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Middle East Digest - May 17, 2010


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Washington, DC
May 17, 2010

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The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.

From the Daily Press Briefing of May 17, 2010

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01:23 p.m. EDT


MR. CROWLEY: You’ve seen the statement from the White House regarding Iran. In the statement, the White House acknowledged the efforts made by Turkey and Brazil and now called upon the IAEA to clearly and authoritatively convey the results of this arrangement to the IAEA. That said, the United States continues to have concerns about the arrangement. The joint declaration does not address the core concerns of the international community. Iran remains in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions, including its unwillingness to suspend enrichment operations. In fact, today Iran reaffirmed that it plans to continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent despite the fact that it previously justified this increased enrichment as for the Tehran research reactor. So public statements today suggest that the TRR deal is unrelated to it ongoing enrichment activity. In fact, they are integrally linked.

And with that, I’ll --

QUESTION: Can we start with that?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: To begin with, the agreement that is said to have been reached describes the 1,200 kilograms of low enriched uranium that would theoretically be transferred to Turkey. That figure, however, referred, I believe, to 80 percent of their stock of LEU as of last October. Presumably, they have continued enriching since then.

MR. CROWLEY: They have.

QUESTION: Why are – is this even remotely acceptable? Why don’t you just reject this, given that it doesn’t address the additional LEU that it presumably has produced from its enrichment over the last six months --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s take this step by step, Arshad. We do have ongoing questions. What will be crucial here what Iran actually presents in terms of a formal response in the coming days to the IAEA. We’ve been calling on Iran for several months, back since the meeting on October 1st, to in fact give a formal response and outline what is prepared to do and how it plans to cooperate transparently with the IAEA. So you’re right, in a way, that the TRR was not envisioned as an end itself; it was envisioned in a means to an end to be able to build confidence between the international community and Iran.

But in the words of the joint declaration, it still leaves a lot of information unknown in terms of how it will work with the IAEA were material to be transported out of Iran, whether it’s going to step up and actually address core concerns the international community has. For example, there’s a phrase in the joint declaration that says that it’s willing to have discussions with the P-5+1. But Iran has never acknowledged that in a prospective discussion, front and center, would be to address the questions the international community has on its nuclear program. Iran has suggested various times that it’s willing to talk to the international community just not about the nuclear program. In fact, in our view, the only reason to have that discussion, first and foremost, would be to address our core concerns in the – with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.

So while, again, we salute the efforts of Brazil and Turkey, there are still many remaining outstanding questions that Iran has to answer in terms of what its true intentions are.

QUESTION: Excuse me – so since this deal is now on the table, though, doesn’t this effectively postpone your efforts for sanctions? I mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Our efforts for sanctions at the UN continue.

QUESTION: But presumably, postpones it for at least a week because according to the joint declaration the Iranians have a week to submit their proposals to the IAEA. It’s hard to imagine your – getting anybody to approve sanctions in that week before they’ve made a formal --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, our efforts on the diplomatic track, including our efforts on identifying prospective sanctions, that effort will continue.

QUESTION: Well, it was supposed to continue under the TRR, wasn’t it?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, the agreement that you’re looking for, ultimately from Iran, is suspend for suspend. But the TRR was something separate from that --

MR. CROWLEY: Right, I mean --

QUESTION: -- to get you into those type of negotiations.

MR. CROWLEY: -- let – the TRR was meant as a means to a larger end, which was to get Iran to fundamentally address its – the concerns the international community has. And in fact, the fact that Iran, because it continues to enrich uranium and has failed to suspend its enrichment program as has been called for in UN Security Council resolutions; that’s our core concern.

Now, the fact that we might see the removal of some enriched material from Iran is useful. But in the broader context here, the real issue is what is Iran – whether Iran is prepared to come forward and address the international community’s legitimate concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. So we will wait to see what actually the nature of Iran’s formal response to the IAEA is before we pass final judgment on this declaration.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re saying that even if you do withdraw, or take out some of the uranium from Iran, it sounds like you’re saying that the two tracks will go ahead – that you would continue to go ahead with the resolution on sanctions even if --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as the first line in the joint declaration highlights, the core issue here is is Iran in compliance with its international obligations under the NPT and under UN Security Council resolutions. Iran has failed to pass that test up to this point. Iran says in the declaration that it’s willing to cooperate with the IAEA and yet, in fact, we’ve been calling for cooperation with the IAEA for several months. So we’ll see what the nature of Iran’s response is.

Iran has said in this declaration today that it was willing to engage seriously with the P-5+1. But the real question is: Is it willing to come forward, sit down, and address the concerns that we have about its nuclear program? So there are still a lot of remaining questions and we’ll be guided by Iran’s actions not just by their words.

