Background Briefing With Senior Administration Officials on IAEA Board of Governors' Resolution on Iran

Special Briefing
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
November 27, 2009

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time all participants in a listen-only mode. To ask a question during the question-and-answer session, please press *1 on your touch-tone phone. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.


Now, I will turn the call over to Mr. Ian Kelly. Sir, you may begin.


MR. KELLY: Okay, let’s start. Welcome to our conference call. My name is Ian Kelly and we have two senior Administration officials who will talk about today’s developments at the IAEA in Vienna. I would like to first ask Senior Administration Official One to make some opening remarks.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Sure, thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving everybody. As you all know, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors passed a resolution on Iran earlier today. It’s the first such resolution in nearly four years, since 2006, and it’s significant for several reasons.


First, it sends a strong signal of serious international concern about Iran’s continued noncompliance with obligations, both to the IAEA and to the UN Security Council, that it’s essentially not playing by international rules.


Second, it sends a strong signal of support for the IAEA, which is an enormously important organization, at a moment in history when we’re trying to find ways to strengthen the NPT regime. It also sends a signal of support for the personal efforts of Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the IAEA, particularly with regard to his Tehran research reactor proposal.


And finally, I think, it’s significant because it underscores the unity of purpose amongst the 5+1. The 5+1 countries – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain – took the lead in putting this resolution together and strongly supported it throughout.


Just a few more words by way of backdrop. There was an intensive American diplomatic effort that went into this, including a lot of very high-level work over recent weeks, certainly, beginning with the President’s meetings with his counterparts in Russia, China, and most recently, India. Secretary Clinton made more than a dozen calls over the last couple of days to her counterparts with regard to the Board of Governors resolution. General Jones was actively involved along with a team from State and the NSC. And our mission in Vienna did an excellent job in pursuing this resolution.


And last, I guess I’d stress again on the note of serious concern that you saw in the Board of Governors resolution underscoring what Mohamed ElBaradei said publicly yesterday that he can report no movement on the issues of greatest concern about Iran’s nuclear program, greatest concern to the IAEA, and in his words, we’ve effectively reached a dead end unless Iran engages fully with us. And I think that, as well as the Board of Governors resolution, is a mark of growing international impatience.


From the point of view of the United States, we made clear we’re still ready to engage, along with our international partners. The Tehran research reactor proposal is still on the table, but time really is running short. And as ElBaradei has put it himself, the TRR opportunity is a fleeting one.


And we hope that the Board of Governors resolution reinforces the message that we’re committed to putting together a package of consequences if we don’t find a willing partner. We hope Iran takes note of that clear message.


Let me turn it over the second Administration official.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, just very briefly to kind of convey what it was that we sought to accomplish through this resolution. Three or four main points: The first was urging Iran to comply fully and without delay with its obligations under Security Council resolutions and to meet the requirements of the Board of Governors of the IEA, including by suspending immediately construction at this Qom or Fordo enrichment facility that’s been under construction for a period of years; second, to urge Iran to comply fully with its safeguards obligations, in particular to apply this somewhat obscure – I’m not sure how deep into Vienna lingo – so-called Code 3.1, modified, of the Additional Protocol, as well to confirm that there are no other undeclared facilities in Iran; and then third, urging Iran to engage with the agency on a resolution of all of the outstanding issues that remain concerning Iran’s nuclear program to cooperate fully with the IAEA by providing the access and the information that the agency has requested to resolve these issues.


So the vote today was fairly strong with 25 voting in favor, 3 against six abstaining, and 1 country absent. So it was kind of – it was a fairly authoritative result that we had here in Vienna.


MR. KELLY: Okay. This is Ian again. I think we’re ready to go to questions. I – first of all, I want just to reemphasize this is on background, senior Administration officials. And we have a maximum of 15 minutes, an absolute maximize of 15 minutes for questions.


OPERATOR: Thank you. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. To withdraw your request, please press *2. Once again, to ask a question, please press *1.


Our first question comes from Daniel Dombey from Financial Times. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Thank you very much. Given that this has been discussed in the UN Security Council and resolutions were passed on a number of occasions during the Bush Administration, what is the significance of this new resolution being passed at the IAEA? Isn’t the – weren’t the Security Council resolutions passed during the Bush Administration, in a certain sense, more serious because that was a higher body?


