State Department Spokesperson John Kirby's Remarks on Iran's Missile Test and the IAEA's Iran Report (Excerpt)

March 8, 2016

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile


QUESTION: Right. Well, let’s start with Iran. First on the missile launch or launches, what’s – what do you have to say about that?

MR KIRBY: Well, you – certainly seen reports and trying to follow them as closely as we can that Iran has just concluded several ballistic missile tests. Again, we’re not in a position to confirm that is, in fact, what happened. We’ve seen these reports and we’re trying to get more information about it.

I do want to make it clear that such tests, if they are true, are not a violation of the JCPOA. If it’s confirmed that this is what they, in fact, did, then we’ll have every intention of raising the matter to the UN Security Council. We’re also going to encourage a serious review of the incident or incidents and press for an appropriate response.

The only other thing else I would add is that – again, if true – this development would underscore why we continue to work closely with partners around the world to slow and degrade Iran’s missile program. And it’s worth noting that the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 has prohibitions that continue to be used to disrupt Iran’s missile-related proliferation and procurement activities.

We also continue to aggressively apply our unilateral tools to counter threats from Iran’s missile program, and these tools are in no way impacted by the JCPOA or any phase of its implementation. The Department of the Treasury recently designated entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program, and again, we always have those tools available to us.

QUESTION: So if it’s not a violation of the JCPOA, why would you bring it up at the Security Council?

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s because --

QUESTION: Because it is a violation --

MR KIRBY: It is --

QUESTION: -- of 2231, correct?

MR KIRBY: In UNSC Resolution 2231, Iran is called upon not to undertake ballistic missile activity --


MR KIRBY: -- including test launches with ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. It is inconsistent with 2231; it’s not a violation of the Iran deal itself.

QUESTION: I understand. Yeah. But 2231 also contains the Iran nuclear deal, does it not, the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: It does.

QUESTION: Right. So they’re violating the resolution that has the nuclear deal in it. Surely you can see how people might read that as a violation of the whole thing, which includes the nuclear deal, no?

MR KIRBY: I can understand why some people might read it that way, but they’d be incorrect. Technically, they’d be incorrect. It is not a violation of the Iran deal itself. The Iran deal, as you well know, Matt, was about --

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s --

MR KIRBY: -- preventing them from having and acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I understand that. But if it’s true --

MR KIRBY: But there are --

QUESTION: If the reports are true, they have violated the very UN resolution that enshrines, that memorializes, that legalizes the nuclear deal. And --

MR KIRBY: I can’t argue with that.

QUESTION: Right. And some might come to the belief then that if they’re willing to violate the overall agreement, the overall UN resolution --

MR KIRBY: The resolution which deals with --

QUESTION: Which deals with --

MR KIRBY: -- ballistic missile technology --

QUESTION: -- and --

MR KIRBY: -- as well as --

QUESTION: -- and the nuclear deal.

MR KIRBY: -- as well as --

QUESTION: Right. Yeah. It deals with both. And --

MR KIRBY: It does. But --

QUESTION: Right. So if they’re this flip about violating one part of the resolution, why are you not suspicious that they might be just as ready and willing --

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s not --

QUESTION: -- to violate another part of the resolution?

MR KIRBY: I don't know that I’d call it “flip,” but --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, they clearly don’t care about the sanctions that you just put on them last month or two months ago for the previous -- .

MR KIRBY: Well, historically we’ve seen them be in flagrant violation of multilateral and unilateral demands for them not to develop ballistic missile technology. It’s not – I’m not saying we’re pleased by it at by any stretch, but it’s not new that they have proven willing to flagrantly violate those kinds of resolutions against ballistic missile technology.

We have and we will use unilateral and multilateral tools to address this. If these latest reports are true, we’ll take them up appropriately. We’re not going to turn a blind eye to this and we’re not at all trying to make any excuses for it. I’m just trying to get to a technical point here, which is that it’s not a violation of the Iran deal itself. It is, however, very clearly a violation of 2231, the new UN Security Council resolution. And we’ll deal with it. If, in fact, this happened, as the press reports indicate – and we don’t know that right now – then we’ll take it up as we have before. We’re not going to shy away from confronting Iran over --

QUESTION: Okay. So your position --

MR KIRBY: -- this particular development of this particular technology.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – but – so in this case, the position of the Administration is that violating the UN Security Council resolution, violating a part of it, doesn’t mean that the whole thing has been violated, right?

