Background Briefing: P5+1 Negotiations With Iran in Vienna, Austria
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, so let me make a few opening remarks. We have been very hard at work here in Vienna. The days are very long and they start very early. They usually go till about 1 in the morning, at least, because Washington wakes up later than we do so it makes for a nice, long day, which you all probably experience as well.
Many of my colleagues have been here for several weeks. I’ve been here myself over a week now. And the Secretary and his counterparts, including Foreign Minister Zarif, have been in intense negotiations over the past days about the trickiest issues and most difficult issues left in these talks. As we said yesterday, given the date – I think today is the 29th – and the fact that we still have more work to do, the parties are planning to remain in Vienna past June 30th to keep negotiating. We are still very focused on concluding a comprehensive agreement in this negotiating round, and no one is talking about a long-term extension – no one.
It is certainly possible to get a deal here. We do see a path forward to get a comprehensive agreement that meets our bottom lines, and this path forward has to be based on the Lausanne parameters, period. And just in case you missed that, I’m going to turn to my trusty Farsi speaker and he’ll give it to you in Farsi.
PARTICIPANT: (In Farsi.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So just in case you want to know, he can repeat that for you at any moment. (Laughter.)
But there are real and tough issues that remain which have to be resolved in order to get the comprehensive agreement, and we still do not know yet whether we will be able to get there. We do not know. We want to. We hope to. But we do not know.
We and the Iranians both understand that this is an important moment in these talks. We have come very far successfully negotiating and implementing the Joint Plan of Action and then getting agreement on broad parameters that we outlined in Lausanne. What we’re trying to do now is to put all of the details behind those parameters – details which are so crucial to ensuring the world that this is a strong, long-term, verifiable deal.
So I’m going to stop here and I’ll be glad to take your questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Is it okay if Andrea goes first? Great, thanks. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of whether Foreign Minister Zarif returned to Tehran because he was pressed by Secretary Kerry and the others to try to clarify what the Ayatollah Khamenei said last week and how that clearly differed on the face of it with the parameters of Lausanne, and whether the remaining details do involve some of the things that were agreed to, including access and the R&D in the out years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I’m not going to speak for Foreign Minister Zarif about why he went back. His public statements and his spokespeople’s public statements was that this was pre-scheduled consultation, and ministers have been coming and going. I think you all are aware that Minister Lavrov will be here tomorrow. So people come and go. And so he has said this was prearranged.
And in terms of what is still under discussion, everything is under discussion. Let me give you an example. We have, as I think you all know, decided on a modified Arak reactor that will ensure that there is not weapons-grade plutonium produced in Iran. There are myriad details involved in that, everything from how is that project going to be managed, who’s going to do it, who’s going to certify the design, how will it be monitored, what happens to the heavy water, what happens to the spent fuel, and about a hundred other details that underlie that decision – many details. All of those have to be agreed to. We have to understand what we have agreed to here.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And that’s not even one of the toughest.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s not the tough – I’m using it as an example because you’re all well familiar with it. There are others that are much, much, much more complex than that – deciding on what the UN Security Council resolution is going to say. And as I’ve explained to you all before, this is the P5+1 so we have to get agreement among ourselves and then we have to get agreement with Iran. So it is a very complex process and we have to take an awful lot into account, not least of all what technical experts tell us is real or not. And that is a very complex process.
So all of the issues are on the table because all of the parameters require an elaboration. Some of that was agreed to in Lausanne. Some of it we knew had to be further detailed as part of a comprehensive understanding, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Carol.
QUESTION: Do you believe when you’re in the negotiating sitting at the table with them, do you believe the Iranians are backtracking on what they committed to in Lausanne?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I will say about this is that for the United States and for the P5+1 we are all about the Lausanne parameters. That is what we agreed to. That is what is the understanding for reaching a comprehensive agreement, period.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, in the back. Go ahead, Paul.
QUESTION: When you say that it has to be based on the Lausanne parameters, what I take from that is that the other side is trying to move away from those parameters. Is that a correct inference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I care about, Paul – and I’m just going to jump ahead to where I think your questions are coming from – there are a lot of public voices about this agreement from all over the world. Not only do you all get lots of sources writing press stories, but leaders, ministers all over the world make comments about this negotiation – what it should be, what it shouldn’t be, what the bottom lines ought to be. There are pieces written every single day about what the bottom lines of this agreement should be. What we have to do as negotiators is stay focused inside the room. We know what we agreed to in Lausanne. We know what we are trying to detail. If people have things they have to reconcile or deal with from those voices, then they’ll have to figure out the pathway toward that to make sure that we, in fact, fill out the Lausanne parameters that we agreed to.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Indira.
