State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner Responds to Iranian Provocations in the Gulf (Excerpts)

September 13, 2016


QUESTION: To that point, just this year we’ve seen the seizure of our sailors, we’ve seen a doubling according to the Pentagon’s numbers in the number of naval confrontations over this time last year. Now they’re threatening to blow our planes out of the sky. We’ve seen a very aggressive series of ballistic missile tests from the regime. There’s more American hostages in Iran.

And so I just wonder how you can possibly assess the evolution of this relationship in which the landmark moment is the finalization of this nuclear deal and rule out the possibility that, in fact, one of the byproducts of this deal has been to embolden the regime to worse rather than better behavior.

MR TONER: Well, we always were very clear that their objective in reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran was to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which we, I think, all agree would only exacerbate the threat in the region of Iran as well as exacerbate tensions in the region and pose a real national security risk to the United States. We never said that this was going to solve all of Iran – Iran’s – excuse me – bad behavior. And in fact, we would like – as much as we would like to see Iran’s behavior change in the region, we’ve not seen a significant shift.

QUESTION: In fact, you have seen a shift. It’s gotten worse.

MR TONER: Well --

QUESTION: Am I correct about that?

MR TONER: Well, again, I don’t have all the facts and figures in front of me, but we have seen some disturbing, as you cited, trends. And I think – two things. One is that, in our view, it only makes the significance of the nuclear agreement that much more important, because the last thing anyone would want to see in the region is a nuclear-armed Iran. But it also shows that Iran has a choice to make. And if it wants to engage further with the West, following on the engagement that led to the nuclear agreement, more productively and play a more constructive role in the region, or continue with, as I said, its bad behavior. Thus far we have not seen that shift to a constructive engagement.

QUESTION: But you can’t rule out that, in fact, this deal has served as a cause for this more aggressive posture.

MR TONER: I mean, I can’t rule that out. I just – we’ve – Iran, like many countries, has an internal political process that’s defined by a lot of different dynamics. But I can’t give an assessment one way or the other in that regard.