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Diplomacy in Action

Briefing on the P-5+1 Ministerial Meeting by a Senior Administration Official Via Teleconference

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 22, 2010


(12:45 p.m. EDT)

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants will be in a listen-only mode under the question-and-answer session. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. With that, it is my pleasure to turn over today’s call to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley. You may begin.

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for jumping on the line. As you know, the Secretary participated in the P-5+1 ministerial a short time ago. If you haven’t already, you should have the communiqué that’s been released by Catherine Ashton to summarize the meeting, but we thought we would bring a Senior Administration Official who was in the meeting just to give a brief readout. Our Senior Administration Official will very quickly run through some quick points and then we’ll get to questions. We’ve got about 15 or 20 minutes before [the Senior Administration Official]’s next meeting, so with that we’ll turn it over to our Senior Administration Official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. Thanks for joining. Just a couple of quick points to summarize the session today. The six ministers and the EU High Representative Cathy Ashton had a very good, constructive discussion of overall strategy for addressing the Iran nuclear issue. As the statement that you’ve probably seen by now makes clear, all of them agreed that unity in this group is the key to achieving an effective solution.

With the Director General of the IAEA Mr. Amano having issued a report last week strongly criticizing Iran’s continued noncooperation, the ministers recognized the essential importance of Iran complying with UN Security Council and IAEA Board resolutions.

The ministers called for full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, whose sanctions are already having an impact on Iran. At the same time, they recognize that pressure isn’t an end in itself, but a means of providing leverage for achieving a negotiated solution to which all the ministers remain firmly committed.

The group therefore strongly supported Baroness Ashton’s efforts to resume the 5+1 dialogue with Iran, which Iran broke off nearly a year ago. With some signs that Iran may be willing to meet this autumn, the ministers focused heavily on preparations for such talks.

Given the high level of mistrust that currently exists, the ministers discussed the continued value of a phased approach to resolving the nuclear issue and they considered, among other things, how a revised and updated arrangement for providing fuel for the Tehran research reactor could be part of that effort as a way to build confidence and pave the way for tackling the hard issues at the core of Iran’s nuclear program.

And in their statement, as you’ve seen, the ministers renewed the call in Baroness Ashton’s letter of the summer to her Iranian counterpart to begin the talks at an early date, and she’s certainly going to follow up on that.

So why don’t I stop there and open up to your questions.

OPERATOR: If you have a question, please press *1. Please be sure to un-mute your phone and clearly record your name and your media affiliation. Again, that’s *1 to ask a question, and we will allow a few moments for any questions. Our first question comes from Elise Labott from CNN. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. thanks for doing this. I’m just wondering, like, if you saw any of the comments that President Ahmadinejad said yesterday. I mean, I guess it’s less about the P-5+1, but he seemed to point in the direction that even though he used his kind of usual rhetoric, he seemed to indicate that talks between the United States and Iran were inevitable and that he felt that it was moving in that direction. I mean, do you just think that’s for public consumption, or do you – can you just talk about the situation as you view it in terms of Iran being willing to not just come back to the table to talk to you but – to the P-5+1, but also some kind of larger engagement with the Obama Administration?

SENIOR STATE ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it’s hard to say at this point. We’ve all seen a lot of different kinds of statements out of the Iranian leadership. Some of our partners in the 5+1 are having direct contacts with the Iranians during the course of this week, and so we’ll see. I mean, we’ve made clear – the ministers made clear again today the readiness of this group to sit down and engage in a serious process aimed at a diplomatic resolution of this issue with the Iranians. And if they’re interested in moving ahead, it shouldn’t be hard to fix a date for a meeting – and not just one meeting – to begin a serious process of engagement aimed at trying to sort through the very real obstacles in the path.

QUESTION: I mean, you still don’t know about their seriousness yet? I mean, right now you’re just hearing that they’re ready for talks, but you haven’t seen anything to kind of demonstrate that they’re ready?

