Background Briefing: Previewing Iran P5+1 Talks
MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Good evening. Thank you for coming tonight. This is a background briefing, as it always is. For those of you who don’t know [Senior Administration Official], if there are any of you who don’t know [Senior Administration Official], we have [Senior Administration Official]. From now on, [Senior Administration Official] will be referred to only as a Senior Administration Official, please. And I think [Senior Administration Official] will make some brief remarks at the top, and then we will be happy to open it up for your questions.
So with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Administration Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So welcome back to Geneva, everyone. I’ve been here all week myself. I’d like to talk a little bit about what our goals are for this round of the P5+1, and then as [Moderator] said, happy to take your questions.
As we discussed after the last round, we felt we made some progress. We had serious, substantive, and technical discussions of a kind that were somewhat new given the last two years. Since that round, our nuclear, scientific, and sanctions experts met for two days in Vienna to continue working through the myriad of complicated technical issues that this negotiation entails. And I’ve had a number of conversations with my P5+1 counterparts and with my colleagues around the world who have an interest in these negotiations, such as our partners in the Gulf and in Israel of course, about the path forward here.
Put simply, what we’re looking for now is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran’s nuclear program from moving forward for the first time in decades, and that potentially rolls part of it back. This first step understanding would put time on the clock to give room for us to negotiate a comprehensive final agreement that would address all of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. It is crucial that we have this space to negotiate the final agreement without Iran’s nuclear program continuing to march forward. That is the purpose of a first step.
I’m not going to discuss the specifics of what we would like the Iranians to agree to in a first step or in a final step, except to say we want to resolve all of the international community’s concerns. And I’m not going to detail the discussions we’re having in these negotiations, but the bottom line remains that the – that Iran’s actions have to be entirely verifiable and ultimately address all of our concerns about their nuclear program.
In response – in response to a first step agreed to by Iran that halts their program from advancing further, we are prepared to offer limited, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief. We are not talking about touching the core architecture of the Iranian sanctions regime in this first step in any way. And if Iran does not live up to its obligations under the initial understanding, or if we cannot get a comprehensive agreement finalized, any economic relief we will have given Iran can, in fact, be reversed.
There’s been a lot of discussion in our press – you all may have noticed – about the prospects of potential new sanctions that Congress has been and continues to debate. And as you know, we have asked Congress to pause on moving forward with any new legislation for a very short period of time. This isn’t an indefinite pause; it’s not even a very long pause. It’s designed to make sure our diplomats and experts have the best chance to succeed in what is a very complicated and difficult negotiation.
Our diplomatic strategy must be completely in sync with any efforts in Congress, and we are grateful for all of the leadership Congress has provided on the subject of Iran’s nuclear program. Our experts strongly believe that any forward progress on additional sanctions at this time would be harmful to and potentially undermine the negotiating process at a truly crucial moment.
So for anyone who believes a negotiated solution is the strongly preferred outcome here, as I know is true of members of Congress, we owe it to our negotiators, including this one, to give them the room to do their jobs. If there is only a 10 percent chance that additional sanctions would put at risk those negotiations – and quite frankly, we believe it’s higher than 10 percent – we all have an obligation not to take the risk. The potential consequences are very high and the alternatives far less attractive, and most importantly, far less effective options.
Let me be clear: This request for a pause isn’t a decision to support or not support sanctions. We support sanctions. Sanctions have been important to Iran’s coming to the table. It was meant to change the strategic calculus of the Iranian Government – not to bring about regime change, not to punish the Iranian people, but to change the strategic calculus of Iran. We don’t know yet whether it has. We believe they may have, and we are testing whether that strategic change has taken place.
This decision on a pause is a decision to support or not support diplomacy. For the first time, Iran appears to be committed to moving this negotiation process forward quickly. One of the key shifts in the Iranian strategy we’ve seen with this new team is a recognition that they need to move quickly to get economic relief for their people given the political platform on which they were elected. And for the first time, we aren’t seeing them use this negotiating process simply to buy time.