MR KIRBY: We will hold you accountable for what you violated. They violated that – if these reports are true, then yes, they are in violation of 2231. They are not in violation of the JCPOA. It is an inclusive but lesser part of the grander UN Security Council resolution.

And then I never really answered your other question, but what makes us sure, we aren’t dealing with Iran from – in just a good faith environment here on – in terms of the JCPOA.


MR KIRBY: What gives us --

QUESTION: Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

MR KIRBY: Well, no, I know we are. That’s why I’m sort of lead turning here. I mean, what we’re doing is we’re relying on the IAEA. And as we talked about yesterday, they’ve got a new report coming out about – it’s the first report, new and first report, on implementation, and we’re going to rely on them and their judgments about the degree to which Iran is meeting all their commitments with respect to the JCPOA. As I said yesterday, they are. We’ve seen absolutely no indication that they haven’t met all of their commitments under the JCPOA in terms of not having and not developing the capability to have a nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: I want to go to that, but if anyone else has stuff on the missiles.

QUESTION: Yeah, a few.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I’ve got some more on this. One, you said that if the reports are confirmed you have “every intention” of raising it to the Security Council. And in the earlier statements again you used that word “intend” or “intention.” Can you not say that you will raise it to the UN Security Council if it is – if the reports are confirmed?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Don’t read too much into my language. If these reports are confirmed, if we believe that the press reporting is accurate and that they have tested ballistic missiles, then we will raise it with the UN, as we have in the past.

QUESTION: Great. Okay. Second, ballistic – excuse me. Ballistic missile tests happen out in the air. Something goes up in the air, correct?

MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So why are you not certain whether or not they did this, since that should be visible by national technical means?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters. This – these reports just, just came to light, and it’s no surprise, I don’t think, to any of you that it takes us – we want to take the time that’s appropriate to analyze whatever information that we have, and there are multiple sources of information that we can pull from with respect to ballistic missile launches, and we’re going to do that. We’ll do that responsibly. And when we have a conclusion, then we’ll know.

QUESTION: And when you talked about an appropriate response, was that meant to apply to – and this is on the assumption that the reports are confirmed – does that apply to taking the matter to the Security Council, or does that apply to other potential courses of action?

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t rule anything in or out at this point. Appropriate response means appropriate response. It could be --

QUESTION: The whole universe?

MR KIRBY: It could be inclusive of other tools at our disposal, to include unilateral tools as well.

QUESTION: Yeah. And then you stated that Iran had not, to your knowledge, violated the JCPOA. But it did, at least in one instance, violate it by exceeding the 130 metric ton threshold for heavy water, and then it corrected that. Remember? So do you still feel that it is accurate to say that they have not violated it when I believe they have violated it, the IAEA flagged it, and then --

MR KIRBY: And then they fixed it.

QUESTION: -- fixed it.

MR KIRBY: We don’t find them to be in violation of the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Right. But the point I want to make is that they violated and then came into compliance again, correct?

MR KIRBY: You’re making a technical point, which I won’t dispute. There was a brief period of time where they went over an allowance on heavy water, but they did correct it. They are not in violation, and we still haven’t seen any indication that they are violating the JCPOA.

QUESTION: And then last one from me on this, and it’s to re-ask Matt’s question. If they are willing to violate UN sanctions resolutions on missiles, what makes you think they won’t violate UN sanctions resolutions, indeed the very same resolution, on the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we were certain that they wouldn’t. I said I’m certain that they haven’t. I’m certain that they are in compliance with the JCPOA, not just because of our own assessment, because of the assessments thus far of the IAEA. I mean, the whole reason why there’s a very stringent, unprecedented inspection and verification regime in place is because we aren’t just going to leave this up to trust; we aren’t just going to leave it up to Iranian word. They have to prove and have to prove for the lifetime of this deal that they’re meeting the obligations required of them in the JCPOA. So I couldn’t – I did not say and I would not say that I am certain that they will never violate it. That’s why – because we’re not certain, because we’re not just going to act on trust and faith, that’s why the inspection regime is set up the way it is.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more question on this? The – one of the Iranian military leaders said that these tests were done as part of defending the country from attack. Does Iran have a right to engage in military activity that it says is of a defensive nature, not an offensive nature?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, I’m not going to confirm the reports yet. I don’t know exactly what happened here.

QUESTION: But as a general principle, don’t they have the right to take actions to protect their citizens from any outside attack?

MR KIRBY: They don’t have the right, according to the international community and the UN, to develop ballistic missile technology. They do not. Now, does a nation-state have the right to have a military and to be able to provide for its own self-defense? Of course. And virtually – not every, but virtually every nation-state has such capabilities. But there are limits with respect to Iran about the kinds of capabilities that they’re allowed to pursue. Ballistic missile technology is not one of them.