QUESTION: I think the question that all of us have is our understanding in Lausanne on April 2nd was the U.S. fact sheet that was given out, that those were things that already had been agreed to, so that everything in the U.S. fact sheet – Iran had signed off on everything.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was an accurate fact sheet, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And they had accurately signed off on everything that was on that factsheet, Iran had?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They had signed onto the Lausanne parameters, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, right. So when you say that everything has to depend on the Lausanne framework, is there anything going on inside the room that makes you concerned that it’s – that someone is trying to make it not be the Lausanne framework?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, every one of these issues is very complicated. Lausanne was parameters. They were the broad outlines of what was necessary, but details can change the meaning of those parameters. And so that’s why the negotiation is so complex and so difficult. And at the end of the day, we have to come to a common understanding of how the details are elaborated to fill out what we believe to be the Lausanne parameters. We think we are very clear about that. We think everybody should be very clear about what they are. And we’re going to have to find our way forward based on them.
QUESTION: So we had heard that the Iranians have now officially signed off on this idea that sanctions relief will only come to them after the IAEA verifies their compliance with nuclear curbs. Is that correct? They have signed off on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What we said in Lausanne, which you saw in the fact sheet, is that we have worked out a process and a phasing so that Iran will take a series of voluntary nuclear steps that will be verified. We will be all set and ready to go. We have some preparation to do to be able to lift our sanctions in the first instance. We have a lot of preparation to do. It is not something you just turn a switch and all of a sudden it’s gone. There’s not only paperwork but a lot of interaction with financial institutions, developing regulatory guidelines, guidance to banks – tons and tons of stuff. We have to prepare as well. So everybody will get ready, everybody will take their steps, and then when the IAEA has verified virtually simultaneously whatever commitments we make about the first phase of the lifting of sanctions will occur.
QUESTION: Okay, and then last thing on this which is – is it also as an understanding – what I understood from Lausanne was that also PMD would have to be addressed as part of that initial phase?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to talk about what is in each phase, but it is – would not be a surprise to discover that PMD would be one of those steps that must be addressed as part of that initial phase.
QUESTION: But not – oh, perhaps in the first phase, not necessarily?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to go detail by detail.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) as part of that initial phase?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to go detail by detail.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And what phase.
Yes, Michael, and then Michael.
QUESTION: Just very quickly, just a point of clarification, [Senior Administration Official]. Is – from the U.S. perspective, there was a fair amount of detail in the parameters that the United States Government issued. Are all of those elements from your perspective immutable elements or building blocks for the prospective agreement that you hope to achieve here, or would you be willing to adjust or even re-negotiate one of those elements in return for something else on the Iranian side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We --
QUESTION: In other words, when you say everything’s under discussion, I can imagine a scenario where you might change something in that statement in return for something else. Or is that locked in from your point of view?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are – we are building this understanding on the Lausanne parameters, and I’m not going to go further than that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Michael Wilner.
QUESTION: So --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to negotiate here.
QUESTION: I understand you say that there are a lot of voices and there are a lot of leaders who are weighing in, but of course, this is the supreme leader of the nation that you’re negotiating with. Not only that; his positions have been codified by a law that was passed through the Guardian Council. So in terms of the provisions of those laws, can you say definitively that, for instance, on access to military sites, you want an explicit reference guaranteeing that Iran is going to grant that access?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What we have said is that whether it is PMD or the Additional Protocol, that if the IAEA believes there is a basis for needing access to people, places, documents, that they should be able to get it. And if it is justified and it involves this understanding, then as long – along with PMD and the Additional Protocol and that happens to end up being a military site, then that should be available.
QUESTION: Just one quick follow-up, because one of your experts yesterday said --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But the – I want to be clear: The entry point isn’t we must be able to get into every military site, because the United States of America wouldn’t allow anybody to get into every military site. So that’s not appropriate. There are conventional military purposes; there are military secrets that any country has that they’re not willing to share with other people. But if in the context of this agreement the Additional Protocol, PMD, the – if you have Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, the IAEA believes that it needs access and has a reason for that access, then we have a process to ensure that that access is given.