So will we get an agreement on a first step – really, an understanding, because there will have to be implementing agreements that follow and a lot of detailed work to come – but will we get a first step understanding during this next round? I don’t want to predict when any of this might come to fruition. The issues are too complex and this is taking time. As I’ve said before, nothing is yet agreed to. There are gaps between our two sides which remain quite real. But this is our goal and it’s the one we’ll be working towards with our P5+1 partners over the coming days. I’m now happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Yes. Start us off, Michael Gordon with the Times.
QUESTION: Two clarifications, if you could. You said that if a first step is agreed, you’re prepared to offer limited, targeted, reversible economic measures. Can you explain a little further what they might be and whether they involve access to frozen assets? And also, without asking you the details of your proposal, have you yet proposed specific limits to the Iranian side to constrain their nuclear effort? And if you haven’t yet proposed these specific limits, do you intend to do so in this round?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I think the best way to answer that question is that both in the last round of the P5+1 and in the experts meetings that followed, there have been detailed discussions, both of what Iran would be willing to do in a first step and what we might be willing to do depending upon what they do. So yes, there have been very detailed discussions on both sides of this equation, and I’m not going to detail them.
MODERATOR: Next question. Yes, go ahead. Lou.
QUESTION: Thanks. So what is the possibility that you could walk away from this round of talks with the P5+1 in Iran with some sort of concrete preliminary agreement for these first steps? I mean, do you think that this is within the realm of possibility, and is that something you’re hoping to have, whether it’s something signed or a kind of verbal agreement before you move to the next phase?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s very, very difficult to predict. I have long since given up predicting where these discussions will go. What I will say is that I do think we are having very detailed discussions in a way we have not before, and that we are coming to understand each other in terms of what the equation would look like for a first step.
MODERATOR: Yes, Jasmin. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jasmin Ramsey, IPS News. Is the P5+1 prepared to discuss the endgame which Iran keeps pushing for in this round?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The P5+1 has consistently said what the United States has said and what President Obama said in his UN General Assembly speech, which is that the Iranian people, once they’ve met all – once their country has met all their international obligations and responsibilities, has a right to peaceful nuclear energy. And we indeed have asked Iran what it is they think their program should look like. So we have had discussions about what they have in mind. I have also said – which you all have heard me say before – the United States does not believe there is an inherent right to enrichment, and we have said that repeatedly to Iran.
QUESTION: Speaking of that, Minister Zarif in – when he was in Istanbul the other day said that there’s no way to stop enrichment, because they’ve just got so many scientists already deployed and it’s such an enormous program and this might be – you can’t bring the horses back once the barn door’s been opened. And there is a certain reality to what he’s saying, but – so why are you insisting that they don’t have the right to it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are two things here. We have said there is not a right to enrichment. What he’s telling you is what they currently have on the ground and what they are currently doing. They currently have an enrichment program. Whether one thinks they have a right to it or not, it is true. They have one right now.
So what we are trying to do in the first step is to make sure that that program that they have, and their nuclear program as it’s currently constructed, does not continue to advance during a period of time during which we could come to a comprehensive agreement that would address all of the concerns of the international community. What that end of that agreement looks like, quite frankly, is going to take a lot of time to negotiate.
MODERATOR: Yes, right here in the front.
QUESTION: The first step – it seems to me the problem is the first step and the last step – the first step as far as you are concerned, and the last step as far as the Iranians are concerned. The first step, you are saying that they – basically, you want to stop the Iranians from expanding their nuclear program.
What exactly are you asking them to do? You have – you’re on the record already saying something to the effect that they have to stop 20 percent enrichment, they have to ship out that stock of 20 percent enrichment that they have or dilute them, you said, or even oxidize it, stop installing new centrifuges, and also stop the completion of the building of this heavy water reactor.
Am I correct that those are the first things that you need to – from the Iranians to make sure that this process can actually start?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to confirm any specific details there. First --
QUESTION: But you’re on the record saying --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me finish. Let me finish. Give me a minute. (Laughter.) What indeed one has to deal with in a first step to make sure their program doesn’t advance is address the level of enrichment, the stockpiles of enrichment, the capacity of their facilities, the verification and monitoring. All of those elements must be undertaken and resolved in a first step – resolved to put time on the clock, not resolved finally; that’s the final agreement.