QUESTION: And then to go back to something you said a few minutes ago, the idea of if you did confirm that these tests took place that you would go to the Security Council and then press for an appropriate response – are we talking sanctions? Are we talking about perhaps the U.S. acting unilaterally? What would – what are you talking about?

MR KIRBY: Well, this gets to Arshad’s question. I mean, it’s almost the exact question he asked. I’m not going to speculate about what actions might be taken when we don’t even know if these reports are accurate. If they are, we’ll take them up with the UN, and I think you should expect, as before, that the United States would also consider if there were any appropriate unilateral actions that might be taken or might be pursued. And we have unilateral tools at our disposal that we’ve had in place for some time now, but again, I’m not going to speculate about what might happen here when we don’t even know if these press reports are true.

QUESTION: But when you use the word “press,” that implies that there’s at least a preliminary sense within the U.S. Government that something wrong happened here and that there needs to be more than simply going to the UN Security Council for consultations. It’s stronger language.

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that something wrong happened here. We don’t know exactly what happened. So let’s get --

QUESTION: But it – but the use of the word implies that there’s a sense that something wrong was committed here.

MR KIRBY: Well, when you see press reports and the Iranians themselves are saying that they conducted these launches, I mean, that certainly gives us pause. And certainly we have to at least take that into account and take it seriously. So we’re going to do that and we’re going to do some analysis and we’re going to figure out what happened. And if what happened is a violation of their obligations under the UN Security Council resolution, then we’ll – we will take appropriate actions, to include consulting with and raising the matter to the UN Security Council and perhaps others. But I – I’m just simply not going to speculate one way or the other what that’s going to look like.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. Has Secretary Kerry been in touch with Mr. Zarif or any other senior Iranian official since the reports?


QUESTION: And does he intend to on this topic?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any – I don’t have any calls on his schedule to announce to you or read out in advance, and we don’t typically do that. But he has not communicated with Foreign Minister Zarif about this. I mean, these reports are pretty fresh, and it’s largely press reporting right now, so you just have to let some time elapse here.

QUESTION: Well, I guess when the sailors were taken, there was – the building was very proud of the fact that he was able to quickly contact Mr. Zarif and receive reassurances on that topic. This hasn’t been attempted this time?

MR KIRBY: I have no calls with – or contact with Foreign Minister Zarif to read out right now.

QUESTION: Can we go to the second part of the Iran equation here, which is the questions that you were asked yesterday about concerns that the IAEA’s reporting was not – is – post-deal is not as comprehensive as it was pre-deal. Can you address those concerns and criticisms, which are coming not just from ardent opponents, political opponents, of the deal but from scientists with far more advanced degrees than either you or I have?

MR KIRBY: We’ve had some time since yesterday’s press conference to take a closer look at Dr. Amano’s press conference, statements, and dig a little bit more into this. I mean, so a couple of things. He said himself he’s very comfortable that he had access to the information he needed to produce this first report. He also said that the requirements are different now because the JCPOA is different than the JPOA. And I couldn’t see anything in there, as I looked through his statements, that led me to believe that he was in any way saying that he’s been asked to lighten up or to make thinner or to make less detailed his assessments of Iran’s nuclear program. He has a different set of reporting requirements because the deal mandates – the Iran deal as implemented --


MR KIRBY: -- mandates different information to be assessed than under the JPOA. But that doesn’t mean that – it doesn’t mean that he is – and he has said so himself – that he’s any less capable of accurately reflecting their assessment of Iran’s compliance. And he said himself that in this first report, and it is just the first one, they are in compliance of the requirements.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s the – that’s not really the – the issue is not really what the director general said.

MR KIRBY: Well, it’s --

QUESTION: The issue is more to the point that the report has admittedly less information – this last report has less information in it than the previous ones did. Whether that is a function of the reporting requirements being different between the JCPOA and the JPOA is – I mean, that’s kind immaterial. The question is: Are you guys still confident that the IAEA can do a good and intrusive job with – by reporting less information than it did before?

MR KIRBY: The bottom line is we are, as we were before, confident that the deal puts in place the proper assessment tools and reporting requirements for the IAEA to do their job.