QUESTION: Okay. Because one of your experts yesterday said that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They’re better than I am, so if they said something, they’re probably right and I’m probably wrong. What was the answer?
QUESTION: He said that it’s implicit in the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. Are you looking for explicit acknowledgement that it refers to military sites?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have worked out a process that we believe will ensure that the IAEA has the access it needs.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: David and then Margaret.
QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official], when the Secretary spoke in that news conference from Boston that he did about two weeks ago, he said the United States had absolute knowledge of what military steps have been taken before by Iran, and therefore it would not necessarily be the case that Iran would have to go reveal all that it had done in the past. And later there was a series of sort of corrections or amendments there --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know, I think I read the whole transcript. I think the entire reality was in the transcript, maybe not in the first question but in the second question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, it was in the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I actually think it was all in that interview, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. So tell us just if you can right now your understanding. Are – is the ultimate objective here to get Iran to say just what its capability had been, what its intent had been? I mean, what’s your – as you look back at this period of time, what is it that you need to extract? Because if you’ve got absolutely knowledge, you may not need anything.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s not – it’s not what the United States needs to extract, David. It’s what the IAEA’s responsibility is. This is an institutional responsibility of the IAEA to explore possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And so what we have tried to do through this negotiation is to ensure that PMD is addressed and that the IAEA is able to issue a report as it has taken on as its institutional responsibility to do. So the judge of PMD is the IAEA, not us. And what I think the Secretary was saying implicitly in that is the United States has already made a judgment. We put out a public NIE some years ago about what our judgment is.
So we’ve made our judgment, but that’s not what this is about. This is about the IAEA following through on the responsibility it has taken on, that the Board of Governors has mandated the director general and his colleagues to take on, and to finish the job. And we believe that has to be addressed on its own terms because of that institutional responsibility, but we also believe that addressing it helps build confidence that the kind of verification, managed access will be there in the future as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Margaret, and then Lou.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Can you give us a sense of the timeframe that you have in mind? You gestured towards all the work that still has to be done, notifying banks, going through that procedure. When would we see implementation in a practical sense? When would there be a sanctions benefit that Iran would receive? Because we’ve heard from the supreme leader they want something the day an accord is signed. We know there actually won’t be a signing from senior Administration officials, so what does that mean to you? When does – how does this procedure work?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, this is – the phasing of all of this is part of what we are – the detail of which we are negotiating. I think that everyone wants to make sure that there is a clear pathway that everybody knows what’s going to happen when. As I said, we will agree. As you state, this is not a signing ceremony, nor was the parameters, nor was the Joint Plan of Action. This is a political understanding that we are undertaking here. And that that political understanding will then probably have phases to it – a phase when it’s adopted, a phase when it’s ready to go live, and a phase when it becomes operational. And we are working out the sequence of all of that.
QUESTION: So is it appropriate to ever use the term “immediate” in terms of a sanctions benefit to Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what everyone wants to know is that whatever we do, that there will be a quorum of simultaneity. As you remember from the Joint Plan of Action, there was that kind of simultaneity where Iran took a series of steps, at which point our sanctions lifting went into effect in a virtually simultaneous way. So I think if you look to the Joint Plan of Action, you will find a lot of clues, shall I say, to how we are approaching this.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up to that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, okay. Sure. Follow quickly and then we’ll go to Lou.
QUESTION: Your – you outlined three phases. What was the second phase, again? You said --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t want to say that they will automatically be three phases. I’m just saying there’s going to be a phased approach. We will come to an agreement, then we’ll have to do some preparations, then we’ll be able to go --
QUESTION: Go live.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- go live. So there’s – how we’ll call these phases, what they’ll be, what will be in each one is part of what we are working through.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lou.