So some of the steps that you indicated were discussed in the Almaty proposal, which is the basis for moving forward in our discussions, but I would suspect that any first step will fill that out a little bit because we want them to not only ensure that their program does not advance, but we are looking at ways to make sure that we put additional time on the clock.
MODERATOR: Michael Adler, yes.
QUESTION: Can I – one --
MODERATOR: Oh, wait. We’re not going to do follow-ups. If we have time, we’ll do a second round.
MODERATOR: No, no, it’s okay. Michael Adler, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. You’ve been speaking to different players in the U.S. who are interested in sanctions and with different Jewish groups and with Israel. So you’ve been speaking with people who want sanctions very much. What is the feeling for how much time you have or how many meetings you have to produce something that will convince them it’s worth holding off?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Michael, we’re having a conversation with members of Congress. The prerogative is ultimately members of Congress to do whatever it is they decide to do. What we are saying to them is let us have a pause, a brief one. This is not about whether you’re pro-sanctions or anti-sanctions. We’re all pro-sanctions. As I said, the unprecedented international sanctions regime is a key, if not the key, factor that has brought Iran to the negotiating table; was, by his own words, a key election platform for President Rouhani to get relief from those sanctions and improve the Iranian economy. So we’re all pro-sanctions. And I have said to the Congress and I have said to the Iranians that we have asked for this pause, but if we do not move forward quickly on a first step that will buy us some time for a comprehensive agreement, that we will be right with the Congress to impose additional sanctions.
So this is a conversation. I note with appreciation that there was not a markup last week, and I look forward to briefing Congress when I return from these negotiations, keeping them well informed. They have been a strong partner in bringing us to this moment, and I look forward to our ongoing conversation to figure out the best way forward here. We have a view, and I hope members of Congress share that view.
The alternatives, as we have said, are not very attractive. The President will keep all of his options available to him and to ensure United States national security, but I think everybody in this room knows that military action is never a first resort; it is always a last resort. It shouldn’t be a first resort ever. It’s a last resort. It would not end, in our view, Iran’s nuclear program. It would set it back, but it would not end it. And so that’s one option that has also potential consequences beyond what anybody might predict.
Secondly, there are some who argue that we should just keep sanctioning Iran until they basically surrender. And indeed I understand the impulse to do that, because sanctions have been effective. But I believe that at this moment, what it will mean when in fact Iran is begun serious negotiations, it will say to our P5+1 partners we’re not serious about the negotiation, the United States of America isn’t serious, because we’re willing to put the negotiation at risk by taking additional unilateral action. It might have the counter-effect, which is to undermine the international sanctions regime as a result. And in fact, additional sanctions, certainly at least in the immediate term, will not stop Iran’s program, and what it will mean is that Iran’s program will simply keep moving forward. We’re trying to stop Iran’s program from advancing, to put time on the clock to negotiate a complete and comprehensive agreement. It seems to me it’s worth a brief pause to test that notion.
QUESTION: What is brief? Is it two months? Is it over a month? Is it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Very brief.
QUESTION: Is that two months? That’s a figure that was mentioned.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It has been mentioned.
MODERATOR: Yeah. Go ahead, Scott, and then I’ll go to you next, Laura.
QUESTION: Hi. How similar is the current – your current two-phase plan, as you describe it, and also – as you’ve described it in other media – how similar is that to or how does it mesh with the proposal that Zarif put down a few weeks ago here? I mean, when you lay it down, is it the kind of thing that you think, all right, this is something that’s going to mesh in a way that the Iranians are going to bite at or not? Because the second part of that question is that – what incentives do you think are going to be worth it for the Iranians to engage in this kind of a step from their side? They need to take something back to Tehran --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
QUESTION: -- too. So how have you blended those things?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So as I said to you before, when Minister Zarif put his proposal on the table, it was at a fairly high level, but it covered the range of categories that we’ve discussed here. And then Ambassador Araqchi, who leads the delegation when the Minister is not in the room, added detail to those high-level concepts. The detail covers all of the categories that I described, were in fact areas that we want to discuss and we believe should be part of a first step.
