Read Out of the P-5+1 Ministerial

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
New York City
September 26, 2013

MODERATOR: So thank you, everyone, for joining us. This is a readout on the Secretary’s meetings earlier today as part of the P-5+1, including Foreign Minister Zarif, as well as the status of our UNSCR. We have with us a Senior State Department Official who will give some brief opening comments, and then we’ll take some questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi. So it’s been, I suppose some would say, a rather productive day. Certainly some important things have happened here today, and let me start just chronologically.

First was the – a meeting between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, Ambassador Power, Ambassador Churkin, to try to come to closure on the UN Security Council resolution that we’ve been working on to ensure that chemical weapons are destroyed, eliminated in Syria. This built off of the Geneva framework agreement that we negotiated now two weekends ago. And some have wondered why it took us some time to get here. Actually, as UN Security Council resolutions go, this one was negotiated pretty quickly. Sometimes they take a considerable period of time.

But there were companion documents, one a decision memo, a decision document, at OPCW that needs to go to the OPCW Executive Council, that enumerates what OPCW will do – that’s the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the technical agency that inspects, monitors, and oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention implementation. The Executive Council has to finalize a document that outlines what OPCW will do and, in essence, creates the mission for OPCW.

But in the Geneva agreement, we were very clear that this had to, in essence, be a joint mission between the United Nations – and in essence the Security Council – and OPCW. So we wanted to have the UN Security Council resolution done and know what it would be before we got the Executive Council decision. Because unless you have the two connected, the effort we were making to ensure that we had a legally binding, enforceable, verifiable mission under the Security Council of the United Nations – we wanted to make sure we had that in hand before we moved forward with the Executive Council decision.

It appears that is about in hand. The E-10 are meeting this evening on the UNSCR. There may be a Security Council vote as soon as tomorrow night. But it could take a little bit more time, because the Executive Council decision has to come first. We hope we can keep on that timeline, but don’t know quite yet. The Executive Council decision happens with a council of 41 members. They generally do their decisions by consensus.

The resolution – and I think you all got a background briefing from some of my colleagues on the resolution, but the final resolution is incredibly strong. It is the first time that we have had a legally binding resolution on Syria that I can remember. As you all know, several have been vetoed along the way. It is – makes sure that the Geneva framework is completely implemented, enforced, legally binding. I think you’ll see in the final language that, in fact, for the first time we have said that the use of chemical weapons is a threat to international peace and security. And for those of you who follow UN language, that language has meaning. It means that not only is the Council seized of this, but that it is of such a risk and such a threat to the international order that there should be consequences if, in fact, use continues. There is a section on accountability, that this was such an egregious act that there ought to be accountability. There is language that, in fact, puts into legally binding language what we had in the framework, and that is that in the event of noncompliance, unauthorized transfer or use of chemical weapons by anyone, that the Security Council will consider measures under Chapter 7, which is quite important.

Indeed, the Security Council resolution, according to the Geneva framework agreement, was meant to reinforce and ensure the framework agreement and the actions that were laid out in the timeline. And this UNSCR does it. It is very strong, it is very tough, and it is really groundbreaking in terms of setting the precedent about chemical weapons.

So that’s what happened this afternoon. Minister Lavrov, Secretary Kerry came to agreement with their UN ambassadors, who have been working at this extraordinarily hard. There have been consultations, of course, with P-5 members throughout and now E-10 members tonight. The rest of the Security Council is also being briefed so that we hope that, given the strong support for getting this done, that the Security Council resolution will pass with a great vote.

As that was finishing up – and I was actually not in that final meeting because I was already in a meeting of the political directors with Cathy Ashton getting ready for the meeting – the ministerial meeting of political directors. As you all know, after the ministers met for a brief time, Minister Zarif of Iran came and joined us. He made a – about a, I would say, maybe 20-minute – 15, 20-minute presentation. He was – to use Lady Ashton’s words, he was energetic. I think he doesn’t quite understand what – we mean energetic as a flattering thing. (Laughter.)

He laid out – and you’ve heard some of this from President Rouhani and from Zarif and those of you who have gone to, whether it’s the Council on Foreign Relations or Asia Society or any one of the many, many meetings that have occurred here in New York this week – and Minister Zarif will be here next week as well – hey, Matt, did you bring me some?

