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Middle East Digest: April 9, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 9, 2007

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The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/

From the Daily Briefing on April 9, 2007:

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about President Ahmadi-Nejad's comments this morning, where we stand with Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's another missed opportunity from the Iranians. They have had numerous opportunities over the past months to take up the offer that's been extended to them of negotiations so that they can realize their stated goal of a peaceful nuclear energy program. But clearly, they have decided against that course at this point and the international community is going to take a look at where Iran stands vis--vis its compliance with those international demands.

In the coming months, we're going to have an opportunity to assess where the Iranian nuclear program is and May -- at the end of May, Director General ElBaradei will present another report about the Iranian nuclear program and then the 60-day review period will -- for the Security Council will come up shortly thereafter and we'll take a look at where we stand at that point. But to date, the Iranians have not decided to take up the offer that has been extended to them.

QUESTION: Sean, (inaudible) the Iranians concerned, they have not backed off as UN or international pressure or all kind of whatever -- talk going on between Iran and the international community?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's correct. They have decided not to, at this point, stop their enrichment-related activities and that comes along with costs for the Iranian people and that's rather unfortunate, because it doesn't have to be that way. There are opportunity costs for now, business deals that don't get done, for trade that doesn't happen, for investment that doesn't happen. There are upfront costs to that, but there are future costs as well in terms of trade and economic benefits that won't be realized.

And that is unfortunate because it does -- as I said, it doesn't have to be that way. The Iranian Government could realize negotiations. They could decide to suspend their enrichment-related activities, get right into negotiations, talk about anything that they want to put on the table, and suspend the course on which we find ourselves right now. And we would call upon them to take a different set of decisions for -- we are looking for those reasonable Iranian leaders who can do a cost benefit analysis, look at the cost side of the ledger. It's quite clear what those costs are. And over time, if they continue down this pathway, those costs are going to increase and for what potential benefit, I'm not quite sure.

QUESTION: Sean, can I follow on this? Sorry. You think the international community or the UN is ready to take action beyond sanctions?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Goyal, we are -- we have stated from the very beginning that we hope to resolve this diplomatically. We are on the pathway -- we have put ourselves on a pathway now to resolve this diplomatically and through the gradual increase of diplomatic pressure on the Iranian Government. They find themselves really now almost completely encircled by the international community because of their actions and that pressure is only going to continue to increase, if they persist in defying the international system.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Do you have reason to believe that Iran is actually producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale or are its activities still so opaque to you that you don't actually know whether this is true of their claim?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the IAEA can give you a fuller picture of the Iranian activities on the ground. We do know that they are expanding the number of centrifuges that they have on the ground. I can't tell you whether or not they have actually introduced UF6 feedstock into the centrifuge cascades for the purposes of producing enriched uranium. Today is the one-year anniversary where they did announce an enrichment to the 3.5 percent level which is far below the level needed for nuclear weapons. But still it is an indication of their intentions. And the fact that they continue to expand the number of centrifuges that they produce and then install into cascades is an indication of their intent at this point.

QUESTION: And you are convinced that they are doing that? I mean, you have information either from the IAEA or elsewhere that suggests that they are indeed doing this? It's not just based on their claims?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. The Iranians have claimed that they're doing this. And we don't have any dispute that they are in fact increasing the number of centrifuges and the number of cascades that they have.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: You said that Iran finds itself increasingly surrounded by or I guess encircled was used. But you still haven't seen any change in their behavior. I'm just wondering at this point if you're going to have to try to increase the pressure even more and how you might do so.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's going to be the question that gets taken up in the coming months, what are the next diplomatic steps that we take. We have not yet had a full consultation with our partners in the international system about what diplomatic next steps we might take. We're still actually now in the phase of implementing the resolution that was just passed with the Sanctions Committee. So over the next couple of months, absent a change in Iranian behavior, that's something that we're going to take a look at. We have shown that we have been patient and steadily increasing the diplomatic pressure. It is starting to have an effect on the -- on Iran and the Iranian Government. The have not made a decision at this point, however, to change their behavior to the extent that they're going to suspend their enrichment-related activity. But there is still a negotiation pathway available to them out there and Mr. Solana has said that he would be talking to Mr. Larijani in the coming period of time. It's going to be up to him how and when he contacts him. But we again reiterate and have reiterated the fact that that negotiations pathway is still out there for the Iranians.

QUESTION: So just to follow up, I mean, is there a way that you're going to be able to increase it even that much more? I'm just wondering if this is the time you're seeing now to really pressure your allies in the Security Council to pass stronger sanctions.

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll take a look and see what we do next. And it's -- it doesn't require a lot of cajoling of other Security Council members in terms of getting sanctions or increasing the pressure on the Iranians at this point. The Iranians are doing a lot of work on behalf of those in the international system who do want to increase the international pressure by making speeches like this and making announcements like they did today.