And could you give me – could you give any of us a sense of what the time – what you mean when you talk about time running short? Are we talking about looking at a Security Council resolution at the beginning of next year?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, thanks, let me start with that. What I’d underscore about the significance of what just happened in the Board of Governors is it is the first such resolution since 2006. It has been nearly four years since a step was taken there before. And I think the fact that you had the 5+1 countries taking the lead in this and strongly supporting it is equally significant.


I think in terms of timeframe, I mean, the President has been pretty clear about talking about the importance that we attach to making judgments about whether the very serious and sustained efforts that he’s made, along with our international partners, at engagement over the course of the last 10 months are producing results. And he was very clear in Asia also about our commitment to exploring with our partners consequences, and that’s what we’re determined to do. We stay in very close touch with the P-5+1 countries, not just in the run-up to the BOG resolution, but we’ll certainly be doing it in the coming weeks.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Paul Richter from Los Angeles Times. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Yes, I’d like to know, though the Russians and Chinese supported the resolution, have there been indications that they would go a step further and support sanctions?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think at this stage, I mean, I’d let – President Medvedev has spoken to this publicly, and I’d let the parties speak for themselves. I think it is significant, as I’ve said before, that both of those parties strongly supported this step in the Board of Governors. I think they, like the rest of the P-5+1, are fully committed to a two-track strategy. And we intend to take this very steadily and step by step, but I think their commitment is clear.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Nadia Bilbassy from MBC. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Yeah, hi, good morning. We heard from the Foreign Minister Mottaki saying basically that sanctions are not going to work regardless, and this is the literature of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some would suggest that any meaningful sanctions are not going to have any effect unless they’re imposed on the Republican Guard. I know it’s premature to talk about them now, but is this something that the Administration would consider, considering again that if China and Russia are actually going to be on board, or even not be on board?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think it’s – you raise a very serious question and it’s something, obviously, we’re going to consider very seriously as we move ahead in consultations with our partners. But I just don’t want to get out ahead of that process at this point. I mean, what happened in Vienna today I think is a significant step, and it’s a suggestion of the seriousness, the increasing seriousness of the international community about this issue, and we’re going to have to work through those other issues step by step.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Avi Davidi from Washington TV. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Hello, yes, hi. This is Avi Davidi. I have a question about the Iranian responses to IAEA yesterday and today. Yesterday, Soltanieh said that in case of this resolution, Iran will minimize its cooperation with IAEA. My first question is that – how would you respond if Iran really – this is the real response that they have?


And the second is that we constantly hear contradicting responses. For instance, this week, the new spokesperson for the foreign minister said that – will not disagree to send out uranium, but at the same time, Mottaki said that we will not agree to sending out uranium. When it comes to Iranian officials, who do you consider when it comes to responding to their reactions?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, let me start with the second part of that and then maybe turn to my colleague on the first part. It’s true that we’ve seen a number of confusing signals from the Iranian leadership ever since the beginning of October in a meeting that took place in Geneva. And we can only judge in the end by the concrete responses that are provided to Mohamed ElBaradei about the very specific proposal; this is with regard to the Tehran research reactor that he put on the table, and that all of us that worked very hard to support it. And thus far, in contrast to the fact that Russia, France, the United States have provided very positive and clear answers to ElBaradei’s proposal, the Iranians, as the President put it, have not been able to say yes to that.


And so that’s the only bottom line that we can judge in the end. But you’re right; there are a lot of confusing and contradictory signals sometimes that come out of Tehran.




SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And with regard to the first part of the question about the level of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA, I mean, that is a lot of what was being litigated today, was the fact that Iran’s cooperation has been, at best, spotty, and at worst, there’s been a great deal of foot-dragging with the IAEA. Any questions that are out there that have been posed by the secretariat of the IAEA – safeguards inspectors to Iran about the nature of their nuclear program, the possible military dimensions, that heavy water program, what it is precisely that this Qom or Fordo facility is meant to do.


And it would be, we think, a real mistake if Iran were to draw back from its already episodic cooperation with the IAEA and do even less. Iran says that its program is of a civilian character, and it’s peaceful, and it’s precisely through the mechanism of cooperation with the IAEA that they can best make that case and prove that point. So we think it’s very important that they continue and enhance their cooperation with the IAEA, such as it’s been, and answer the growing number of outstanding questions that are out there about the nature of their nuclear program.