QUESTION: I did. Here, this is to congratulate you on your great diplomatic triumph. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Is that water?

QUESTION: Whiskey and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. (Laughter.) It’s all yours. It’s all yours, Matt. (Laughter.) All yours.

QUESTION: You sure?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’m waiting for bottle of wine upstairs. You can have it back, sweetheart. Thank you. (Laughter.)

So he made a presentation. It was thoughtful. It laid out what Iran’s interests were, their desire to come to an agreement and to do so fully implemented in a year’s time, so not only come to the agreement, but fully implement the agreement in a year’s time. He reassured everyone that Iran does not want nuclear weapons and all of the reasons why it made no sense for them to have them, and then laid on the table some ideas that he had about how we should go forward.

Each of the ministers then made some follow-up comments. So the meeting went to about 5:30 as opposed to 5 o’clock when it was supposed to end. And I think that the main message from the ministers was welcome this opening, glad for the tone and the desire to work cooperatively to a solution that meets the concerns of the international community, but the proof is in the pudding quite frankly, in – or the devil is in the details, whichever aphorism you want to use, and that until we got down to work at an expert level to know what really anything meant, what really was being put on the table, what really they were willing to do, in very concrete and specific terms, we have a good atmosphere, but we don’t have a result yet.

And so there – I think virtually every minister talked about the need for concrete results and concrete measures that showed that there was – brought to life, in real terms, what Foreign Minister Zarif laid out to the ministers today.

After that meeting, Secretary Kerry did have about a – a brief meeting with Minister Zarif in a room off on the side, just the two of them. We – some of --

QUESTION: No note takers?


QUESTION: No note takers?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No note takers. They – some of us who might have been the note takers chatted with each other, had a very good conversation, very interesting. I have gotten to know Iranians over the years, and certainly knew the Iranian negotiating team for the last couple of years, and I can’t say we had chatty conversations or the kinds of conversations that diplomats often have, talking about events of the day and things that are happening. That has all changed.

QUESTION: Are you talking about Araqchi? Or who was left in the room when Zarif went --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Several people, several people.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And so it is a – it is quite different. It is quite different in interaction. But again, whether that is meaningful, we don’t know yet. And so we are going to go to work.

On the 15th and 16th of October, we will meet in Geneva. It’ll be Cathy Ashton, Foreign Minister Zarif, and the political directors. There’s been a lot of talk about whether the ministers will join or whether all of this will happen in a ministerial level. The agreement now is in the first instance we will do this at the political directors level, and many of the ministers said that certainly if there are appropriate times when ministers should be convened, we’ll bring the ministers back together again.

QUESTION: To clarify: Cathy Ashton and Zarif will be there and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the political directors.

QUESTION: -- and the political directors?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. Yes. In other words, it’ll be the usual format.

QUESTION: Yeah, the usual.

QUESTION: Did you – two things.


QUESTION: How did the meeting, like, come about? Did they just, like, go up and shake hands and say, “Let’s go in a room”? Or was this kind of arranged with your diplomat – in advance, not at the beginning of the meeting? And then also, when he talked about what – when laid it out, was the reference the deal that you offered in February and – because they’ve never really formally responded to that. Do you see that as the kind of starting point going forward? Or do you guys, your political directors, have to get together and hash out something new in light of this?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So Minister Zarif – we were in a U-shaped table. When Zarif came in, Helga Schmid got up so that he could sit next to Lady Ashton, and cornered with Zarif was the Secretary of State. So they were sitting next to each other on the corner, and at the end of the meeting, the Secretary leaned over and said, “Shall we talk for a few moments?” Now, informally, there had been a little bit of chatting that that might happen, and so neither one of them were surprised. And we --

QUESTION: It’s like being asked to a dance --


MODERATOR: There was no dancing.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, no dancing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And they did shake hands?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Trust me, no dancing. They did.

QUESTION: Shake hands?


QUESTION: They did?


QUESTION: Did – wait – Kerry suggest to go out --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, they sort of talked with each other.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They talked with each other.