QUESTION: Just to add a tiny follow-up to that, some of your partners in the negotiations have said publicly that they can’t imagine the deal going live before, say, the end of the year. But my – and my main question was there’s been a lot of sort of criticism, concern, fear being publicly expressed all over the place. You know the ones who were making it. There are concerns that while the U.S. is talking tough in public that behind closed doors the Administration wants a deal so badly it’s prepared to cave. What do you say to these critics? I mean, do you feel the need to assure them that that’s not the case, or – I mean, how would you respond?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say the following: If we were going to cave, I could be home already and I’d be a really happy person. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There you go.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We would’ve done that a long time ago. It’s really absurd on its face. Why would we put ourselves through this? Why would our teams be here for as long as they have been? Why would we be spending the hours doing this in the way we are if we were to say, “Well, whatever you want, you got”? This is a very, very tough negotiation. I have sat in many meetings with Secretary Kerry. He is a generous, wonderful human being, but he is tough as nails as a negotiator. And he is cordial. He’s respectful as a professional. He knows the material extraordinarily well. And I think sometimes people see his affable, generous personality as giving. Well, it is respectful and it is cordial, but he knows what is needed here. He is committed to the Lausanne parameters, and he is absolutely committed to getting them. Likewise, the President of the United States, to whom we all are accountable to, because he was the person elected by the people of our country --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Twice.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- is quite clear what is necessary here, and his instructions are very clear to all of us.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Jo.
QUESTION: And on the phasing thing --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, sorry. Sorry, sorry.
QUESTION: -- the little follow-up? That – is it logical that it’s more likely the end of the year the earliest this could go live?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think until we work this all out and we’ve done all of the details we need, I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on any part of this process.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Jo, and then the gentlemen from the AP in the back, both of you.
QUESTION: Which one?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You can – we’ll do both of you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Could I just ask, perhaps, opposite side of Lou’s question: What happens if tomorrow, Foreign Minister Zarif comes back from Tehran and says, “We can’t do this”? What’s the next backup plan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think --
QUESTION: Are you in a stalemate situation? Given all the work you’ve done so far --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what I’ve learned over the last almost two years – and I also was in the Jalili process, and some of the Oman process, so I’ve been doing this for a long time now. What I’ve learned is this is a rollercoaster, and if you try to imagine what’s going to happen the next day, you plan for it, you get ready for it, you work for it, and then you take what comes. I don’t think it’s worthwhile to get into hypotheticals. We will deal with what comes our way. We’re clear about what is necessary for a verifiable, durable – bye, John.
QUESTION: I’ll be back.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. By a – for a verifiable, durable, long-term comprehensive plan of action. We know what we need, and we’ll deal with what comes.
QUESTION: But do you have a plan? Do you have a plan B?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we always --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lots of plans.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have lots of plans. We have lots of plans.
QUESTION: So we have two questions. I’ll let Brad ask his first, because it was the same as one of them.
QUESTION: Are talks open-ended at this point, or are you working off some sort of effective deadline?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We all do not want or are seeking or are planning for a long-term extension. We have said always for some time now that we expected we’d probably go over June 30th, just as we went over March 30th. March 30th, however, was parameters. This is, as you all know, a many, many page document, a main text and several annexes. It takes a long time, a lot of – huge amounts of detail, all of which has to be checked. And then our lawyers have to look at it all, for heaven sakes. So I would talk in terms of days, not longer. We are --
QUESTION: But not --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are not looking for a long-term extension here.
QUESTION: But you would not be surprised if it was more than the two days that were required in Lausanne?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not be surprised if it’s more than two days. I hope it’s not, but I won’t be surprised.
QUESTION: So – and then my question is: Is there any serious discussion, because among the Iranian (inaudible) there’s this concern that – of moving to Geneva. Geneva. Is there any talk about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are not moving to Geneva.
QUESTION: Okay, so --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I love Geneva --
QUESTION: So we’re going to stay (inaudible).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’re staying here, guys.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sorry.
QUESTION: That was it. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: James, and then Arshad.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing the briefing. It’s really very helpful to us. Two quick questions, if I may. When the Lausanne parameters were released, you will recall that the Iranian Government made a number of statements publicly to the effect that the United States had released an inaccurate fact sheet. And you’ve addressed that already in this briefing, but that kind of noise from those voices – our negotiating partners in the – or not our partners, but the people we’re negotiating with – as you know, can contribute to public misunderstanding about the work you’re doing and so forth. I wonder, as my first question, if we learned anything from Lausanne that will help us going forward so that we can avoid that kind of counter clash of what the agreement actually says, or do you regard that as inevitable? That’s question one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So to that I would say there wasn’t paper out of Lausanne. You didn’t have a text. You had parameters. You are going to have a text. It will be evident to everyone what has been agreed. So we’re in a quite different situation in that regard. When the Joint Plan of Action happened, there was a joint plan of action. It was evident, with some – lots of questions because it was a short interim step with not a lot of detail on a lot of the pieces and projected into the future. But this is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
And one of the things I would also add here is this is staggeringly consequential for everybody. Everybody who’s involved in this negotiation understands and quite frankly feels the burden of the responsibility of what we’re doing. This is incredibly consequential for the national security of the United States. This is quite consequential for the national security of all of the P5+1 partners, the regions, the Middle East, the world, and for Iran. And we have between the United States and Iran decades of enmity and mistrust. That’s very tough, and making this decision to actually do the joint comprehensive plan of action is a very, very, very big decision for everybody – very big. So it’s tough to do it.