QUESTION: But I’m sorry, what’s in it for Iran to sign up to this deal if it’s not going to, at least, postpone any further movement on sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the question here, and the burden is still on Iran, is it willing to come forward and address the international community’s concerns. If it is, then that actually starts the process of building confidence, and that can have an impact on the broader process.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that --

MR. CROWLEY: But there are reasons to believe that what’s in this declaration today is just another version of what Iran has said in public statements in recent months, and yet failed actually to come forward and address our concerns.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, why don’t you give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they are going to take the enriched uranium out and give it to Turkey? Is that enough to postpone sanctions?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Were you informed of the Turkish and Brazilian effort for the uranium while they were underway?

MR. CROWLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: How much were you informed of the Turkish and Brazilian effort while they were underway?

MR. CROWLEY: I think we had conversations with Foreign Minister Amorim and Foreign Minister Davutoglu prior to their arrival in Tehran. I’m not aware of any specific contacts with them over the weekend.

QUESTION: Can you double check that because some Americans – diplomats are saying that Secretary Clinton and National Security Advisor Jones have been feverishly working --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can tell you that the Secretary – she had conversations over the weekend with Foreign Minister Lavrov updating on our efforts in New York, and she had a conversation with Foreign Minister Espinosa of Mexico in anticipation of this week’s state visit. Those were the calls that she had with her counterparts over the weekend.

QUESTION: Well, in her conversation with Foreign Minister Davutoglu did she commit the United States to sign off on the deal if Iran would get the uranium out of the country immediately and put it under the monitoring of the IAEA?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t – they did not get into that level of detail. I mean, as the Secretary said, there are clear concerns that the international community has. If Iran is finally willing to come forward and address those concerns, we would welcome that development. She expressed in the call with Foreign Minister Davutoglu that she was skeptical that Iran would actually come forward with a meaningful proposal. And we’re obviously still evaluating what is on the – in the joint declaration.

QUESTION: But are --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) unhelpful of Turkey and Brazil to have made this effort?

MR. CROWLEY: No. It – the burden -- we welcome the fact that Turkey and Brazil continue to try to engage Iran and see if Iran is willing to come forward and address the international community’s concerns. It remains to be seen whether this joint declaration passes that test. And as I’ve outlined here, we have many, many questions about whether this represents something new or it represents a warmed over version of what Iran has put forward before.

QUESTION: Well, are you willing to –

MR. CROWLEY: One at a time.

Michel.

QUESTION: Are you ready to sit down with the Iranians to discuss this agreement?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have been willing to sit down with Iran for months to follow up on the meeting that we had in Geneva on October 1st. It has been Iran that has failed to come back and be willing to engage the P-5+1 in a serious and sustained way.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like they’re willing to talk to the Turkish and the Brazilians, because maybe those countries – they have more confidence and more trust in those countries than they do in the P-5+1. Do you envision Turkey and Brazil becoming part of this larger process of negotiating with Iran during their term of the U.N. Security Council?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, let me outline what Iran has failed to do. Iran has, even at this moment – has failed to respond specifically to the IAEA in regarding the Tehran research reactor proposal put on the table on October 1st. Iran has failed to agree with a follow-up meeting with the P-5+1 from October 1st. And because it has indicated in its public statements that it’s willing to talk about any subject in the world but the one that the international community is most concerned with. So Iran has to – if it says it’s willing to engage the P-5+1, then it has to commit that it’s willing to engage the P-5+1 on its nuclear program. That is a fundamental demand of the international community.

QUESTION: Was there any message sent from Washington to either Brazil or Turkey that they were making themselves essentially puppets for Tehran on this issue?

MR. CROWLEY: No, we have in our multiple conversations with Turkey and Brazil going back a number of weeks, we have reiterated what the core issues are in this process and the – Turkey and Brazil, I think, have a firm understanding of what we were looking for as we approach this meeting.

QUESTION: But are you –

QUESTION: Did they give Washington any sense that if they thought they could make any headway on the core issues, that they would try to do so and that the U.S. would try to encourage them to go beyond the scope of swapping out the LEU?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, look, we have said many times we’re – we seek a diplomatic solution to this challenge, but the burden is on Iran. Iran has to come forward and address the international concerns. Iran has to come forward and indicate that it is prepared to cooperate constructively with the IAEA. Iran has to come forward ultimately and indicate that it is willing per U.N. Security Council resolutions to suspend its enrichment program while we work with Iran on how it can pursue its fundamental right to civilian nuclear energy. But it is Iran that is defying U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is Iran that has failed to engage the international community in a transparent manner. It’s Iran that has to affirmatively show that its program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.

QUESTION: But are you ready to take yes for an answer?

MR. CROWLEY: These are Iran’s failures. And if Iran is willing to come forward, the United States, the P-5+1, others within the international community are prepared to respond, but the burden is on Iran.