QUESTION: Silly question, but did they shake hands when they met? Did they shake hands at the end? What --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They shook hands when they met.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As every single minister in the room. I did not shake hands for all the reasons you know, because I try to be respectful of the tradition that they would not shake hands with a woman. So --

QUESTION: And just to clarify, at the Geneva meeting, even though Ashton will be there – I mean, Zarif wouldn’t be there. It would be Salehi.


QUESTION: Oh, Zarif’s going to come and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. Zarif is the lead negotiator.

QUESTION: A negotiator. Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, Zarif is the lead negotiator.

QUESTION: All right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So – and in terms of our proposal, what we have agreed is – our proposal is on the table. We urged the Iranians to take the beginning ideas that the Minister laid out to us, put them into – add some substance to them, some additional substance, and maybe even share it with us before the 15th, but certainly be ready to let us know his ideas in more detail when we meet on the 15th, and then we’ll see where we are.

QUESTION: But were his ideas kind of as – was he using what you offered --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He was using some of what we had put on the table to put his ideas, but they weren’t that detailed yet, Elise.

QUESTION: Did he offer concrete steps of any sort in his presentation, things the Iranians might do?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He made some suggestions about some ideas that they have. But I would say there’s a lot more to understand.

QUESTION: So, I mean, did they --

QUESTION: Zarif said that by mid-October, he thought that that first step might have some response to. And he also said he met with Kerry for about 30 minutes. Is that accurate time?


QUESTION: It was close to 30 minutes?


QUESTION: But that first step, any description of what that first step is that we might get a response to?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think he tried to reflect what he knows we saw as a first step.

QUESTION: The U.S. or the P-5 --


QUESTION: -- defined first? It wasn’t an Iranian-defined first step?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, he was – he said – he laid out some thoughts that he had. I’m not going to do into details, guys. I’m not going to do the negotiation here. He laid out some thoughts that he had about what he thought this whole process might look like, what he thought might be some of the elements in a first step. None of those are a secret. They are things that have been discussed for a long time.

QUESTION: Can I ask --

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], can I just ask --


QUESTION: -- because Zarif came into this Rouhani meeting that – where I just was --


QUESTION: -- kind of blew in, and so everybody was very expectant, so he finally was prevailed upon to speak. He made it sound as if there was an agreement about process --



QUESTION: -- that within a year there would be – not only it would be done within a year, but that there would be an agreement on what the end state looked like and then on interim steps to get there, but it wouldn’t be CBM by CBM by CBM, finally to some undefined end state. Is that an agreement?



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, this was an introductory meeting. This was an opportunity for the Foreign Minister to share his point of view. That has value, because you have to understand the interests of the folks on the other side of the table. And it was a very useful insight into Iranian interests, thinking, process, what their timeline is. But we’ll have to sort through this, and that’s why we need to have – I’m glad that the P-5+1 meeting is scheduled. I hope that we get some work done in advance of that. I hope they present us with some ideas in advance of that so that when we sit down to work we’re not beginning without some grist to the mill.

QUESTION: I mean, what is the – if I could just follow up. What is the U.S. view on the sort of process, in other words, whether it’s better to do it step by step, which has had mixed results certainly in the Middle East peace process, or whether it’s feasible to sort of agree on what the desired end state could be at the same time you have to agree on the five implementation steps or however many there are to get there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the President of the United States in his comments, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, said that, in fact, he thought if we worked at this that the Iranian people had a right to a peaceful civil nuclear program. That is an end state. That is an end state.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And so if you try to figure out what that is, which we have always done, you have to do it by building confidence in the first instance on the path to getting there. And I think the Iranians understand that there is – as the President also said, it’s going to take some time to build enough trust between us to move this process forward. And confidence-building measures help you to do that and also give you time to figure out the whole process, which is quite detailed, quite technical, and the implementation steps are quite difficult.


QUESTION: Can I ask – sorry, the Secretary’s on CBS this evening saying that one of the steps that Iran could do would be to immediately open up its underground uranium enrichment facility, and if that were the case, the U.S. could consider lifting sanctions as early as three to six – in three months.


QUESTION: It’s the Secretary.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry.

QUESTION: The Secretary on CBS.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, in advance of a – I think what the Secretary – I think this is – is this in advance of 60 Minutes?

QUESTION: He was speaking about before the meeting.




SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think there are many options. There are many ways to do this and meet our interests and our concerns. We all have discussed that with many of you in the past, whether it is the closing of Fordow, whether it is dealing with 20 percent, whether it is dealing with other facilities that they have. There are – we have a lot of concerns and we want to address them all.

MODERATOR: Let me just --

QUESTION: But lifting the sanctions within three months, is that something that you’ve agreed --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, if Iran did every single thing we wanted done, could sanctions be lifted? Of course. But that’s getting everything done we want done.

MODERATOR: And let me caution everyone, because I sat in on this interview of which there was a lengthy conversation on Iran and this was a small, small clip, that – tune in to the network where it will be on Sunday, where there’s lots of discussion about what needs to happen from the Iranians, there’s lots of context given. So I would take it all with a grain of salt.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], when the Iranians talk about a peaceful nuclear program, when you talk about it, to the Iranians that means keeping enrichment. And when Zarif talks about a 12-month plan where the Iranians can see up front what is the end game, they’re talking about keeping enrichment. And that’s something the United States has ruled out officially, up until now. Is that something you’re willing to be and ready to be more flexible on at this point?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can only say what the President of the United States has said, which is that he believes that the Iranian people have a right to a civil peaceful nuclear program when Iran has addressed all of our concerns.

QUESTION: Did you get any insights – you were saying – on how the economics and the sanctions are impacting them? Because I’ve talked to some people in Iran who say these guys took over from Ahmadinejad and it’s much worse.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Jay, I think they know and they speak quite candidly about the impact of the sanctions.

QUESTION: Was a nuclear-free Middle East zone brought up in the meeting? Mr. Rouhani spent quite a bit of time this morning talking about that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That wasn’t the focus of the P-5+1 today.


QUESTION: Do you – [Senior State Department Official], you told us many times during the course of these talks that one thing that was lacking from the Iranian side was them laying out actually what they were willing to do and kind of painting a picture of what their end game might be. Was this the first time that – then that we have seen that coming from the Iranians in the way that was missing before when you described it to us in that way?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is certainly heading in that direction. Is it enough detail and granularity that you need to really know what you’re doing? Not yet. But for – certainly in the two years I’ve been doing this, no Iranian I’ve met with has sat down and said in such expansive terms, “Here’s what we’re willing to talk about.”

QUESTION: Was Iran --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But again, we’re still a long way from any agreement, because you have to get to the details.



QUESTION: I just – it was sort of a follow up on what Michael was saying. I wanted to ask on this whole question of enrichment at low levels. If the whole point is that they have to preserve their right to enrichment, so if they said, well, we want to enrich at 3.5 percent, there are some people who are senior members of the Obama Administration who have now left who are now publicly saying no, even enrichment at low levels would not be acceptable.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Really? Really? (Laughter.) Who are those people? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They were saying that even that should not be acceptable because there are not enough safeguards and that even 3.5 percent enrichment at a massive industrial level could be used for a weapons program. So is that the position of the current members of the Obama Administration?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The current members of the Obama Administration and the President of the United States position.

QUESTION: Which would imply that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which his position is a civil nuclear program --

QUESTION: Including enrichment at --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He has just said a civil nuclear program.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official] --


QUESTION: So they can have a civil --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And we have said, and I have said – and I’ve said on many – of course you can have a civil nuclear program without enrichment.

QUESTION: You can?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of course you can. The enrichment is done elsewhere and you buy the fuel. Sure you can. So it’s about a civil nuclear program. There are many ways to get there. How Iran will get there is not yet resolved.

QUESTION: But there’s – oh, come on. I mean, there’s always been, even before you came to the – there’s always been the expectation that a small R&D 3 percent or something enrichment program, that was going to have to be the end deal in order for them to give up their weapons.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Elise, we still – we haven’t even negotiated the first step. I’d like to do that.

QUESTION: But we want to know now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I know. (Laughter.) I’d like to know now too.

MODERATOR: At least you’re honest about it. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’d like to know now too. But we don’t. So you don’t sort of negotiate everything in advance and not get what you need. So we’re not going to do that.