SENIOR STATE ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think the real proof will be

in a renewed engagement, sitting down with the 5+1, and seeing if we can’t tackle directly the significant differences between us. Last October, we began a process that we thought had gained some initial traction and that resulted in some initial understandings that quickly came apart. And so our hope this time is to begin that process and sustain it.

I think it’s very clear, after the ministerial meeting today, on the part of the P-5+1 that we’re ready for such a process, we’re committed to a diplomatic resolution, and it remains to be seen whether the Iranians are.

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, next question?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Andrew Quinn from Reuters. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Yeah, it’s Andy Quinn here. I’m wondering – the statement doesn’t have anything in it which mentions what might happen if Iran continues not to reply to your entreaties to engage in talks. What’s next on the pressure track? Are you just going to keep leaving this offer dangling out there sort of forever?

And the second question is, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the discussion on sanctions. Is there any concern that sanctions are not being fully implemented? Was anything specific brought up, for instance, regarding China or possibly Turkey? If you could answer those, great. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in the roughly hour-long discussion today, there was a brief discussion of the importance of fully implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1929, and everybody around the table committed themselves to doing that. Most of the discussion, as I mentioned before, focused on the second or engagement track and how best to help support Cathy Ashton and prepare for that.

I think right now, our focus is on those two things. It’s continuing the effective implementation of 1929, as well as some of the other steps that flowed from it – steps the European Union took, for example, but at the same time, making very clear our readiness to engage seriously and directly. So that’s our focus right now.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Margaret Warner from PBS NewsHour. Your line is open.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Could you just speak a little more about what you meant about a phased arrangement? If you go back to the agreement last October and the whole idea of exchange of fuel, what would be acceptable to the U.S.? What would you be looking for?

QUESTION: Well, we laid out – we, the United States, along with Russia and France, our partners in the so-called Vienna Group – a list of concerns which we conveyed last June to Mr. Amano at the IAEA. Now, these were concerns in reaction to the Tehran declaration which had been made in May. And so we’re quite prepared, as the ministerial statement today makes clear, to engage further on how the Tehran research reactor concept could be used to build confidence.

And we’ve – we would want to engage, taking into account those concerns that we and France and Russia have put on the table, and see if we can’t produce an outcome that, again, is not a substitute for the wider process that the 5+1 would have underway, but could be a step in that process to build some confidence.

Among the concerns I would just recall that we laid out earlier in the summer were continued Iranian enrichment to nearly 20 percent, which makes no sense since the rationale for it – it makes no sense in the context of an agreement on the TRR, because the Iranian argument for doing that has been that they have to do it themselves to try to produce, eventually, fuel assemblies for the Tehran research reactor. It makes no sense to enrich to that level if, in fact, we’re working out an arrangement where the three of us can work together to provide those fuel assemblies.

So that’s just one example of the eight or nine concerns that we laid out last summer. So – but on that basis, we’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step.

QUESTION: But I mean, do you have in mind a certain percentage of their enriched uranium that would be required to be part of this arrangement?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, one of the concerns that we flagged in our paper provided to Mr. Amano by the three of us was the reality that the situation of the size of the Iranian stockpile at 3.5 percent enriched uranium has expanded significantly from where it was at the beginning of last October when we made the first proposal. So that’s an issue that would have to be addressed. I mean, I don’t have any specifics to offer you now, but we’ve certainly flagged that concern.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Barbara Slavin. Your line is open. And she’s an independent journalist.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Nice to have this opportunity. Iranians that I’m in contact with insist that they want a meeting, and they say that the problem is on this side, that for some reason, Catherine Ashton, others in the P-5+1, have not gotten back to them. Can you give us a little bit of the chronology and explain why a meeting has not been set up yet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. I mean, I think it’s simply not true that, on the part of Catherine Ashton or her staff, that we haven’t made absolutely clear our readiness to engage. She wrote a letter to Mr. Jalili, her counterpart in the P-5+1 process, making clear the readiness of the group to meet. Her deputy has tried to establish telephone contact with Mr. Jalili’s staff. And so far, at least, there’s been a resounding silence in response to those efforts.