QUESTION: Question two is: Various spokesmen from the Administration all the way up to the President himself have sought very forcefully over the course of the negotiations to rebut the suggestion that the United States has steadily lowered its expectations for the agreement, or, as others may seek to put it, made concessions. And the Administration, as I say – it’s been very forceful in rebutting that. But just as one example of many, President Obama told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in November of 2014 – at which point, as you know, the negotiations were underway – and I quote, “If we reach a deal that is verifiable and assures that Iran does not have breakout capacity, I can persuade the American people that it’s the right thing to do.” Now the deal that’s being negotiated, as you’ve all made clear to us in many briefings, is one that will leave Iran with a breakout capacity of only one year’s time at the end of the agreement or should the agreement be violated. So how is that not a reduction of our position? How is that not a concession? We went from having no breakout capacity to one of – one year’s duration.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say, James, first of all, I don’t have the whole quote; I don’t have the whole context, and so I’m not going to speak to the quote that the President made in specifics, because I don’t have the whole context of that interview. What I will say is at this moment Iran, as analysts have said, have probably an ability to break out – that means enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in the terms we’ve been using in this negotiation, which isn’t – it’s used in different ways in different places, but in this negotiation, breakout has been the amount of time it would take to get enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. Most analysts think we’re at a point now where Iran could do that in two or three months.
So to get for a long-term period of time – for many years – a breakout of at least a year is quite an accomplishment. Most analysts will tell you that a year is quite more than enough time to take action if one decides that something is going to happen that you wish would not, so we quite frankly think that if we do get this agreement, we will have achieved the objective the President has set out.
The achievement the President has set out again and again is that we should ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that we have closed down the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon: the uranium pathway, the highly enriched uranium pathway, the weapons-grade plutonium pathway, and the covert pathway. And that is what we are doing in this agreement. That is what we will do in this agreement.
We have heard lots of advice from lots of people. We have read lots of papers that lots of people have written.
QUESTION: I didn’t quote them. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we appreciate it. All of the experts, all of the analysts, all the opinion leaders – I value what they write because it makes me think about what we’re doing. It tests what we’re doing against what they’re saying. But at the end of the day, this is about not what we should do, but what we must do. And what we must do is make sure that we reach the President’s objective, and that is that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon – that it will not obtain a nuclear weapon, that their program is exclusively peaceful, and that we have shut down the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon. That’s what we are about; that’s what we must do. I appreciate all the advice we get from many, many people and places. I read it all, I consider it all; it helps all of us to test out what we’re doing. Appreciate it a lot, but we know what we must do and we’re doing it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Arshad.
QUESTION: Two things. One, can you address the timeliness of access to suspect sites? You talked about having a process so that you could go to sites that the IAEA feels it has a need to. What can you tell us about the timeliness of that process so that it doesn’t get strung out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I think if – those of you who had the briefing the other day, you probably went through how the Additional Protocol works. Currently, under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA can request access if they feel they need that to answer a question or they’re concerned about nuclear material. They – then the country can say, “Sure,” or the country – and this is all managed access, so you can say, “Well, we actually think you should go here, not here. We think this document will answer the question; it won’t.” If they cannot come to an agreement, that discussion – that negotiation – can go on ad infinitum.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. But we have added a procedure in this agreement that will ensure that that discussion comes to an end and that if the IAEA believes that it needs access, it will – and managed access – it will get it.
QUESTION: How soon will --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to talk about time frames.