QUESTION: But Zarif said that there was a first step agreed upon. Is that not the case?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There is nothing that is yet agreed upon. He put out a set of ideas. That is a worthwhile thing. That has not happened in this way before ever. But it is a long way from an agreement. It is a long way from concrete progress. If there are folks out there that are skeptical, they have reason to be skeptical because we’ve got a long way to go here. But everyone has agreed to get down to work, to try to do it in the most vigorous way we possibly can, take whatever time we need to do it, and see if we can’t use this opportunity. But we don’t know yet.

QUESTION: Do you feel there’s any, like, convergence? And I know you keep things in different lanes, but you’ve got the Syria question, you’ve got the Arab-Israeli question, and now you have the nuclear question. And Rouhani said himself, like, if we can get the nuclear issue resolved, then it opens up all these other possibilities. But do you feel these things are sort of converging because Iran is so central in all of them?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t think they are converging. I think they’ve always been connected. So I don’t think this is anything new, Jay. I think there are players in the Middle East, and Iran is one of those players. And for good and for ill. And so in each of these issues, Iran’s role matters. But what we are focused on right now is addressing our concerns about the nuclear program and seeing where we can get with that.

QUESTION: So a potential role for --

QUESTION: As you well know, the House at least has been moving forward on additional sanctions legislation. Is it the Administration’s position that it will continue to work with Congress on imposing additional sanctions on Iran, even as this negotiating process unfolds?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have always said that we will continue to both enforce our existing sanctions in as aggressive and vigorous way as we can, because those are the laws and the executive orders that we are committed to. We believe, painful as it is, that sanctions are a good part of why Iran has come to the table. And in fact, Rouhani and Zarif and everyone else has said, and certainly during the election campaign, that he got elected in part to get rid of sanctions and improve the economy.

So we know that is important to them. So it’s not like we’re going to lift them in advance of getting the result we want. And we will continue to work with Congress on the best ways to continue that pressure as needed.

QUESTION: So in other words, on additional sanctions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We are in conversations with Congress now. Now, we want to make sure we have flexibility for the negotiating track, but we have always been two – a dual-track policy of both engagement and pressure. And that pressure comes through sanctions, but the pressure also comes through isolation and through other actions as well.

MODERATOR: Let’s just take a few more here just so we can --

QUESTION: Can I ask – I want to make sure I’m bringing the two big topics of the day together and ask whether your discussions today in the P-5 with Minister Zarif have influenced or will influence your decisions on whether Iran could have a place at any Geneva peace conference.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Where Geneva is concerned, I think in the first instance, anyone who wants to participate has to, at the very least, sign up to the Geneva communique. And Iran has not explicitly done so.

So in the first instance, I very much hope that they will say that they support the Geneva communique – not just that they appreciate it or welcome it, but they are for it and that they believe that a political solution is the way forward and the Geneva communique and a transitional governing body with full executive authority by mutual consent is what they believe needs to occur here as well.

QUESTION: Is it too early to know, or can you sense from the tone and how he – the Minister was speaking, whether there has been a strategic decision to satisfy international concerns about the nuclear weapons?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think – my sense is, and it’s – I don’t know this for a fact. My sense is they’ve made a decision, as we have, to test the proposition. And as are we testing the proposition. And so they will see whether, in fact, they can get what they want by addressing the things that we want, and we are testing whether we can get the things we want by them getting what they want. (Laughter.)

And I don’t know – did you follow that Rubik’s Cube? I couldn’t say it again if my life depended on it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s going to be our soundbyte.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], a clarification. [Senior State Department Official], you mentioned that concrete matters had been discussed, it wasn’t just all process. When Zarif laid out his timetable, did he do it as a step-by-step with general chapters just didn’t have content in them, or did he mention specific things like the enrichment and 20 percent and sanctions and --




MODERATOR: All right.

QUESTION: A 30-minute – Zarif characterized the meeting with Kerry as 30 minutes. Is that similar to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think they both have characterized it actually as a brief meeting. So he said --

QUESTION: We got him after --

QUESTION: He said it was more than a chat.

QUESTION: More than a chat.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: More than – 30 minutes is about right. Yes.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], just to follow up on the Syria meeting --

QUESTION: So about 30 minutes is about right?




