State Department Spokesman John Kirby Comments on Boeing Sale to Iran

June 23, 2016


QUESTION: I’ve got three different topics I need to follow up on. I’ll start with Boeing in Iran. Did you manage to come up with a – or get the answers to my questions from yesterday?

MR KIRBY: I – so which one do you want first?

QUESTION: Well – well, all of them. I don’t – it doesn’t matter which one is first. Which one – start with the best one.

MR KIRBY: Why don’t you tell me what you think the best one was?

QUESTION: I don’t know what the best – no, it’s the --

MR KIRBY: Oh, all of yours – all of yours were equally good, Matt.

QUESTION: It’s the answer, not the best --

MR KIRBY: I can’t possibly judge between them.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I want to know how it is that – how – what did Iran Air do to get off the sanctions list? How did they address your concerns that they were being used by the IRGC to fly weapons and materiel and perhaps even people into Syria and Lebanon, which is what they were – was what they --

MR KIRBY: Okay, so a couple of thoughts there.

QUESTION: -- which is what they were sanctioned for back five years ago today, June 23rd, 2011.

MR KIRBY: So a couple of thoughts there. And I think you know that Iran Air was never actually sanctioned under terrorist – of terrorism authorities. That said, they were designated, as you said, in June of 2011 pursuant to an executive order, 13382, which is an authority aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, isolating them from the U.S. commercial and financial systems. Now, pursuant to the commitments that we made in the JCPOA, Iran Air was removed from the SDN list. And I’m not at liberty to go into the reasons behind the fact that it was removed from the SDN list. All I could tell you is that we wouldn’t have done that if we weren’t comfortable doing so.

That said – and this is important, and I think I talked about this yesterday – the government still retains the full right to use all our existing authorities, including under that same EO, to pursue actions against any Iranian entity for support of terrorism or for, as it was designed, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Should we determine that licensed aircraft, goods, or services are being used for purposes other than exclusively civil aviation end use, or they’ve been resold or retransferred to persons on the SDN list, we would view this as grounds to cease performing our commitments under that aviation section in whole or in part.

QUESTION: So I just find it – I find it interesting and maybe you can explain why it is that they were – that the sanctions – that the executive order that was used was the WMD one, when the announcement from Treasury and then the joint statement from then-Secretaries Clinton and Geithner about this make no mention of WMD in relation to Iran Air and makes mention of terrorism. And in fact, it talks about rockets that they’ve moved, which – rockets, I suppose, could be part of WMD, but it doesn’t use that language at all, and so it’s just kind of surprising when the headline of it is “Treasury Targets Commercial Infrastructure of IRGC, Exposes Continued IRGC Support for Terrorism,” that --

MR KIRBY: Well, certainly, there can be a nexus between the use of --

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR KIRBY: -- weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. All I can tell you is – I can’t rewrite the history.


MR KIRBY: All I can tell you is the EO that designated Iran Air was 13382, which was specifically for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: So – and you can’t say whether – I mean, is there anything to suggest that these concerns are no longer concerns?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’d say – that we wouldn’t have made the decision we made in the JCPOA in terms of removing them from the SDN list if we didn’t have reason to do that. And I can’t --


MR KIRBY: -- in this forum discuss that in any detail other than to tell you we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t believe we had reason enough to do it.

QUESTION: Yeah, but reason enough to do it is to get Boeing a lot of money and to comply with the JCPO – it could be, okay? So unless you got assurances from Iran Air – there were no representatives of Iran Air in the negotiations, were there? No?

MR KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. It is a state-owned company, so perhaps the government was negotiating on their behalf. I just simply want to know, was there a pledge from the Iranians that Iran Air would no longer be used for these kinds of activities? And if there wasn’t, how is it that you’re allowing a U.S. company to sell them planes?

MR KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to discuss the deliberations that led to their being removed from the SDN list. We wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t believe we had reason enough to do it, number one. Number two, this isn’t about and never was about helping Boeing conclude this deal when there’s no way we could have predicted Boeing’s decisions back when we signed and approved the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Well, maybe (inaudible).

MR KIRBY: And number three – number three – number three --

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Wait a second. You think that there’s a company out there that might – that stands to make $25 billion that would say no?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t – what I’m saying is your implication that --

QUESTION: I’m saying that – no, no, no --

MR KIRBY: -- we had that in mind back when we did the JCPOA --

QUESTION: Well, you did have (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Your – the implication is drawn --

MR KIRBY: We had – this particular deal, Elise – this particular deal.

QUESTION: The – that implication is drawn by the fact that you cannot say, you’re refusing to say – or you can’t – you are not allowed to say what it is that the Iranians did to convince you that Iran Air was no longer engaged in these kinds of activities. And you can’t even say that you don’t think that they’re no longer engaged in these kind of activities.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I think now three times I’ve said that I’m not at liberty to discuss the reasons for which --


MR KIRBY: -- they were taken off the SDN list, but that we wouldn’t have done it --


MR KIRBY: -- if we didn’t have reason to do that. But I want to get to the – a third rebuttal here, which is that --

QUESTION: But the thing is that you say you’re comfortable with it, but that could mean anything.

MR KIRBY: But let me finish --


MR KIRBY: -- my original answer from five minutes ago --

QUESTION: All right. And I want to move on.

MR KIRBY: -- and that is that we’re not ever going to turn a blind eye to Iran’s continuing destabilizing activities and their --


MR KIRBY: -- state sponsorship of terrorism.

QUESTION: So if --

MR KIRBY: And any suggestion that we would --


MR KIRBY: -- that we wouldn’t and don’t have tools available to us --


MR KIRBY: -- to deal with that is simply baseless.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say that if Iran Air continues to do the kinds of things that you said it was doing in 2011, that this license will be yanked? That would be --

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Yeah? Okay.

MR KIRBY: If we have any reason, as I said in my earlier --

QUESTION: I hope there are executives at Boeing out there listening to us. Thank you.