QUESTION: The second thing is: How much does the U.S. experience – both with Iraq, where, of course, they pursued nuclear activities that no one was aware of until after inspectors came in post-war; and then secondly in North Korea, where the Agreed Framework capped the plutonium program but where they were able to pursue uranium enrichment for many years without your knowledge – how much does that weigh on you as you try to structure this agreement, and what makes you think the Iranians will agree to steps intrusive enough to prevent that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, each one of these situations – all three of these situations – are sui generis. They all are very different in nature, different in the development of the program, different in the nature of the program, different in the nature of the country, different in the nature of the circumstances, different points in time. We have different tools at our disposal. So I don’t think it’s particularly useful to compare. Doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons learned – of course there are – from all of these situations in non-proliferation, but we feel very confident that the whole package that we are putting together for transparency, verification, as well as sanctions lifting, other nuclear steps that Iran will take – that the package as a whole together will provide the platform that’s necessary to ensure that we reach the President’s objective.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Is there anyone who hasn’t had a question yet? Yes, Laura.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And then --
QUESTION: Accidents have happened in these two years of negotiations. You’ve been injured. Secretary Kerry broke his leg and was able to come. We know Dr. Salehi is recovering and may try to come. From the example you gave on just the technical complexity of what has to be written down about what’s already agreed on Arak, it sounds like you need to have everybody with that kind of technical expertise and authority. And is Salehi – is Salehi’s absence hurting the talks and contributing to the need for more time? And then I have a second part.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, when we were in Geneva for a day’s meeting, Dr. Salehi joined by phone. I think he has been consulting with his team here in Vienna on a regular basis. We do all have modern communications. We can communicate back and forth, so even if a person isn’t literally in the room they can be in the room. We have a good-sized team here; all of the delegations do. But we communicate back to our teams. We go back to Oak Ridge, we go back to Argon Labs. We have DOE people who are available to us 24/7 given the time difference so that we can get questions answered. So we have all put together what is necessary to get this job done. We hope that Dr. Salehi is feeling better and we hope he is able to join the negotiations.
QUESTION: And then the second part – second I have, my understanding is some Iranian officials have suggested to some Iranian (inaudible) here that they think that the 5+1 has also had a backtracking on the Lausanne framework specific to the Fordow. My understanding from the U.S. side is that we don’t – the U.S. doesn’t see it as backtracking but that there was some lack of clarity or ambiguity there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t think there is any. I think we have stuck to the Lausanne parameters and we are committed to them.
QUESTION: So the U.S. has not changed the numbers of centrifuges that you’re asking Iran to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are where we were in Lausanne.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let’s go to Laurence, and then I’ll go to Indira.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, Dr. Amano has been quite a lot in the last few days --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’re in Vienna.
QUESTION: Yes, that’s true. (Laughter.) I mean, is this – is that essentially because access is such a big issue to be resolved to get this deal? Is he trying – is he being brought in and weighing in on some of (inaudible)?
And second, just very simply: Do you think it is likely – banging doors – do you think it is likely that we will get a deal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of Director General Amano – and you all know that Secretary Kerry had a meeting with him this morning – there are several reasons, and it – actually a lot of people think it’s good we’re here in Vienna because it’s allowed a lot of consultation with the director general and all of his team. Remember that the director general and the IAEA is not just about PMD or the Additional Protocol or managed access, as important as all of those are; they are also going to be the institution that has – an agency – major responsibility for the verification of many of the details of this agreement. And so we need to make sure as those details are being written that the IAEA is knowledgeable about what we’re doing. They give us their expert suggestions about what might make that more viable, any particular detail. So they have a very significant role here in how we are moving forward.
That said, throughout this entire process we have worked very hard to make sure that we are careful about the independence of the IAEA and their autonomy, and they’re working together with us but not for us and make their own decisions.
Amano met with the Secretary this morning. He came and briefed the ministers yesterday, and I think he’s had a number of bilaterals with various ministers. The IAEA is very central to a comprehensive joint plan of action.
QUESTION: And on the “likely” question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And on the “likely” question? I always quote the President. One day I said to him I’m not sure I’m optimistic. He said it’s not about optimism or pessimism, it’s about hope.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let’s actually go to Matt first because he hasn’t had one, then Indira.
QUESTION: There’s reports in Iran from an MP there that another letter was sent from President Obama to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is no truth to that.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m surprised it took that long to get to that question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. None.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Indira.
QUESTION: Okay. First is just a factual question if you could verify for me on Lausanne, and that has to do with – if you remember on April 2nd, Foreign Minister Zarif got up in his press conference and spoke about how Iran was going to be able to sell its uranium stockpile to Russia. That was something he said publicly that night of April 2nd. So was that already agreed upon as part of Lausanne? Is that – was that already a done deal as of practically three months ago or is there still negotiation over whether that is going to happen? As we understand it, there are three things they could possibly do with it: sell, dilute, or ship out.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So as you just said, there are different things they could do with their stockpile. What we care about is the commitment that was made in Lausanne to only having 300 kilograms of uranium. So I’m not going to go into the details but I feel very confident that this will have a positive resolution.