We had, at the last P5+1 and then the experts drilled down even further – we also had discussions about sanctions, what might fit with a first step, what would remain for a final step. And as I said to you before and I’ll say to you again, all of the core sanctions architecture remains for a final agreement, not a first step. Iran knows that. We’ve been quite explicit about it. But you also know from Almaty there are other things that are available for a first step, and we have a menu of options that allow us to mix and match, depending upon what Iran is willing to do.
MODERATOR: Yeah, Laura.
QUESTION: Do you have a sense of the next two days how you think it’s going to be structured? Is there a plenary in the morning and then bilats during the afternoon and then some additional plenaries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We sort of let this play out every time, and – Laura – and we’ll probably start off, I’m sure, with a plenary that High Representative Ashton and Minister Zarif will chair where we’ll probably summarize where we think we are. And then we’ll get down to work. We’ve got a coordination meeting in the morning among the E3+3 because some of my colleagues aren’t getting in till late tonight or very early tomorrow morning. So we’ll have a coordination meeting. Then we’ll start, probably, with a plenary to take stock of where we are, and then we’ll move into substantive discussions beyond that that will be partly plenary. We might have our experts meet at appropriate times. There will be bilaterals when they are useful. So exactly how it will all play out, we just take it as it comes and figure out what’s the best modality.
MODERATOR: Jay Solomon, in the back.
QUESTION: Thanks. Do you think the Administration’s debate with the Congress has been hurt by the fact that the Administration opposed the previous sanctions implementation, particularly on the central bank, that now you yourself say are the reason they came to the table. So I’ve heard from Congress saying, well, if we had listened to the White House before, we wouldn’t be where we are today. That’s one.
And just a follow-up: How difficult is this process moving forward in the sense of dealing with some of our Sunni Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia? Because they just don’t – they seem so suspicious of any rapprochement with Iran or a nuclear deal that it seems like it’s a very difficult balance to maintain.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So first of all, you have been buying the narrative that some members of Congress have been selling you, Jay.
QUESTION: Well, you (inaudible).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, but we weren’t asking for there not to be sanctions. We were asking for some changes to that to give us the flexibility to get the international regime in place. We got the changes we wanted in that legislation, and that authority that we were given, the way we were given that authority, allowed us to put in place the most effective international sanctions regime on oil that has ever been in existence. So if you go back and read, for instance, Secretary Geithner’s letter up to the Hill on that particular piece of legislation you’re talking about, he didn’t say don’t do it. He said don’t do it this way; do it this way. And that is, in fact, the way Congress did it. So we have never been opposed to sanctions. We have been opposed to some of the way it was done because we didn’t believe it would allow us to get the flexibility we needed to enforce the international regime.
On your second question, which is very important, I try to consult with the Gulf countries before and after every negotiation. I met with the Gulf ambassadors a few days ago. The time has been a little bit short between these two, so I’ve met once with them between the two. Secretary Kerry, as you know, was just in Saudi Arabia, and they – he and the King had a nearly two hour meeting with a wide-ranging discussion, including, of course, Iran, and all of the other areas of concern for the Gulf. We very much understand the anxieties, the concerns, the security interests that the Gulf states have. That’s why we stay in very close consultation with them in this regard, and I look forward to continuing to do so.
MODERATOR: Yes, back here. And I’ll go to you next.
QUESTION: Karl Penhaul with CNN. Can you clarify your remarks regarding no inherent right to enrichment? Through that, are you saying that even after a final agreement, you may not countenance Iran’s right to enrich any uranium? And also, in that sense, would you accept that Israel and France and even the United States do have an inherent right to enrichment?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t believe any country – the United States does not believe any country has a right. That doesn’t mean countries don’t have enrichment programs. They do. So the issue is not – when people say we have a right, then it means you can’t put any limitations on it, you cannot stop it, you cannot question it, because it’s an inherent right. We believe Iran does not have a right. We don’t believe any country has a right. We believe that everyone needs to look at what the program is, what is it for, why does a country need it. There are many more countries who have civil nuclear energy who do not enrich, than countries who have civil nuclear energy who do enrich. So there are many choices here. It’s not about – it is – there is a very big difference between right and program.