QUESTION: Okay, well --

MR KIRBY: And the agency has said so themselves. So I’m trying to answer your question as cleanly as I can, Matt. We are comfortable that Dr. Amano and his team will be able to maintain the tools and the verification mechanisms that they need to accurately reflect Iran’s compliance. And this whole issue about less information or not – it’s a different set of requirements under the deal now, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less stringent. And the idea that somehow less information, if in fact that’s the case, is less stringent, I just don’t think is accurate. The other thing is the nuclear program in Iran is different now, right. I mean, they are meeting their requirements and they are doing so – they have to do so under the deal in a much more transparent way, so we now know more than we’ve ever known, thanks to this deal, about Iran’s program.

QUESTION: How much near-20-percent highly enriched uranium does Iran now have?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: You don’t know because it’s not in the IAEA report. And the reason the Administration gives for it not being in there is because they took all of it out under the terms of the JCPOA. But they didn’t really take all of it out, because there’s still some there from the Tehran nuclear – the research reactor. Now, according to the deal, that doesn’t count as part of any kind of stockpile. But it is still there, and presumably you would want to know how much there is and what – what it’s doing there so that they don’t take it from the research reactor and put it to some other use.

So the report doesn’t say that. The report also – you can’t tell me how far along they are in completing their requirements under the Additional Protocol. The Administration’s line is that, well, they have 180 days from implementation day in order to report on this, and that the next report that comes out – the IAEA report whenever, post-June, after that 180 days is up – will mention it. But the problem with that is that in the past, when Iran signed the Additional Protocol before, the IAEA was allowed to report on the progress that was being made towards implementing the Additional Protocol, and in this case you’re not. And we’re talking about a country that has not been trustworthy in this area at all.

So those are just two things that are not included in the IAEA report, which the scientists – again, people who know what they’re talking about – say are issues of concern. And I would point out that even defenders of the Administration’s position on this – and I’ll point to this thing that Richard Nephew wrote, one of the guys who negotiated this deal, says that: Nonproliferation experts have, rightly, noted that previous IAEA reports on Iran have offered far greater granularity on the technical status of Iran’s nuclear program and its compliance with its obligations. They have also, rightly, suggested that absence of such data from the IAEA will make it more difficult for monitors outside of governments to verify the conclusions reached by the IAEA.

That doesn’t sound particularly transparent to me.

MR KIRBY: We are confident that the IAEA can do its job and adequately verify Iran’s compliance with the Iran deal. And what is – what’s definitely different now than in the past – and we can talk about – you’ve got all the data and information there and that’s great, and I don’t have every single bit of data here. But what I do know is different now than from then is that there is a 24/7 monitoring capability on Iran’s program, soup to nuts, that didn’t exist before. So we have much more transparency and much more visibility into their compliance and their ability to meet and willingness to meet their requirements than we did before. And we are comfortable that the IAEA can do its job, as is the agency itself, as Dr. Amano said yesterday.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Why didn’t you seek to negotiate more stringent public transparency measures in the JCPOA?

MR KIRBY: The reporting that is done out of the agency is between the agency and the nation that it’s inspecting. And yes, there’s --


MR KIRBY: Hang on a second.


MR KIRBY: There’s – the Board of Governors have a view here, there’s no question about it. But the relationship is primarily between the agency and Iran, and so the agency is in a better position to speak to that. What we did negotiate through the deal and what we are very confident in is the inspection verification regime, which is unprecedented. Never before in a peaceful negotiation such as this has a country been subjected to the kinds of inspections, 24/7 access, that Iran has been. And so we’re very comfortable with that, because there’s no trust and there’s no faith here, because we know that Iran has proven willing to violate international convention in the past, that we wanted to make sure we had that for the lifetime of the deal. That’s what we’re mostly concerned with. And as for the report itself, I would – I think that’s a better question for the agency.

QUESTION: But had you insisted as part of the negotiations that resulted in the JCPOA to oblige Iran or to oblige the – to oblige Iran to make public some of the things that it is now giving you alone or giving the other – you would be in a better position today, right? Because you could say, hey, it’s all out there, lots of transparency, the scientists can go over it and crawl through the numbers. You’re not in that position I think in part because you either didn’t try or did not succeed in obtaining greater public disclosure of Iranian nuclear activities through the JCPOA. And I just don’t understand why – maybe you tried and you couldn’t get it.

MR KIRBY: I’m not – I’m not going to re-litigate the entire negotiating procedure. I just won’t do it.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to.