QUESTION: So his saying, when he publicly said we’re going to sell it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You’ll have to ask him.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my broader question is: How – assuming we get a deal, how are you going to go back and explain to people in Washington the sort of evolution of your statements over the last two years? I don’t mean just yours, but negotiators’ statements. And I know it’s part of negotiation, but two years ago you guys were talking about stop, shut down, ship out; Secretary Moniz has used the term “anytime, anywhere access,” which doesn’t really comport with what the IAEA does. How are you going to explain all that when people in Washington see that as a climb-down on statement after statement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Indira, what I think will matter is if we are able to reach a joint comprehensive plan of action, what it says, what it does, what it accomplishes, and whether in fact it meets the President’s objective. If it does that, we will all be able to go out and sell it, convince the American people that it was the right thing to do, that in fact we have a pathway to ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and its program is exclusively peaceful.
So the best tool we will have is the quality of this agreement.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. We’re probably close to being done.
QUESTION: And to the thing about the changes in the statements that over time, how do you explain that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what I would say to people is, at the end of the day have we accomplished the job? Are – have we made it real that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon? And that we’ve shut down the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon and that we have a long-term, durable way to know that in fact their program is exclusively peaceful in a durable, verifiable, long-term manner. And if we can answer those questions, I think that’s what people will care about.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And those questions haven’t changed in two years. I guarantee that.
Are there are any last questions? And I have a little more background about what the Secretary did today. But – anything else? Matt.
QUESTION: I have --
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: -- a follow-up on President Obama. He was deeply involved earlier day to day. Is – what has his involvement been?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He is deeply involved day to day now. He has – we have had meetings with him in the last days before I left Washington, so that we were all very clear about his thoughts about where we were, where we had to go, what was necessary. He is incredibly knowledgeable about all of the details of this Joint Plan of Action – incredibly knowledgeable.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And there’s been meetings with him that you’ve called into from here since our Senior Administration Official’s been here.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to him since arriving here in Vienna?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We can check.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can check. I don’t know the answer, actually.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You’re welcome. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So just a couple quick things. A couple of you asked if the Secretary talked about Greece with any of his counterparts. He and Foreign Minister Steinmeier talked about it over dinner last night. Just a couple of you have emailed me about that, so I just want to make sure you all know that.
Today the Secretary obviously met with Director General Amano. He’s been meeting with advisors, having interagency discussions this afternoon, also doing some physical therapy. Tonight he will participate in a secure video teleconference with Washington, a SVTS. So that’ll be tonight. So that’s what he’s been --
QUESTION: With the President or with --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it’s --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it’s a Principals Committee.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. So that’s what he’s been doing the rest of the day.
QUESTION: Will you be in that as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was going to be in it, but now I have a conflict for something here. So I will do here and --
QUESTION: So you’re continuing to negotiate at the P level?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At the P level.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: At the political director level.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Political directors level, yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And experts have been meeting all day and --
QUESTION: Sorry, [Senior State Department Official], can you say anything else about that Greece discussion (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have more of a readout. I’m happy to see if we can get one.
QUESTION: Are you --
QUESTION: Yeah, we’d love one.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Or maybe if you want to.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, I was at that dinner last night with the foreign minister. It was a very fulsome discussion of where things stood. As we sat there we were all looking at our BlackBerrys as news was coming in about Tsipras’s television statement, and we had a discussion – I’m not going to go into the details of it – of what we thought this would mean, what the foreign – Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s and Germany’s view of what it would mean, where things might be headed, what the consequences might be, and thinking through what else might be done.
QUESTION: Is that --
QUESTION: And, [Senior Administration Official], sorry, it sounds as if no one brought it up, that you were all kind of looking at your BlackBerrys and saying --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, no, no.
QUESTION: Is that correct? Or was --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, no, no. It came up as a topic.
QUESTION: Can I ask if it was brought up by Steinmeier?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t think that’s fair of me.
QUESTION: Is the principals meeting tonight about Iran or is it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s about a different topic.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Different topic.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which we’re not going to tell you.
QUESTION: And the Lavrov meetings are tomorrow?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Tomorrow, yes. Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Do you all have any idea about timing for tomorrow? Like even rough, like --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Maybe afternoon.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Afternoon.