QUESTION: Does that mean, though, that you will countenance Iran’s possibility --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not –
QUESTION: -- to enrich after a final review, or you won’t countenance?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not gotten to the end of this story. We need to first take a first step, stop the advance of Iran’s program, so that we can have a serious discussion about how to meet the international community’s concerns. These are not just our concerns. There is a – there are UN Security Council resolutions, and there is a UN Security Council resolution that called for the suspension of Iran’s enrichment program because they had not met their international obligations and responsibilities. All of this has to be addressed. That’s what we’re going to try to do.
MODERATOR: Go ahead, Anna.
QUESTION: Yeah. The question up there is – it’s Iran and U.S. meeting the previous time in Geneva was a highlight during the talks. And lately, the latest piece by Ambassador Crocker was also suggesting that one of the things which is very important in this process is Iran and U.S. talking to each other. Are you looking forward to it? And how much of an importance do you see in this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s important for the United States and Iran to talk directly with each other. I also, as I’ve said to you all before, believe it’s important for every member of the P5+1 to have a direct channel because you can have conversations bilaterally in a different level of detail and of a different nature than you can in a room full of people. So what has been very good about the P5+1 is every time there is a bilateral discussion by any member, it comes back into the group, because ultimately, even if things get discussed in a bilateral channel, this is a concern of the international community, not just the United States, not just France, not just Russia, not just China, or any of my other colleagues. It is the international community. The sanctions belong to the international community. We have very strong U.S. sanctions, but there are EU sanctions, there are UN Security Council sanctions, there are other country sanctions. And the collective in this instance matters. It matters to make it real. It matters for the enforcement of any understanding or agreement that is reached. And so, yes, we think the bilateral channel is very valuable, very helpful --
QUESTION: Why do you think there is so much emphasis on Iran-U.S. bilateral?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think because we're the United States, in the sense that we have the wherewithal with all of our capabilities to have a very deep and broad toolbox that includes sanctions and ability to enforce those sanctions, which we’ve done very, very well. And one of my colleagues on our team, Adam Szubin, who heads up OFAC, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, not only has done a superb with all his other Treasury officials and our enforcement officials at the State Department, but the United States Treasury Department has helped countries all over the world learn how to use financial tools and financial sanctions. So the United States has a great deal that it can offer to this process.
I think the other thing is that what the President spoke about at the UN General Assembly. There are decades of mistrust. We saw evidence of that on November 4th, the demonstrations in Tehran. There are – there is very, very, very deep mistrust because of the history between our two countries. So to that extent, if the United States and Iran, working in the P5+1, can begin to take steps to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, it is addressing a very profound relationship – a painful one.
MODERATOR: And if I could make a note here – I should have said this at the beginning – if you could say your name and your outlet. We know most of you, but for those of you we don’t, it would just be nice. But go ahead, Indira --
MODERATOR: -- who we all know. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg. You’ve made very clear that you are looking for an interim deal first that would put the time on the clock, and then a more comprehensive deal. So in terms of the interim deal, we already know what sanctions relief was offered in Almaty, and you’ve said that that’s still on the table. In terms of what you would be willing to add, in terms of the menu, I know that depends on what Iran is, itself, willing to do. But in terms of the execution of that, would that take place through national interest waivers? Would it take place through individual non-enforcement? Would it be lifting of EOs first, before going to the congressional legislation? How do you envision that? And is it over a six-month period on the way to a final deal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So a couple of things. First of all, we don’t consider this an interim deal; we consider it a first step. And the reason we use that nomenclature is that anything in the first step ought to be the first step to the comprehensive agreement. It’s not an interim deal, sort of like, well, you may never get to the rest of it. It is a first step that ought to lead you towards what you are trying to resolve in a comprehensive agreement. So that’s why we call it a first step, in a sort of a phased approach to this. But it’s all headed towards a comprehensive agreement.
