -- the last meeting of this particular group was in London and Nick Burns represented us there as well. That was prior to the IAEA Board of Governors meeting. So it's going to be a continuation of that discussion that they're having, how to deal over the medium to long term with the, at this point, continued intransigence of the Iranian regime in seeking nuclear weapons in contravention of their Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.

QUESTION: There are reports that the British are going to call for a new round of talks with the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: This -- I saw -- is this in response to -- there was a, I think, a story coming out of Vienna over -- what is it --


MR. MCCORMACK: Yesterday or the day before yesterday?

QUESTION: I saw it today, but yeah, could have been yesterday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. I'm not aware of any new round of discussions with the Iranians. I haven't been made aware of any proposals in that regard.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) helpful?

MR. MCCORMACK: We think that the burden is on Iran right now to meet the obligations of the IAEA as stated in the March 6th Board of Governors statement. We think that at this point the Iranian regime has worn down its trust relationship with the international community to basically zero on these issues, so what you need to see from the Iranian regime at this point are concrete actions that bring them back into the mainstream. Right now they are outside the mainstream of the nonproliferation regime with -- through their actions in defying the international community, lying consistently to the international community about what they're doing on their nuclear research. So it's really up to the Iranian regime to take concrete steps to come back into the mainstream.

QUESTION: There's not even a point to further talks? I ask because the head of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee -- it's called something else -- is here and some of us saw him this morning and he's seeing Zoellick or maybe he has already -- suggesting, for one thing, the U.S. get involved in talks, going slow at the UN, give the Russians more time. He speaks of four weeks, six weeks. Is it the U.S. view that you've just about run out of talk, that there's been a -- there's no great point in prolonging negotiations or trying to reopen them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Barry, what the -- we're dealing with the German Government on this as well as the other members of the Security Council who are part of the EU-3. What we have done consistently over time, over the past year in working with the EU-3 as well as other members of the international community, has been twofold: to broaden the consensus regarding Iran's nuclear program, and that consensus now is that Iran is attempting to seek a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear program; and the other tact we've been taking, Barry, is to steadily increase pressure on the Iranian regime to change its behavior.

Iran now finds itself before the Security Council. The international spotlight is shining on their actions. It's an uncomfortable place in which they find themselves. So I think that at this point what the international community is asking Iran to do is asking them to come back into the mainstream, come back into compliance with their international obligations, meet the just demands of the IAEA in demonstrating to the international community that they will, in fact, be willing to engage in good faith in a diplomatic effort to resolve the current situation. They, thus far, have not demonstrated good faith in all the attempts to resolve this through diplomacy. We are continuing along the diplomatic track. We now find ourselves in the Security Council and we are going to continue working with the EU-3, as well as the Security Council members, on efforts, diplomatic efforts to convince the Iranian regime that it is in their interest to meet the just demands of the international community.

QUESTION: Thank you, but I'm not sure if the diplomacy, in the U.S. view, should be confined at this point to the UN arena or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's where we find ourselves right now.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Concerning the nuclear issue.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I'm talking about the nuclear issue. I'm just saying --

MR. MCCORMACK: And just to point out, Barry, we have never been involved in direct talks with the Iranians on this issue.

QUESTION: I know that. I know that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, I just -- you certainly know that, Barry, but I'm not sure that other people listening know that, so I wanted to make that clear.

QUESTION: He is, I think is as apprehensive as his government probably is about Iran's nuclear intentions but he is speaking in terms of a need, a virtue in having additional talks between Iran and Russia and having the U.S. talk to the Iranians presumably as part of a European Union negotiating forum. And I'm just wondering if there's any point in that from the U.S. view. It sounds like you think you've spent your diplomacy and it's time --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's not what I'm saying, Barry. I'm not sure how you got that out of what I said. We're engaged in an intensive diplomatic process at the UN Security Council --

QUESTION: Because I asked --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- I don't know if in your view that counts as diplomacy.


MR. MCCORMACK: No, sorry. I wanted to try to give an answer in response to the question, but you're interrupting. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no, I'm saying here's -- I ask you about the prominent parliamentarian saying let's slow down the rush at New York, let's take some more time for the Russians to talk to the Iranians. Hey, the U.S. ought to join talks in one way or another, most preferably with the European Union. So what I'm asking you is if you see any point to any of that, and when I did, you spoke in terms of what is going on at the UN. So I don't know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Because that's where we find ourselves, Barry.

QUESTION: I know you -- but is that the only arena you want to be with Iran in right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's where the nuclear issue finds itself right now, Barry. I don't think the -- I haven't heard of any proposal from the German Government for the United States to join the EU-3 discussions, which the EU-3 themselves have said have met a dead end. And in terms of the Russian discussions, we are supportive of the Russian proposal but, again, we have not been involved in those discussions and the Russians themselves have expressed some degree of exasperation with the Iranian behavior. So I'm not sure quite what you're getting at here.


QUESTION: If, as you say, international consensus has been broadened, why are you having so much trouble coming up with a presidential statement in New York?

MR. MCCORMACK: Teri, you've seen -- this is multilateral diplomacy. It takes some time.

QUESTION: Right, but if the P-5 is on board --

MR. MCCORMACK: And I think that we've been working at this, I think, for maybe a little bit over a week, maybe two weeks or so. I've lost a little track of time.

Excuse me?