QUESTION: And you expect --
QUESTION: So no --
QUESTION: -- to have Zarif back?
QUESTION: No meeting in the morning?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven’t said that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Lavrov meeting – sorry, were you asking about the Lavrov meeting or in general?
QUESTION: No, any meeting. Like, Zarif is supposed to be back here at like 8 o’clock.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll send out a schedule later.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ll see, we’ll see.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], can I --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, (inaudible). I’m sorry for my other colleagues who may not be quite as interested, but do you have any U.S. position you can give us on what is happening in Greece? Are you warning citizens about having to take cash?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You mean for U.S. citizens?
QUESTION: Yeah. And --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or a U.S. position in general?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our – let me do that, and I also – let me do one other thing before I do that, which I always do and should have at the beginning. You all know that every time I’m here for a round I have a discussion with the Iranians separately about the American citizens who are detained in Iran or missing. And Secretary Kerry has also, since he has come, had a direct conversation with Minister Zarif one-on-one about this. We take this responsibility very seriously. We stay in touch with all of the families. We talk with them. I know that some have been here in Vienna, and we have conversations with them.
I know for --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) conversations here (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I know for myself I’m – for the sake of the families, I’m not going to detail, okay? I know for myself that if my family member were detained in a country, I would do anything I possibly could to get them home. And we have enormous respect for families to make whatever decisions they need to do whatever they think is necessary. Every day we have a team devoted to doing whatever we can while any Americans are detained, and of course missing, to ensure those who are detained are getting the best treatment we can, but most importantly, to get them home. And we work at this every day in every way we can.
QUESTION: Do you see progress?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We always look for possibilities. As I’ve said before, not only do we use this channel, which we’ve never had in the past, but we use every other channel – any other country that’s visiting, any other country that has a relationship, any channels that we can find. We are very committed to getting them home and very committed to finding Robert Levinson who’s been missing for so very long. So all of them.
QUESTION: Can you say whether you did indeed deliver the letter that the Hekmati family handed off – they told the press that they specifically had handed along the latest report on the father’s apparently fast-declining health?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I can say is that whenever families make a request for us to pass things along, we make every effort to do so.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You want to do Greece? Did you want to say something about Greece?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And Greece – Greece. Our ambassador has been in touch with all of his colleagues so that we can try to have a coordinated plan. The – we, many weeks ago, in fact, put on our travel advisory that people should travel to Greece with more than one currency and to sort of give them a heads-up that they were coming into a difficult situation perhaps. Many of the tourists are on tour boats, which probably makes their life a little easier. We think we have probably about 100,000 American citizens – don’t quote me on the number – but in rough measure, when I asked the last few days.
And so we are seeing, of course, we cannot finance every American who might find themselves in trouble. A lot of these are probably dual national citizens as well. But we certainly have our embassy geared up to help Americans who find themselves in distress. We – every function of our embassy has been liaising with other embassies, with organizations, with the government to make sure that we provide whatever services are necessary. We hold, as you know, what are called EACs, which are committee meetings within our embassies to make sure that we’ve got everything ready to go for whatever crisis we might face in any country, from a natural disaster to something like this, and they are being held on virtually a daily basis to make sure that we’re covering all the bases and helping any American who finds themselves in distress.
QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official], can I just – just to close a loop on something. You made very clear, it was very helpful, saying there is no truth to the report of the letter, but Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi did go to Tehran after meeting with President Obama. Is it also clear that he passed no message of any kind on behalf of the President to the Iranians? Can we also exclude that possibility? In other words, I’m trying to exclude the possibility there might be something to this Iranian account, to your knowledge.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, we’ll check with the White House. I haven’t heard of anything --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven’t heard of anything.
QUESTION: That’s the only thing I could think of that would (inaudible).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Michael, I haven’t heard of anything, but we’ll ask.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
QUESTION: But this thing about telling Americans to travel with more than one currency, you actually gave that information out weeks ago.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s been a travel – weeks ago.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s been on our website.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Weeks ago. It’s been on our website.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So is there anything new that has come out since the notice about the currency controls?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I haven’t checked today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We can check.
QUESTION: There is a briefing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Checked yesterday but I haven’t checked today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s also a State Department press briefing in Washington today, everyone.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know who’s there but – because you all are here.
QUESTION: We’re all here. (Laughter.)