QUESTION: But are you ready to take yes for an answer? I mean if they were to implement –

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, we are willing to take yes for an answer if, in fact, this begins to address the international community’s concerns. As I said, we have questions and we remain skeptical that this is exactly what – that what Iran is willing to do is actually come forward in transparent way.

QUESTION: Okay, but back to Michel’s question. If you see the fine print and you say it’s not everything, but there are some elements, are you willing to negotiate with Iran over this particular deal?

MR. CROWLEY: We remain prepared to engage Iran anywhere, anytime as – provided Iran is prepared to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. It is Iran that has failed to do that for the past many months.

QUESTION: The Israelis seem concerned about this deal. Have you – has anybody in the State Department been on the phone with the Israelis?

MR. CROWLEY: We’re on the phone with the Israelis every day.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary?

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t – the Secretary has not had any conversations with –

QUESTION: Are you worried that China and Russia will stop cooperating in drafting a new solution in the Security Council?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that’s one of the reasons why we continue to work this on two tracks. On the one hand, we continue to pursue diplomacy. On the other hand, we continue to pursue efforts to put further pressure on Iran. We don’t see these as either/or propositions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) declaration –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right. One at a time.

QUESTION: Apparently, in the declaration, Iran has reserved the right to withdraw from whatever it is that they’re agreeing to at any moment in time. Is that something –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and in fact the devil here is in the details. Iran has indicated that it is willing to send enriched uranium outside of the country. On the other hand, the real question which it has to outline to the IAEA is how will the IAEA be able to – does the IAEA get to take control of this material and supervise the transfer of fuel for the TRR? This is a role that we properly envision for the IAEA. Yet there are some caveats in this document that say no, this remains – that’s something under Iran’s control, which is actually a detail that Iran has offered before, and has been rejected before.

QUESTION: The White House statement, it’s the U.S. position, not the international community position. What is the position of the international community? Or how many countries are supporting U.S. position on --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there is – there’s strong unanimity within the international community, including within the P-5+1 that Iran is not in compliance with international obligations. Iran is, in fact, in defiance of a number of UN Security Council resolutions. I’ll let different countries describe their own position. But we think that there has been significant movement, significant progress on efforts to make sure that Iran understands that there will be – there will continue to be consequences for its failure to live up to its obligations.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any specific efforts by Brazil in that regard? That Brazil is going to continue with its efforts on diplomacy --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I think --

QUESTION: -- to engage Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: -- we will be consulting broadly in the coming days on to determine how everyone views this document, what we believe should be done in light of this document. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the coming days, we’ll have follow-on conversations with Brazil and Turkey as well.

QUESTION: You haven’t talked to them since they announced it?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: Since they reached this deal?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: On Mexico?

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on.

QUESTION: Do you think that (inaudible) will delay the vote on the new resolution in the Security Council?

MR. CROWLEY: I – Michel, that’s a question I can’t answer at this point.

QUESTION: But just back to the – just one more on the role --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, it’s not going to deter us from continuing to work within the P-5+1 and within the Security Council on a UN Security Council draft resolution.

QUESTION: But – I mean, just one more on the role of Turkey and Brazil. I mean, these countries seem to be able to – I mean, some – you might argue that they’re stalling with Turkey and Brazil as they have in the other countries. But some countries are arguing that Iran was able to feel more comfortable to negotiate with these type of countries. And does that say something about the role of the P-5+1 in this? I mean, should it be expanded to include more countries that have better relations with Iran? They might be able to coax more out of Iran than you have been able to.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you have, in the case of Turkey and Brazil, countries that are on the Security Council and they’re going to be presented with a draft resolution at some point in the near future. They have assumed the responsibility to see if this situation can be resolved. We respect the efforts of Turkey and Brazil --

QUESTION: Do you support it?

MR. CROWLEY: -- over the weekend. It remains to see – and this is what we will be working through in the coming days, what does this actually represent? There are those who might characterize this as a breakthrough. I think we remain skeptical of that this represents anything fundamentally new.

QUESTION: But you said you respect their efforts. Do you support their efforts?

MR. CROWLEY: The real issue is what is Iran prepared to do, and any diplomatic effort that gets Iran to change course, we support. The real question is whether Iran has offered anything new today, and we remain skeptical.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) it’s a great victory for the international community, but --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it --

QUESTION: -- you don’t agree at all with that.

MR. CROWLEY: It – again, the fundamentals here, the details count. So what is Iran prepared to do? If Iran is prepared to address the international community’s concerns, if Iran is prepared to engage transparently with the IAEA, if Iran is prepared to suspend its enrichment program – because remember, it was Iran that said that it was enriching to 20 percent in order to provide fuel for the Tehran research reactor. If Iran is now prepared to accept the fundamental deal offered as part of the TRR, then what further justification does it have to enriching to 20 percent?