QUESTION: But, Sean, it seems that the more sanctions and the more resolutions that you place upon Iran and the more pressure, they just grow more emboldened to make these kind of pronouncements like they did today. So do you think it's just a factor of getting the right amount of pressure, that more pressure is going to eventually work, or do you think that, you know, it's only going to embolden them to continue to expand further? Is there another way to deal with Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we think we're on the right course. You know, I think --

QUESTION: With enough pressure, they're going to break eventually?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we would -- we've put it in terms of we hope that they would reassess their cost-benefit analysis. And in any sort of decision of this type for any government around the world, they're going to do a cost-benefit. You know, what are the costs? What are the benefits that we're going to gain from it? And we're -- we in the international system are making the point to them that you are not going to realize any benefits from the current path you're on, and as a matter of fact, you're going to realize -- incur a number of costs.

And that is where we find ourselves right now. Over the past year and a half, two years, we have brought along a number of other countries with us in pursuit of this current strategy where we are gradually ratcheting up the pressure on the Iranian Government. You saw last month another step in that when we passed another Security Council resolution. And I'm not going to prejudge what actions we might take down the road, but certainly there is potential for more resolutions of similar type down the road if the Iranians persist in this behavior.

QUESTION: Well, but it seems that they have done the cost-benefit analysis and that they've determined that the cost is worth it to enrich -- to exercise what it calls its right to enrich.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're trying to encourage them to make a reassessment if they haven't done that cost-benefit analysis recently.

QUESTION: And can you expand on your view that you're looking for reasonable leaders to do this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We've said -- Secretary Rice has said in the past that she's looking for the Iranian reasonables, not the Iranian moderates. We're not going to go in search of the ever elusive Iranian moderates in the leadership of the regime. What we're looking for are people who can make reasonable cost-benefit analysis decisions and understand that this is a pathway for Iran that leads only to negative consequences and that along the way they're going to increase larger and larger in cost and more significant pressure from the international system. So those are the people with whom we're looking to deal with in the Iranian regime.

QUESTION: Elise's question was that the Iranians seem to be calling your bluff, that you're not going to be able to ratchet up the pressure and change that cost-benefit analysis.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they've been wrong thus far, haven't they?

QUESTION: Have they? I mean, they keep going. They haven't changed their behavior at all.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And they're, as we speak, incurring the costs for their decision. I'll give you one data point. The German Government has decreased by about 40 percent, I think, its export credits in support of trade with Iran. That's a significant cost. That's trade that is not happening with Iran. And if they're going to be seeking the goods that they might have gotten through that trade elsewhere, it's going to be at a higher cost.

And you can see that story repeated elsewhere throughout the international financial system and the international trading system. So those are real -- very real costs for Iran. It's unfortunate that perhaps the Iranian people may have to bear some of the costs of the Iranian leadership's decision making. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to go down this pathway. But this is the pathway that the Iranian Government has put us on, and the international community is going to continue to react in a strong manner to this persistent defiance of what it has laid out as its will.

QUESTION: Do you think the Germans should decrease by 100 percent?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Do you think the Germans should decrease by 100 percent?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's going to be their decision. But clearly, they've sent a strong message to the Iranians that the behavior in which they're engaged in is unacceptable; it is outside the accepted norms of the international system. The international system has made that clear and it has made it clear that there are going to be continuing costs for resisting cooperation with the international system.

QUESTION: Sean, as we are waiting for the IAEA report in May, do you have any real sense of whether the inspectors will be allowed in to make an accurate assessment? I mean, what's your sense at the moment of that kind of thing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's best to let the IAEA speak for themselves as to -- and describe the type of cooperation that they have -- that they are receiving from the Iranians right now. In their past reports, at a very minimum, they've pointed out that the Iranians have refused to answer a vast number of questions that are unanswered, and the IAEA continues to ask those questions. But I'll let the IAEA speak for itself as to what kind of cooperation it's getting from the Iranians.

QUESTION: Are you working on the assumption at the moment that what the President says today is true, that they are enriching to this extent, to this scale?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, it's a little bit unclear from the statements exactly what it is that the Iranians are saying they're doing, except for the one thing that they have decided to and are expanding the number of centrifuges they have. I think that's very clear from their statement. As for whether or not they're introducing the feed stock, I think it's a little unclear from their statement. Nonetheless, all of those statements are a source of concern for the international system, not just for us but for other members of the international system, because I think you'll find universal agreement that the -- Iran's neighbors and responsible states in the international system don't want to see Iran obtain a nuclear weapon or to get the know-how to obtain a nuclear weapon. That would be a very destabilizing event for the Middle East and international security around the globe.


QUESTION: Has the Secretary contacted any of her counterparts within the P-5 or elsewhere to discuss these latest statements? And are there any plans to meet to discuss those --


QUESTION: -- in the near future?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think any ad hoc meetings -- she'll, of course, see some of her colleagues at the NATO ministerial at the end of the month, but I'm sure she'll be in discussions in the intervening time on this as well as other matters of concern with members of the Security Council.

QUESTION: But do you take this as Iranian bluster or something to take very seriously?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you have to take it seriously. I don't think you take it as bluster. They have -- one thing the Iranians have been consistent in is following up on what they said they would do. They said -- they have said that they are going to continue to expand their centrifuge program. They started with smaller numbers and they have set targets out there expanding the 3,000 centrifuges. And I think the international system should take that quite seriously because they have been consistent in following through on what they said that they would do. So that, again, argues in favor of the international community watching this closely, taking -- and taking strong action to try to get the Iranians to turn around -- turn their behavior around.