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


QUESTION: Yeah, hi. You spoke about the package of consequences. I’m wondering if you can tell us if the outlines of that package have already been established, and how long it might actually take to get – to delineate publicly what the consequences would be.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: All I can tell you at this stage is simply to reinforce what the President has said, and that is that we’re committed to a two-track strategy. And that means, as we get closer to the end of the year and a point at which we’ve made clear judgments need to be made, we are going to be exploring a package of consequences and we’re – we’ve been in very close consultation with our 5+1 partners and that’s going to continue through December. But I can’t go much beyond that.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Janine Zacharia from Bloomberg. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official One], sorry I jumped on a little late. What is – in terms of the two tracks, there’s also two tracks between the UN Security Council and then the coalition of willing sanctions. I wonder if you can give us any sense of where the Administration is heading. And also, Iran knows that the President has said the end of the year, so likely they’ll make some gesture to forestall any sanctions push. What do they need to do specifically, at a minimum, by the end of the year to indeed – you know, make it so we don’t – the U.S. doesn’t go for sanctions?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean, I think we’ve been very clear coming out of the Geneva meeting on the 1st of October when there were a set of understandings, or what we believed to be understandings in principle that Javier Solana talked about.


One of them involved the preface of the IAEA gaining access to the Qom facility, the importance of – or the depths of our concern about that facility near Qom was underscored in the BOG resolution today. But the other two understandings were important ones. One was to hold another meeting before the end of October in which we would be able to continue our discussion of international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and the second had to do with the Tehran research reactor.


And so far, we haven’t gotten positive or constructive answers from the Iranians on either of those last two points, and that makes it very difficult to sustain any process of engagement when you have what we and our partners believe to be fair and creative opportunities being put on the table, opportunities though which the Iranians can demonstrate the exclusively peaceful nature of their nuclear program to do what they claim they intend to do. And it’s difficult to sustain that kind of engagement when you’re not getting any kind of constructive responses to those sorts of proposals.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mina Al-Oraibi from Al-Sharq. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to follow up this point, what you said about fair and creative solutions being put on the table coupled with the line that we’ve heard several times, that patience is not infinite. At the moment, would you say that there would be, while there is a two-track strategy, more of a focus on looking at the package of consequences than previously? I mean, what’s – where is the impetus at – from this point forward?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think clearly, as you get closer to the end of the year and the point at which we’ve made clear we think judgments are going to need to be made, I think you’re seeing a focus on both tracks of the process. But that does not suggest that we’re pulling proposals off the table. We’re still interested in trying to make engagement work. But at the same time, we believe it’s essential, and just as importantly as what we believe, our partners believe, it’s essential to make clear that we’re also committed to that second track as well. So I think what you see now is a period in which we’re trying to emphasize both of those things.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Bahman Kalbasi from British Broadcasting. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I just wanted to see if you can at all elaborate a bit more on the package of consequences. And I’m asking that from the point of view of many who are basically pointing out to the rift between the Iranian people, especially at this point in time, and the government. Are you at all worried when you’re writing this package of consequences, when you’re coming to pick and choose between different kinds of sanctions that this might end up, again, hurting the people more than, say, the Revolutionary Guards or people who are in charge of these policies, and in fact, strengthen the government who is not being responsive? I’m wondering if U.S. Government is thinking about the consequences of the package of consequences.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, I mean, of course, we and I think our international partners take very seriously the concern that you raised. Nothing that we contemplate or that we would consider is aimed at causing greater harm for the Iranian people, who have suffered enough as a result of the repression of people’s efforts to express themselves peacefully since the elections on June 12th. And so the concern that you raised is certainly something that we and our partners will take very seriously.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Margaret Warner from Lehrer NewsHour. Your line is open. Margaret Warner, your line is open. Please hit your mute button.


QUESTION: There we go. Can you hear me? Hello?


OPERATOR: Your line is open.


QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. I missed the very beginning of this, but can you confirm the reports – I think it was in the Post – that two senior officials did go to China and make the case that if China wasn’t ready to help join in this, that there was a real threat of an attack by Israel, with all the consequences that would bring?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I mean, I think the only thing I could say is that we’ve – without talking about the specifics of any particular trip or engagement, I mean, we’ve been in very close touch with all of the P-5+1 partners, as well as with a range of other key international players, to underscore our concerns about the consequences of continued Iranian noncompliance, the consequences for the IAEA as an institution, for the NPT regime, for the credibility of the UN Security Council, for the credibility of playing by international rules, but also the consequences, just as you suggested, for the Middle East and its stability. I mean, the last thing the Middle East needs right now with all the other challenges it faces is yet another source of insecurity and instability, and that’s exactly where continued Iranian noncompliance is going to lead.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Kim Ghattas from BBC. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Yes, good morning. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about the discussions that were had with the Russians and the Chinese, and whether you feel that something has indeed changed, not only in the Russian attitude, but more importantly, in the attitude of the Chinese towards the idea of sanctions and a tougher line when it comes to dealing with the Iranians?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, again, the only thing I could speak to, and maybe my colleague wants to add to this from his perspective, is that the Russians and Chinese in the P-5+1 consultations, including most recent ones about a week ago, have been quite clear in expressing their concern about Iran’s noncompliance with the IAEA, in particular with their refusal thus far to provide a positive answer to ElBaradei’s research reactor proposal. Both of them were strongly supportive of the resolution that the Board of Governors just passed. And I think the fact that you had the P-5+1 countries, including Russia, China, and the United States, strongly supporting this draft sent a strong signal, not just at the Board of Governors meeting but beyond that.


But I don’t know if – do you want to add anything?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, no, just a couple of very quick points in terms of the business end of this, the action in Vienna. What was interesting was the engagement of both at the local level. There was, for instance, Chinese language incorporated in the draft that was voted on today, so they had certainly a degree of ownership of the actual document that was produced. And both countries did some very useful lobbying among the 35 members of the Board of Governors, so it really was, in terms of the retail end of it, very much a collective effort.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Peter Cheremushkin from Interfax News. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me? My question is: Is it fair to ask about the specifics of the sanctions and consequences that could come up as a result of Iranian noncompliance through the pressure of international community? Thank you.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It’s fair to ask, but I don’t have a lot to add in terms of the answer to what we’ve already said. I mean, we’re consulting very carefully with our partners about how best to move ahead, and that’s something that’s going to continue over the coming weeks.


OPERATOR: Once again, to ask a question, please press *1. Our next question comes from Bill Loveless from Platts News Service. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Thank you. There’s been movements, as we know, in Congress to pass bills instituting some additional sanctions on Iran, including gasoline, petroleum, and other goods. I just wonder, with this action today, if you anticipate that Congress will step up its efforts legislatively and provide the Administration with additional tools.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t know. We’ve stayed – the Administration has stayed in very close touch with the members of Congress who are sponsoring various pieces of legislation. We have also tried to be very clear about the efforts that we have been making within the international community to try to raise concern and increase pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations. I think that was reflected again in the Board of Governors resolution passed today.


And so our basic message has been to stay in touch, but to underscore the steps that the Administration is taking with international partners to try to bring about a shared objective with members of Congress, and that is a change in Iran’s behavior. And so I’m sure we’ll continue that very close consultation with the Hill in the coming weeks.


But again, we’re – our emphasis right now is on trying to build international multilateral measures and pressure on Iran, because we think that’s likely to have – to be most effective in producing the goal that I think we and members of Congress share.


MR. KELLY: Kelly, we have time for one more – one last question.


OPERATOR: Our last question comes from Winston Wilde from NBC. Your line is open.


QUESTION: Hi there, everybody. I just have a quick question, a clarification. At the beginning of the call when you were talking about the Board of Governors, you said that we can report no movement on issues of greatest concern regarding Iran, we’ve reached a dead end unless, you know, Iran agrees to work with us. I just wanted to know, was that the director general’s position today? And if so, does the U.S. agree?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think that’s a direct quote from – my colleague can add to this, but it’s a direct quote from what Mohamed ElBaradei said – what Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general, said yesterday in Vienna.




SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: In a press conference he said that publicly; that’s correct.


QUESTION: Okay, yesterday. And does the U.S. share that opinion?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I mean, I think we have a lot of respect for the director general’s views, and I think he accurately expressed both where we are and the concerns that all of us share.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And since he’s been the one leading this effort, we really have left it to him and we’d look to him to kind of characterize the state of play on this. And I don’t think we would gainsay that at all.


MR. KELLY: Okay. Well, thank you very much. This concludes our conference call. A reminder that this was on background. Senior Administration officials is the attribution. Thank you all very much.


OPERATOR: Thank you for participating in today’s conference call. You may disconnect at this time.

PRN: 2009/1182