Secondly, what mechanism we will use, it’ll be a suspension of what we do on the sanctions side because Iran will be suspending what it does for whatever period of time. The period of time that is most discussed but not yet agreed is, as I think I’ve said to you before, six months. Because even though we may be making some progress since the Rouhani government came into place, it’s not like any of these are new issues. So we’ve been discussing these issues for quite some time. So we all know a lot about each other and where each other stands on these things. So depending upon what Iran does, we will figure out the best mechanism to suspend whatever it is we will suspend on our side of that equation. It’ll just depend, Indira.
QUESTION: Hi. Al Pesin from Voice of America. It sounds like you’re saying you can see from where you sit the outlines of an agreement on this first step, where the Iranians would do enough on all these categories you mentioned to satisfy the P5 and can sell it in Tehran, and that the P5, especially the U.S., would do enough on sanctions relief to satisfy the Iranians and be able to sell it in Washington and the other capitals.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll take that deal. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is that what – is that what you’re saying? Can – do you see that – could you write it down on a piece of paper right now? And if you do see it, how long do you think it’ll take to get there? And I know you can’t be specific, but --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do see the potential for the outlines of a first step. I do think it can be written on a piece of paper, probably more than one.
MODERATOR: (Phone ringing.) Guys – is that you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s mine.
MODERATOR: Okay. I was just going to – (laughter) --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s mine.
MODERATOR: I was just going to chastise the reporters, but I’m not going to do that. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: I know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The last time my phone rang, it was a solicitation. Let’s see what this one is.
QUESTION: Car insurance?
QUESTION: Job offer.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that one was, too. The last one started out – it was an automatic voice that said, the FBI has said, every five minutes someone breaks into your house, so I hung up. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You were about to tell us what was on that piece of paper. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: But you can see it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can.
QUESTION: And when do you think? Any idea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know.
QUESTION: This week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don’t know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don’t know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don’t know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don’t know.
MODERATOR: Back here in the back next to Jay.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I will say is --
MODERATOR: Oh, after [Senior Administration Official] finished.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- I hope sooner rather than later, because I’d like to stop Iran’s program from advancing further. That has an – that’s important in and of itself.
QUESTION: Hi. (Inaudible) the Wall Street Journal. You mentioned the European sanctions, and as you know, there’ve been a bunch of legal challenges to them that have been successful. How concerned are you about that? You’ve made it very clear that the core sanctions shouldn’t go in this first step. Are you worried that these challenges could mean giving away something you don’t want to, and do you think Europeans have got proper control of this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I’ll let the Europeans speak for themselves. I don’t want to try to speak for my colleagues. I will say that that has not arisen as an obstacle in the discussions we’re having.
MODERATOR: Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: It’s John Zarocostas with GRN. [Senior Administration Official], how is what is being proposed here different from the May 2005 agreement that President Rouhani negotiated in Geneva? What is new here in addition to the earlier freezing model that we saw eight years ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That would mean I would give you the details of what we’re seeing here, and I’m not going to. So you’ll have to wait and see.
QUESTION: Is that a plus? Is that building on that initial --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’d have to go back and look. I really don’t know off the top of my head. Sorry.
QUESTION: It’s not a repeat of the same tactic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know the package well enough to tell you the answer to that question, and I’m not going to discuss the details of what we’re discussing.
MODERATOR: Go ahead, Barak.
QUESTION: Barak Ravid, Haaretz. Two questions. First one: Can you describe to us, at least in your opinion, what are the gaps today between you guys and the Israelis regarding where this process is going? Because it seems that still Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps on with the very harsh rhetoric.
And this is my second question about Netanyahu’s rhetoric: He’s saying for the last few days since the demonstrations in Tehran that these are the – that that’s the true face of Iran. And do you think that this is the true face of Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I think I’ve said to you before, I have great admiration for the strength of the advocacy that the Prime Minister has for the security of Israel, and the United States is completely committed to the security of Israel. They are our partner in the Middle East, they are a democracy. On the subject of Iran’s nuclear program, they, like the rest of the world, want answers. And like the President of the United States, they do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And as you know, the President of the United States has said he will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
So on the fundamentals, there is no gap. We want the absolute same objective. We have had very robust and useful tactical discussions about how to meet that objective, and that’s very healthy because it means you get good ideas, you share knowledge, you share an understanding of what’s going on, and it’s very productive. We do that with partners and allies all over the world, and it is very useful.