QUESTION: Sean, can I follow up this? Don't you think, Sean, that we have given -- I mean, the international community or U.S. has given them so much time and they have expanded and now, again, the global community's giving them more time to expand further?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, we would prefer that they not continue in their work and certainly, that's the optimal solution, if they would stop that work. What we're trying -- but they don't seem to be willing to do so, so the question then is, how do you get them to stop. Well, this is the solution that we and others in the international system have said is the right solution for the time. And that is to try to ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian Government to get them to change their behavior.



MR. MCCORMACK: On Iraq, yes.

QUESTION: In a recent interview with the Al Arabiya television, Iraqi Kurdish leader Mas'ud Barzani said that Iraqi Kurds would be intervening into Turkish-Kurdish matters unless Turkey stops intervening in Kirkuk. And this has led to a lot of reactions in Turkey. Any comments?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. We think that those kinds of statements are really unhelpful and they certainly do not further the goal of greater Turkish-Iraqi cooperation on issues of common concern, including fighting the PKK, and it's making cross-border raids into Turkey, killing innocent Turkish civilians. We worked hard on that issue trying to bring together the Iraqis as well as the Turkish Government to find a way to deal with that important issue.

You know, Turkey has also made great efforts on behalf of Iraq in organizing this neighbors conference. I think that they -- it's safe to say that the Turkish Government has been a key player in bringing together the states in the region for these neighbors conferences. There have been a number of smaller gatherings. We saw a large gathering just a couple of months ago in which envoys from Iraq's neighbors as well as from some of its friends in the Security Council and elsewhere joined together in Baghdad in making statements of support for the Iraqi Government.

So as I said, these comments over the weekend from Mr. Barzani are unhelpful and we think that Iraqi leaders should focus on how they might work together closely with the Turkish Government to further their mutual interests in a stable, secure and -- an Iraq that is a place for all Iraqis and that has its territorial integrity intact.


QUESTION: Sean, there's been no secret that the relations, between Turkey and Iraq are not in the best shape right now. You mentioned the Iraq conference. The Iraqi Government has been resisting her holding that conference and ministerial meeting in Turkey. What are you doing to encourage better cooperation? Are you talking to the Turks? Obviously, we know what the issue is. It's the Kurdish region and PKK and all that. But are you doing anything with the Turks to make sure that anything that's happening in that region is done with the consent of the Iraqi Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, on the PKK issue, General Ralston, Retired General, Joe Ralston has been working as a special envoy on behalf of the Secretary, working with both the Turks as well as the Iraqis on how they might begin to build confidence with one another on this issue and in the practical way, how to deal with it, so that you'd prevent these cross border raids from taking place. You have -- we're now coming up on the springtime which is traditionally when the PKK goes on the offensive, crossing the border into Turkey. Nobody wants to see that.

In terms of thanking the Turks for their efforts on behalf of Iraq, Secretary Rice over the weekend did speak with Foreign Minister Gul and she expressed her support for Turkey's actions in rallying the neighbors to get together for the Iraq neighbors conference. And she said that she looked forward to seeing Foreign Minister Gul at the neighbors conference in Sharm el-Sheikh at the beginning of May.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Would you say that General Ralston's task has been challenging? There's been some time since he has been trying to work this out. And it's obviously, it's not easy.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Yeah. It's not an easy issue, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, but we believe he's up to the challenge.


QUESTION: Quite a few more details as to why the Secretary called the Turkish. Was it just to express her support and to tell him she was looking forwarding to seeing him at the conference or is there something else?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. From this -- the Turkish Government put in a lot of work and Foreign Minister Gul personally put in a lot of work to help organize this neighbors effort. And she just wanted to recognize that and underline the idea that regardless of the fact that the next -- the ministerial-level neighbors conference is going to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh that people shouldn't lose sight of all the work that Foreign Minister Gul and the Turkish Government put in to making this happen.

QUESTION: So why is it not being held in Istanbul? What was the problem there? Because you know, Istanbul has a lot of hotel space. Sharm el-Sheikh actually has slightly less.

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to the --

QUESTION: It's also actually a neighbor.

MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to the conveners of the conference, the Iraqis, and they can explain to you their reason behind the decision.

QUESTION: Well, was it an Iraqi -- there was obviously a lot of jockeying here because we know it's been more than a month since it's been trying to take place. Was it an Iraqi decision or was it the decision of all participants in the conference to hold it in Cairo -- in Sharm el-Sheikh? Sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think anybody would have any problem with either location, Istanbul or Cairo, and I take it as a positive sign that there's a lot of competition to hold an Iraqi neighbors conference. So that's certainly positive.

Look, I don't rule out that there may be follow-up neighbors meetings in Istanbul. We would all love to travel to that beautiful city. (Laughter.) I was using the collective "we" in this room. Nonetheless, we look forward to going to Sharm el-Sheikh for this ministerial-level meeting.

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