QUESTION: On the Friends of Syria meeting --

MODERATOR: Okay, last two here. Go ahead, Nicole and --

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if there’s anything more than expressions of support or the need to give moderate rebels in Syria more support coming out of that Friends of Syria meeting.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it is – the reason that Foreign Minister Fabius called this meeting – and the Security Council was filled. Every seat was filled. I mean, there were an enormous number of people at this session. And in fact, the London 11 got to speak first, and then country after country wanted to speak. I mean, it was really quite amazing. To my surprise, the energy and the passion in the room for (a) the Syrian Opposition Coalition, (b) getting to Geneva, to the Geneva conference on Syria, was quite palpable in the room. And it was meant to give greater – ever greater legitimacy and support to the opposition – international support. With international support always comes, one hopes, donations and very tangible support. (Laughter.) And I’m sure that President Jarba was looking for that as well.

But all of this is creating momentum to the P-5 meeting that will take place tomorrow night with the Secretary General and Special Joint Envoy Brahimi to talk about the next step in the Geneva conference on Syria process. And I think there is momentum toward such a conference. I think the fact that the Security Council is poised to finally take action on Syria – and I would suspect that after this UN Security Council resolution that many on the Council will turn toward addressing the humanitarian disaster and the humanitarian needs in Syria, the access issues, the humanitarian support issues, because it is quite devastating, as you all know. So --

QUESTION: But can I just follow up real quick? But that’s exactly what the Russians don’t want, like, to – you to use this as a back door to get in, like, other stuff. They want to deal specifically on this chemical issue. They don’t want to deal with these other issues in the Council.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we’ll see what they do, because we do.

QUESTION: All right, Arshad. Last one here.

QUESTION: Have they expressed a willingness to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They know this is coming. We have been very explicit.

QUESTION: When you said we want to make sure we have flexibility for the negotiating track – and that was in the context of my question about whether the Administration would support additional sanctions on Iran --


QUESTION: You do? What do you mean by you want flexibility for the negotiating track?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think it – what’s it’s always meant, Arshad. We’ve always – any executive branch wants to make sure that as they’re moving forward there are waivers, there are ways to deal with national security interests, in any piece of legislation. So we would hope that anything that goes forward does that as well. If we can make progress, and it’s a big if – I’d put that in capital letters, italics, and bold – if we can make progress on the negotiating track, and the day comes when there is sufficient concrete results on the table to either suspend or ultimately lift sanctions, we want to be able to do so.

QUESTION: Okay. So flexibility totally has to do with waivers, et cetera, not – I just want to make sure you’re not suggesting that the Administration would like Congress to step back on additional sanctions to give you flexibility.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have not asked Congress to do that.

QUESTION: But the House bill eliminates the waivers. And that’s – so that’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’re continuing to work with Congress.

MODERATOR: All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Can I ask a semi-serious question? What is the deal with Geneva? (Laughter.) Are you guys getting kickbacks from the tourism board?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, and it’s expensive, isn’t it? It’s expensive.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s expensive.


QUESTION: I mean --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You know why, though, Matt? It’s --

QUESTION: The food is good. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The food is fabulous. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s expensive. It’s a $36 cheeseburger.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s very expensive. No, no, it’s very expensive. No, I had the same problem myself this last time and I got to know the Intercontinental Hotel very well.

QUESTION: That is a nice hotel.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Geneva has the facilities to do these things. They have the back-up of the United Nations there for you, they have the conference facilities, we all have embassies there. So – I know.

QUESTION: What about Vienna?

QUESTION: What about New York?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Vienna was an option, actually. Vienna was an option.

QUESTION: What about New York? How about Nairobi? (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Don’t think so. We are – we are not – we are not going to spend – this was a big change when Ashton talked with Zarif and Helga Schmid with Araqchi. No time spent on where we were going to meet. No time spent on the dates.

QUESTION: So there was no discussion of Kazakhstan again or anything like that?

QUESTION: Oh, thank god.


QUESTION: Wait, wait – but there – really? I mean, it was not a problem for --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, really. It was not a problem. It was like done in a minute, and that is a change.

QUESTION: And they would have been happy with London or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They wanted – I think everybody agreed we should go someplace where there – it was – there was a UN --

QUESTION: Presence?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- imprimatur. So Vienna, New York, Geneva.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: All right.


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PRN: 2013/1198