MR KIRBY: Now --

QUESTION: I’m asking one specific thing on transparency.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, in a way, you are. I’m not going to re-litigate the entire negotiating procedure here that led us to this deal. And the question in itself – and I’m not saying you’re suggesting this, but one could presume that you’re suggesting that in the question you’re asking that we would somehow be party to information, incriminating information about Iran’s noncompliance and that we would not – that we wouldn’t speak to that, that we wouldn’t call it out, that we wouldn’t address it, that we wouldn’t try to get it corrected. And that’s just not an accurate presumption to make.

Obviously, if we, through the agency’s work or through any other means, have reason to believe that Iran’s not complying, we’ll make that case. We’ll make it – we’ll state it and we’ll make it so, and try to hold --

QUESTION: You’ll state it publicly?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m – we’re going to make it plain, and there’s a mechanism in the deal for any member in the P5+1 to raise this to the other members and to have it litigated. And so we’ll do that.

QUESTION: But that’s not public. That’s just raising it among the circle of people who negotiated the agreement.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to – I can’t get into every hypothetical situation and the degree to which each one’s going to be made public. There is – you could go online and look at the deal. There is a very set process for how issues of noncompliance can be addressed, and they will be, and they’ll be addressed robustly. What matters here is that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon again, and under this deal, they can’t.

QUESTION: Again? When did – (laughter) --

MR KIRBY: Never – never acquire a nuclear weapon, and this deal holds them to that. And we’re comfortable in the reporting requirements, we’re comfortable in the access that Dr. Amano and his team have, and we’re comfortable that for the lifetime of this deal there will be certain aspects that we will always know about in terms of their nuclear program. And this notion that – I mean, that – again, we can have a debate about the – whether the report is thinner than it was before or whether there’s – some information is not going to be publicly reported proactively and not – I mean, you’d have to talk to the agency about that. I’m not an expert on the reporting requirements. But the idea that somehow we’re hiding from the public in any way, any aspect of this, I think is just completely false. I mean, you can go back and look at the public record not just from this podium but from hearings on the Hill. We’ve been nothing but open and honest about the components of this deal.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I think some people would probably – might take issue with that. I won’t do that here. But – and I won’t get into the weeds on this. This will be a very broad – but you say we can have a debate about whether or not the report is thinner or contains less information than before --


QUESTION: We can – you say that we can have a debate about whether the report is thinner or has less information than before, but we can’t have that debate. It’s a fact that it is. It has less information than it did before. So that’s not a debate.

MR KIRBY: The debate is over whether that’s appropriate or not, Matt.

QUESTION: Right, right, okay.

MR KIRBY: And it’s not – and --


MR KIRBY: Amano himself has said he’s very --

QUESTION: All right. So let me just finish, then. Because you say that there is no trust and there is no faith here, which you said in response to one of Arshad’s questions, wouldn’t it give your more confidence – a greater degree of confidence – if the IAEA produced the information that it had in the past in its current reports?


QUESTION: Isn’t more information better?

MR KIRBY: We are confident and comfortable that he will have access to the information he needs to continue to make his assessments, and that’s what matters.

QUESTION: And you don’t think that it is important or valuable at all for people on the outside --

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not --

QUESTION: -- people who are not in the IAEA, people on the outside, to be able to look at the numbers and to be able to judge for themselves?

MR KIRBY: The report will be made public.

QUESTION: But it doesn’t have the – enough information. What’s being made public isn’t --

MR KIRBY: No, no, no, no, no, don’t say that. You’re saying it doesn’t have enough. It has enough. According to Dr. Amano himself, it has enough for him to be able to accurately report what he’s learning, so don’t say it doesn’t have enough. It may not have as much --

QUESTION: But it doesn’t have enough for anyone outside of --

MR KIRBY: It may not have as much as you’d like it to have, but it has enough for Dr. Amano and the agency to do their job.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not me that wants --

MR KIRBY: And we’re comfortable that he’s got the capabilities to do that.

QUESTION: Okay, but it’s not me that wants – that necessarily wants this – all the information in there, or the information that was in previously to be in the current and future ones. It’s people who are experts in the field who have taken a critical look --

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: -- and say that this information is important to know if, in fact, the IAEA is coming to the correct conclusions.

MR KIRBY: There has been and there will continue to be --

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: -- lots of voices on this issue, and critics of the deal will be critics of the deal. And I got that. They’re certainly free to express their opinions about the reporting requirements of Dr. Amano and his team. We’re going by his own comments and his own assessment that he’s comfortable with the reporting requirements that have been placed upon him. He’s comfortable with the information and the access he’s getting. He’s comfortable with the verification regime – unprecedented in history – that he has available to him. So we also share that comfort that he will be able to do his job, and this first report will be made public soon, and you can look for yourself.