State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner Addresses Future of Iran Deal Under Next Administration (Excerpts)

November 9, 2016


QUESTION:  And a couple of things policy-related to the transition.  The President-elect has, during the campaign, spoke about his ideas for foreign policy, many of which are dramatically opposed to or not in line with this current administration’s.  So in the – over the course of the – until January, the end of January, do you expect that the Administration will maintain its strong stance in favor of the Iran deal, for example, in favor of TPP, in favor of climate – the Paris climate agreement?  Or will these things become less of a priority since they are not a priority for or in fact they are – well, they’re a priority to replace under the next administration?

MR TONER:  Yeah.  Well, they are a priority.  The very – of course, the Iran agreement’s already been implemented and being implemented.  Of course, we’re not in any way, shape, or form going to relent from that effort.  And there are other priorities, as you mentioned, with respect to TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – other agreements out there and also pursuing a political resolution to the conflict in Syria.  I mean, there’s any number of priorities, as you noted, that we’re going to remain focused on making as much progress on as we can in the remaining two months.  That includes --

QUESTION:  But even though every indication is the next administration is going to either not have them as priorities or try to dismantle them?

MR TONER:  I think, Matt – and I’m being very careful here because I don’t want to ever attempt to speak on behalf or for the incoming administration – what I would say is that’s part of the transition.  We’re going to work with them.  We’re going to brief them up as much as we possibly can on all of the issues of interest to them, but that’s really for them to speak to, what their foreign policy priorities are going to be.


MR TONER:  Let me finish.  So, I mean, we have two months more or less remaining to this administration.  We’re not going to take our foot off the pedal.

QUESTION:  Right.  But I mean – well, so does that mean you’re going to try to convince the people on the transition team that your way is – that they should carry on with policies that they don’t think are --  

MR TONER:  Again, I think it’s – we’re going to make every effort to make sure that they understand the current administration’s perspective on all of these issues and the importance of what we’ve accomplished and the progress we’ve made on these issues, including climate change, including Syria, including Iran, et cetera.  Ultimately, it’s for the incoming administration to choose its foreign policy goals and priorities to pass.


QUESTION:  So we kind of touched on this, but I want to see if we can go into it a little more in depth.  The issue of the Iran deal – Trump said – has said that he wants to tear it up.  Is that even possible?

MR TONER:  Well, anything’s possible.  I mean, and look, this Secretary obviously and this Administration feels very strongly that the Iran deal has worked.  It has prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon within a short period of time, and it’s put in place a regime of verification by the IAEA that will prevent it from achieving a nuclear weapon in any kind of short-term breakout time.  That’s a real success, and we worked hard to get there, as you all know in this room, and to then convince Congress that this was in America’s national security interest and the region’s national security interests.  So obviously, as part of the transition, we’re going to work and the Secretary is going to work very closely to make that case to the incoming secretary of state.

QUESTION:  So what’s the – what would the – well, first of all, what would the impact be if they actually – if he actually went through with his, I guess, threats, I guess, to --

MR TONER:  I just – again, the day after the election, without having even a secretary of state nominated for the new administration, but certainly while this Administration’s still in place, I just wouldn’t speak to hypotheticals about what decisions President-elect Trump or his administration may take.

QUESTION:  But what would the – I mean, if the Obama Administration hadn’t been able to obtain this agreement, what would the results be?  What would have happened?

MR TONER:  Well, again, this was – I mean, that was part of reaching implementation day, but certainly all of the parties who signed to the – signed up to this agreement had obligations to meet, one of which was having parliamentary or congressional approval.  So that was – that required a pretty significant lobbying effort.  But again, I think looking back in the past year or so since implementation day, we have seen that this agreement has done what we said it was going to do, which is limit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  It always was focused on that.  It wasn’t focused on changing Iran’s behavior writ large.  It was focused on preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION:  What – but wasn’t one of the other obligations of this that Iran would curb or limit its heavy water production?  And did they not, in fact, not do that?

MR TONER:  Well, again – and I would let experts --

QUESTION:  I just don’t understand why this is --

MR TONER:  No, no, no, I’m not trying to – I just – I don’t – I don’t want to say that this was some kind of formal violation of the JCPOA or something that – and that’s my own limitations of understanding of the agreement – whether they’ve got a period of time where they can address these – this overproduction of heavy water.  It’s not significant.  It was caught.  Again, you said “blatant,” but they didn’t try to hide it or obfuscate or in any way – they – this was something that occurred and they’re addressing it.  So I don’t want to make too much out of this, is my point.