QUESTION: But that was --

MR. CROWLEY: In fact, it has no justification for enriching to 20 percent. And just the other day, Foreign Minister Mottaki reiterated to the UN Security Council ambassadors at dinner in New York that regardless of whether there be a TRR, they were going to continue to enrich to 20 percent. That is in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: But you never made – like you had the TRR as a separate confidence-building measure to get you into the negotiations. You never kind of said, well, this TRR isn’t going to be --

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: -- because you were the one that proposed the deal. So you never said that --

MR. CROWLEY: Along with France, along with Russia.

QUESTION: No, I meant the P-5+1. So you never said that the TRR wasn’t going to be enough, and you didn’t kind of pooh-pooh your own plan. You thought it was a great plan and you were hoping that Iran would sign on to it and it would lead to better negotiations. Now – let me finish – now it’s virtually the same plan, although Iran has a little bit more uranium, but now you’re totally pooh-poohing this plan which is virtually the same plan that you proposed that they didn’t take you up on.

MR. CROWLEY: That – there’s an assumption there, Elise, that I’m not sure that we share. It depends on the particular details. First thing that Iran has to do is respond formally to the IAEA. Iran has to outline how it’s going to engage with the IAEA and what role the international community will play in this prospective transfer. This could be progress, but it will depend on Iran’s formal answer and what Iran actually is prepared to do.

Iran has made a number of public statements in recent months. But those public statements did not actually address the core elements of the TRR deal. So it’s unclear, based on this declaration, that Iran has yet accepted the fundamental TRR arrangement that was proposed on October 1st. We’ll see.

QUESTION: Just one more on that, a related issue. Iran is kind of trying to reintroduce the idea of swapping the three hikers for some Iranians that it says were arrested and brought to – arrested in third countries and brought to the U.S. Has there been any discussions on this? Did the Iranians bring this up in New York when you were --

MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge. We have indicated on a number of occasions, publicly and through channels that if Iran wants to arrange consular visits with those who are in many cases in prison in the United States in – depending on a case-by-case basis either facing charges or actually convicted of arms trafficking in violation of international law, we’ll be happy to arrange those consular visits. We see no connection between those who have flouted international law and have tried to procure arms for the Iranian Government and three hikers who wandered across an unmarked border. They should be released on humanitarian grounds.

QUESTION: What about visiting – visitation for their families?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we are more than willing to cooperate in consular visits or family visits if that what Iran wants us to do.

QUESTION: Can you talk about Mitchell’s trip to – back to the Mideast this week? Was there anything that happened during his most recent trip that indicated the need for these two days of talks and basically what’s going to happen Wednesday and Thursday?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, these are proximity talks. Now that they’re underway, which implies that George will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials on a regular and ongoing basis. He indicated when he left the region last week that he would return, and he is returning.

QUESTION: Will they discuss the core issues this week? Or are they still talking about the kind of agenda they’re --

MR. CROWLEY: We have – both sides have agreed to begin to address core issues. I can’t tell you where we are in that process. But in doing so, we hope – our objective here, just to remind, is to begin to make progress and, as rapidly as possible, move the parties into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Is this really just a chance to suss out what the no-go zones are --

MR. CROWLEY: No, this is doing what we promised we would do: move through proximity talks, build momentum, and get them into direct negotiations. So George is envisioning – is playing the role that we always envisioned under these proximity talks.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, is it true that Pakistan has denied the visas of several DOD employees? I’m not sure if they do that directly or the Pakistanis or you help facilitate visas for all U.S. officials. But there are some reports out of Pakistan that the Pakistanis denied visas for several U.S. military officials.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I can’t talk about that specifically. I would tell you that as we work with Pakistan as we continue to build up our capabilities in consulates around the country, as we increase our cooperation with Pakistan on a number of issues, including counterterrorism, we have been pushing and prodding Pakistan to increase the number of visas available to U.S. employees at our Embassy and at our consulates. And while there have been some improvements recently, I think that still remains an issue where we just need more visas to put the people in place to help work with Pakistan and to make progress on economic issues, security issues, and agricultural issues.

QUESTION: How many more visas?

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a number.

QUESTION: Dozens, scores or --

QUESTION: But you don’t know specifically about visas?

MR. CROWLEY: But this is an issue that we have been working with Pakistan for a number of months. It’s not something new.

QUESTION: I just want to know the size of the problem. Dozens? Scores?

MR. CROWLEY: Probably.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you think Secretary Clinton discussed with Secretary Gates this morning about sinking of the Cheonan in South Korea?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m going out on a limb here. The two of them will be testifying together on the Hill tomorrow on the new START agreement. I can’t rule out any particular issue, but I know part of their discussion today was to prepare for tomorrow’s testimony.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)



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