So it should not be hard to arrange a direct meeting and hopefully launch a serious process. I know Baroness Ashton is ready to be in touch with the Iranians at any point to try to sort out the details. And she’s easy to find.

QUESTION: Do you think, if I may follow up, that the Iranians are seeking a one-on-one; perhaps they don’t like the idea of another meeting where they would be outnumbered? Is that a possibility?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I mean, certainly, there have been some public indications on the part of some senior Iranians of a willingness to meet with the 5+1. We’d certainly welcome that. And Cathy Ashton is willing to set the date and sort out the arrangements right away.

QUESTION: But the U.S. is not willing to meet one-on-one at this point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don’t have any plans right now to do that, no. The focus here has been on the 5+1 and in Cathy Ashton’s efforts on behalf of the group to establish contact and get moving.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mark Landler from The New York Times. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Actually, Margaret Warner asked most of what I wanted to ask about the TRR. So can I just quickly ask, because I’m a tiny bit confused about another point: Barbara was just discussing with you Cathy Ashton’s efforts to reach the Iranians and engage with them, and you were sort of suggesting that she was getting nowhere. But at the very beginning of the briefing, you said there were some signs that Iran may be willing to meet this autumn. And so – just so I’m clear, what signs are you talking about? Is that public statements that Ahmadinejad has made?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Some of them, Mark, are the public statements that you referred to. Some have been indications that other P-5+1 members have heard from Iranian officials. There are a couple of the P-5+1 ministers are going to have encounters with the Iranian foreign minister this week in New York, including, I think, the British foreign secretary.

So all I meant to say is that there hasn’t been, so far, up until this point anyway, the kind of direct contact with Ashton, so that on behalf of the group she can actually fix the date. But there have been some indications of their willingness to do this; we just need to pin it down.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is the address for doing that.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Corine Lesnes and she’s from Le Monde. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Actually, my question has been addressed the enrichment (inaudible) reactor. But if I may ask another one, what kind of cooperation do you expect from China on this, or did you get any?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the mood in the meeting today was very positive amongst everybody around the table, both in terms of a broad commitment to implementing Resolution 1929, as well as to a strong – continuing strong commitment on the engagement track. And there was, as I said, a fair amount of unity in support of Cathy Ashton’s efforts to get a process moving again.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Charlie Wolfson from CBS News. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Can you give us any indication if the other P-5+1 partners gave you any, that – to the effect that pressure is working – the economic pressure, the sanctions pressure, any stories from Tehran that we may not have direct reporting on, but others might?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I mean, some of the other partners who are represented on the ground convey their own sense anecdotally and otherwise that the combination of the 1929 sanctions plus some of the measures that have been taken since then by the EU and others, on top of the continuing difficulties that the Iranian economy is suffering through mismanagement by its leadership, is having an impact.

I mean, there’s evidence that some of my colleagues have pointed to publicly about the difficulties – increasing difficulties the Iranians are running into in financing projects and transportation and insurance, which is, I think, a measure of the practical impact of 1929 and the subsequent measures they’re beginning to have.

And it’s interesting – I mean, it’s interesting to note some of the public commentary amongst the Iranian leadership to Mr. Rafsanjani, for example, the other day saying publicly that sanctions are something that should be taken seriously and shouldn’t be kind of dismissed as some other Iranian leaders have tended to do.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official].

OPERATOR: I show no further questions at this time.

MR. CROWLEY: Thanks very much, everybody. I hope we gave you what you need and we’ve got a couple of additional briefings coming up this afternoon with Phil Gordon and Bob Blake. So we’ll see you then, but thanks very much. Operator, we’re done.

OPERATOR: Thank you for your participation today. You may disconnect at this time.

PRN: 2010/1320

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