QUESTION: You haven't been working on the specific language but you've been working on this consensus for months and months and months, and it would seem that it would follow more easily that you would be able to work the language into a statement if, truly, there was a consensus of these allies.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think there actually -- there is a consensus. That's why we're at the Security Council. And in terms of giving the diplomacy some time, that's the way these things work. I know that there's, you know, a desire sort of to feed the 24-hour global news cycle, but you know, again, this has been patient diplomacy that you have seen demonstrated by the United States. This goes back more than a year working with our European colleagues to build this international consensus. And now you have the IAEA Board of Governors voting to refer this matter to the Security Council. The only countries, I think, that voted with Iran at this point were Cuba and Venezuela.

So again, you have a growing international consensus moving this issue to the Security Council. Now the issue is before the Security Council. There's been patient diplomacy ongoing and I think you see again a growing consensus within the Security Council on the specific language for a presidential statement. I would expect that over the coming days that you're going to see the members of the Security Council get closer and closer on language. But this takes time.

QUESTION: What are the hang-ups, then? Maybe that just answers the question --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to do a negotiation from the podium. There's -- like I said, there's growing consensus on the language. The negotiators are coming together on the specific wording. This takes time. You know, we've only been in the Security Council, I think, for a couple of weeks now.

So again, the United States is patient, determined and focused in its diplomatic efforts and we were seeing likeminded seriousness from other members of the Security Council. These are serious issues. And I would expect that because they are such serious issues that other members of the Security Council are going to want to look very carefully at what this presidential statement says, and we respect that. But the fact of the matter is that diplomacy is moving forward. You are seeing growing consensus in terms of the specific language. So I would expect to see that continue over the next couple days.

QUESTION: So does that mean at the end of a couple days you think you'll have it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not putting a specific timeline, but I know the process is moving forward. It is moving in the right direction.


QUESTION: A new topic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on this? Samir?

QUESTION: Does Ambassador Khalilzad -- the authorization he had from last November still work for this time to continue or the Administration needs to decide if you are going to respond positively to Larijani's announcement?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is Ambassador Khalilzad?


MR. MCCORMACK: We have talked about this numerous times from this podium. The Secretary has talked about it and this is, I want to make clear, an issue completely separate from the nuclear issue. Ambassador Khalilzad has for some time had authorization to engage his counterpart on issues of mutual concern regarding Iraq. We have used this kind of mechanism previously in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, it was Ambassador Khalilzad, while he was Ambassador to Afghanistan that he was able to use this mechanism and it proved useful. But it was limited to issues related to Afghanistan.

We have for some months now had this offer open to the Iranian government to use this kind of channel between our ambassadors in Baghdad to exchange information, to talk about issues of mutual concern. It's not a negotiating channel. It's a channel in which the ambassadors can exchange information.

I think Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor, has noted that it's very interesting that now that Iran finds itself increasingly in the international spotlight in a negative way, that they are now sort of broadcasting on all signals about a willingness to engage on a variety of different issues. I don't have any updates for you regarding any specific meetings. We'll try to keep you updated on that. So again, it's a channel of communication on a very discrete issue that's available, and we'll see.

QUESTION: So they haven't met and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge, Barry.

QUESTION: Not to your knowledge. And obviously, there's no decision to meet. You haven't internally --

MR. MCCORMACK: The channel is open. We have -- you know, again, we have not had -- you know, we have not -- there have not been any meetings to my knowledge and we'll try to keep you updated on that.


QUESTION: I have a question on another topic.

MR. MCCORMACK: Anything else on Iran or --

QUESTION: If I could take one on this. As you just said, you were the ones that proposed this in October to kind of talk to the Iranians, and at the time they didn't want -- why now that they're saying that they'll do it are you kind of souring the atmosphere, according to the Iranians, in terms of -- they said that they'll do it now? Why are you pooh-poohing it now? Why can you just have the talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, not in any way sort of trying to diminish the intent of this channel.

QUESTION: But, I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: But it is rather curious timing.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, does it matter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: If you want to have this talk with the Iranians, the Iraq issue is important and you want to move forward, you have things to discuss. But as soon as it came out, all the Administration officials on Friday and now today, you know, maybe not intentionally diminishing the importance of the talks, but you know, calling it a "stunt," calling it a "ruse". Do you want to have the talks with the Iranians or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a channel of communication that is open. It was offered by us to the Iranians. I think it's pretty clear to anybody with a bit of common sense, the timing is rather curious now. But of course, if it is a -- it can be a useful channel of communication on the issue of Iraq. I don't think it -- but I would caution about anybody conflating issues here -- you know, nuclear issues or issues dealing with Iraq. Those are separate and being dealt with in separate fora.

QUESTION: But have they moved ahead at all? You can't say yes or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge. To my knowledge, there has been no meeting. I don't think there has been. We'll try to keep you updated on that as best we can.

QUESTION: But is it -- is the ball in the U.S. court right now to be -- use a cliché? Is it up to the United States now to accept the talks or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're -- this -- again, this channel has been open. They said that they're interested in discussion.

QUESTION: Right. So what's the next move?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, if there's some meeting, these are things that work themselves out. I don't have particular description of who has talked to whom at this point. I guess I would -- we've talked about the fact that there is this channel. We've talked about the outlines of it and we'll try to keep you updated as best we can on whether or not there is a meeting or not and as best we can describe what happened in that meeting.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just to be very specific?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, I'll keep you updated.

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