QUESTION:  Right, but isn’t not trying to hide a violation worse than --

MR TONER:  No.  I mean, I wouldn’t say that at all.


MR TONER:  In fact, I would say that it shows that there is now a channel of – or just a channel of communication between – and access between Iran and the IAEA that was part of the goals of the JCPOA.

QUESTION:  Or it shows that they just – they don’t care if they’re caught.

MR TONER:  That’s not true, Matt.  And again, I don’t want to speak to a report that hasn’t been published yet, but our understanding is that the Iranians – and again, I’m also not – I feel like I’m in this peculiar spot of justifying Iranians’ – Iran’s behavior.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, we’ll wait until the thing is public and then go at this again.

MR TONER:  All I’m trying to – the only point I’m trying to make, Matt, is that it’s partly a success of this agreement that this was caught and is being addressed.

QUESTION:  Okay, but can’t you look – you surely have an open enough mind to see that --

MR TONER:  I can see the glass as half empty or half full.  Was that (inaudible).

QUESTION:  -- from the other side that this is a sign that Iran isn’t complying.

MR TONER:  But again – and I don’t have the particulars and I don’t want to necessarily get into particulars – I have no idea if this was an accidental overage or whatever.  I just don’t know the --

QUESTION:  All right.  Well, when it comes out – when it’s public --

MR TONER:  Fair enough.

QUESTION:  Sir, I want to get back to my line of questioning.

MR TONER:  Yeah, sure.  Of course.

QUESTION:  Is there a – is there like a back-out clause in the Iran deal or some kind of a procedure for if the parties want to back out of it?

MR TONER:  Well, I mean, look --

QUESTION:  What is the procedure if they – if people want to – if one of the parties wants to --

MR TONER:  I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot.  I mean, there’s always – I mean, the agreement is valid only as long as all parties uphold it.  I mean, that’s always – so, I mean, that’s always something that we’re mindful of, other members of the P5+1 are mindful of.  But again, I don’t want to speak to hypotheticals.

QUESTION:  I mean, there are certain elements of the Iran detail that aren’t revocable.  I mean, there’s been cash that’s been --

MR TONER:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- that’s been passed over or released, right?

MR TONER:  Well, there’s – right.

QUESTION:  Changed hands in one way or another.

MR TONER:  Right, right, right, but no – in fairness, though, I don’t want to – I – you’re conflating several – I don’t necessarily want to relitigate or discuss that again.  But --

QUESTION:  I’m not relitigating whether --

MR TONER:  Yeah.  No worries.  I just want to make sure that --

QUESTION:  -- why that money was exchanged, but --

MR TONER:  That was a different – no, but seriously, it was a different resolution for a Hague – The Hague – or The Hague – I forget what it’s called.  Not The Hague Tribunal, but The Hague settlement process.  Excuse me.

QUESTION:  So those money – there were funds that were released.  There was also some sanctions that were lifted --

MR TONER:  As part of implementation day, because --

QUESTION:  As part of the -- as part of the implementation day, yeah.

MR TONER:  -- Iran met their commitments, right.  But we’ve always left it – sorry.

QUESTION:  But what are the things that can’t – that have yet to happen, that still – I guess, what are the – I mean, those things can’t be – you can’t back out of the things that have been done.  But are you saying that if this government in the future just decides not to do the next things on the list, that it could do that?

MR TONER:  I’m just not going to speak to decisions that the new incoming administration has or hasn’t made yet.  I just – I’m not going to go there, sorry.  Please.

QUESTION:  Okay, I’m trying to understand that answer, that – is there any provision that all that money in cash can come back?

MR TONER:  No, and I – the only reason that I was – anyway – dwelling on that is – and we, as I said, we discussed this in excruciating detail a few months ago.  That money was part of The Hague settlement process for money that we owed Iran.  And I think that there was a lot of back and forth and a lot of conflating it with somehow money that Iran had gotten from us as part of a deal.  That’s not at all the case.  So I just want to make that clear.  But that money has been paid, that was a settlement that was actually to the advantage of the American taxpayer, because of the interest level – the interest rate that we got on it.