As to your second question, the President said there are decades of mistrust between the United States and Iran. We saw that vividly on November 4th. And there are – Iran is a culture with many elements in it, as is ours. We have hardliners in our culture – probably not hardliners like Iranian hardliners, but a different variety. And certainly I did not find it particularly comfortable to listen to chants of “Death to America.” So there’s a lot of mistrust, and it is going to take a long time.
But I also remember – and since you are an Israeli reporter, you know that Prime Minister Rabin – I don’t think he was the originator of the quote, but often said one does not make peace with one’s friends; one makes peace with one’s enemies. And so we are trying to address concern about Iran’s nuclear program and to ensure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. That does not mean we trust each other, that does not mean we will any time soon because we have decades of mistrust. But we are trying to practically address a very key security concern for the United States of America. It happens to be a key security concern for Israel.
QUESTION: Hi. Ali Arouzi, NBC News. [Senior Administration Official], I have a question. If Iran does take the first few steps that you’re talking about and you offer some sort of sanctions relief, how confident are you that they’re not pursuing some other furtive program elsewhere in the country, like Fordow, that you didn’t know about until two years ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are no guarantees in anything in life, certainly not in this arena of nonproliferation. But we have a fair amount of visibility, and anything we’re talking about in this first six months, if that is the timeframe that gets agreed to, is a suspended situation that is reversible. And so if we do find something out, if there is some form of noncompliance, there is a built-in mechanism to deal with it.
But I would also point out that we may not have known immediately about Fordow, but we did come to know about it. And so I think it demonstrates to Iran and demonstrates to the world that if you do have a secret, you won’t have it for long.
QUESTION: But, I mean, the secret was pretty full blown until you found out about it. I mean, it was a pretty big, functioning complex when you found out about it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I quite agree.
QUESTION: So it might have been a little late by that point, even, you could argue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One could argue lots of things; that’s why we’re in a very difficult, complicated, and challenging negotiation.
MODERATOR: Yes, right here.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m Takashi with NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I understand there are two tracks of negotiations going on in terms of the non-nuclear thing. It’s about P5+1 with Iran, and also IAEA track. And if Iran proposes something – touches upon IAEA domain, how can you respond to that? If they put that on the table, it’s their job to negotiate, or you going to discuss that matter here also?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, anything that we do in verification and monitoring will be probably the purview of the IAEA. So we will have to work very closely together in terms of verifying whatever first step might get agreed to. I was very fortunate to meet with Director General Amano in Washington on Friday, to hear from him about his recent meeting and a potential upcoming meeting, and to discuss where we were, where they were. We have been very clear that the IAEA has its own track and we should not get in the middle of that track. And at the same time, we understand that anything that gets agreed to or understood in what we are doing will be monitored and verified by the IAEA, so we will have to work closely. So I think as long as we keep in very close communication, we will make sure we do not inappropriately cross lines. We think the work that the IAEA is doing is critically important.
MODERATOR: Great. Last question. This one has to be quick.
QUESTION: It is, actually, a quick one. Justyna Pawlak from Reuters.
MODERATOR: Good. Perfect.
QUESTION: You’ve told us that it’s – within your mind, the initial confidence-building steps from Iran would last six months. It would be the suspension of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Perhaps. We haven’t agreed on a time.
QUESTION: Is the idea that the sanctions relief will be – that will accompany it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Phone rings.) Sorry.
QUESTION: -- is even after the six months, or would sanctions relief kick in during that period?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry.
MODERATOR: Just one second.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you need me to say it again?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I do.
QUESTION: If the initial suspension or confidence-building measure, whatever, from Iran lasts six months, would the sanctions relief that accompanies it kick in during those six months, or only afterwards?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what we’re probably going – we have to work out implementing agreement of anything that gets agreed to. And I’m sure the sequencing of all of that that you’re discussing will be of great interest to both of us.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you all for coming.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you.
MODERATOR: For those of you who came in late, this is on background as Senior U.S. Administration Official – no names or titles, please. And you know how to find me if you need to follow up. Thanks, guys.