Background Briefing on P5+1 Negotiations with Iran: “Serious and Substantive Discussions”
Background Briefing on P5+1 Negotiations
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us tonight. The official speaking tonight is [title withheld]. From here on out, [the official] will be referred to only as a Senior Administration Official. Everything is entirely on background. And with that, I will turn it over to [Senior Administration Official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. This says good afternoon, but that must have been written at an earlier time of day. (Laughter.) Good evening.
Thank you all for coming today. I’m sure you saw High Representative Ashton’s press conference just a short while ago, as well as Foreign Minister Zarif’s. I’d like to make some very brief remarks about what we feel we did here in Geneva, where we go from here, and I’d be happy to answer your questions as best I can.
Over the past two days, we’ve had serious and substantive discussions with our P5 counterparts and with Iran. We had detailed technical discussions at a level we have not had before. And we discussed concrete steps and actions that are necessary for Iran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.
Iran addressed what they saw as the objective, what should be in a final step, and what they might do as a first step. This is a framework that the P5+1 has used for some time. Although there remain many differences in each area and in what sanctions relief might be appropriate, specific and candid discussions took place.
Throughout this process, the P5+1 has remained united, as we always have.
We also had our first bilateral meeting at the political director level with the Iranians during the P5+1 since 2009, when then Political Director, Under Secretary Bill Burns sat down with Saeed Jalili right here in Geneva. Our discussion bilaterally yesterday was a useful one.
There is more work – much more work – to do, as we knew there would be. We have always said that there would be no agreement overnight, and we’ve been clear that this process is going to take some time. The issues are complex, very technical, and require sound verification. Any agreement has to give the United States and the world every confidence that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.
As you heard High Representative Ashton say, we will be meeting again here in Geneva on November 7th and 8th. There will also be an experts meeting with the P5 and with the Iranians in advance of that round. And as was said in the statement, that will include nuclear, scientific, and sanctions experts for that meeting.
We have said that there is time for diplomacy, but as Iran’s program continues, we must move both cautiously and quickly.
We came to Geneva looking to have a substantive discussion, to hear Iran’s proposed approach, to begin to work through some of the technical details that have proven so elusive in the past, and to underscore for Iran all of our continued concerns and our approach to this problem. All of that occurred.
With the advent of the new government in Iran, we have begun anew at the P5+1. Conscious of all that has come before, all at this meeting understood and understand that the stakes are high and that diplomacy offers the best answer. The work is hard, and a positive outcome is not guaranteed. But as the President and the Secretary have directed me – and I believe every delegation has been directed – we must make every effort to achieve such an outcome.
With that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Yes. Michael Gordon, go ahead.
QUESTION: The other day, just before the talks began, Senior Administration Officials made clear that it would – the issues were difficult, it would take some time to work through them, and that it was imperative that concrete steps be taken to pause or even roll back to some extent, the official said, the Iranian program so their nuclear effort was not marching along while the talks proceeded. Have you – by that criteria, have you succeeded in pausing or freezing or doing anything that would arrest the Iranian nuclear efforts pending these talks, or have you not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe that same Senior Official also said there would not be an agreement, in all likelihood, coming out of these two days; that the issues were indeed complex, technical and difficult; and that although we might put all of the issues on the table and begin to have those technical discussions that have so evaded us in the past, it would be highly unlikely for an agreement to come out of these two days. That is indeed the case.
It is why, however, we are meeting in the scheme of the P5+1 rather quickly again, November 7th and 8th, with an experts meeting in between, to try to ensure that the pace of our work proceeds, as I said, quickly but cautiously. And the cautiously is because, as Secretary Kerry has said, no deal is better than a bad deal. So we are going to be thoughtful, hopeful, cautious — make sure our national security interests are protected –but make sure, if we can, that we reach an agreement so that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But just to be totally clear, there are no steps that Iran is taking at this time to pause its program —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not —
QUESTION: — but you intend to meet again very soon, and so that it’s —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to detail what Iran may or may not be doing. I’m not going to detail the specifics of what we are discussing. I know that it will be very frustrating for all of you. I can understand it’s totally irritating. But indeed, one of the marks of a serious negotiation is when that negotiation does not happen through the press.
QUESTION: I wasn’t asking you what happened in negotiation. I was just asking if there are any —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m saying in addition —
QUESTION: — concrete steps Iran was taking.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In addition, I’m not going to discuss any of the details of what may or may not be occurring.
MODERATOR: Yes, Paul.
QUESTION: Never mind how we feel about the outcome. What about how Congress feels about it? They’re ready to pop Iran with more sanctions. You told them that the Iranians might move forward with some real concrete steps here. No sign that they have. So what now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I told Congress that I would come up and, probably in a classified setting, brief them on where we are. Congress has been a very important partner in this process. Congress feels very strongly, as do all of us, that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon. And I look forward to those briefings. I look forward to talking with my colleagues in the Administration, of course with the Secretary and with the President, about how we can best proceed forward after these detailed discussions. And I look forward to that discussion with Congress as well.
The prerogative in the end is theirs, but I am hopeful that we will continue to be strong partners with the same objective, which I believe we have.
QUESTION: But given the lopsided nature of all their votes on the sanctions, I mean, can you really hold out any hope that they will (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, I will go and brief them. They’ll make their own decisions about how best to proceed. And we all have to think through and reflect on what we learned here, what we discussed here, and how to best proceed forward.
MODERATOR: Yes. We’ll go to Lou next.
QUESTION: Thanks. What we seem to have come up with publicly, at least, is an agreement to meet again, and then have these expert groups meet. Speaking in general terms, do you feel that the outlines of a potential agreement are beginning to emerge?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think all I can say in answer to that question is that I’ve been doing this now for about two years, and I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before. The discussions took place in English, which has never occurred before.
There’s good news and bad news in that; bad news for me because I don’t get those two minutes to think about what I want to say next, but good news in that the pace of the discussions is much better and creates the ability to really have the kind of back-and-forth one must have if you want to have a negotiation, otherwise, you’re really not in a negotiating frame. And I would say we are beginning that kind of negotiation to get to a place where, in fact, one can imagine that you could possibly have an agreement.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Up until this round of talks, every time the final readout and evaluation of the previous talks have been from the P5+1 side, that there’s a wide gap between the two sides. Could you just tell us if there are any – if you are any closer now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, there are serious differences. If there weren’t serious differences, this would have been resolved a long time ago. So I’m not going to tell you all is well and we’ve come to agreement and everything’s fine. But I do think that there was a candor that has not been there before which then allows one to have a direct discussion by all parties about what might resolve that issue, how to proceed forward, how that particular concern might be addressed, what parties would need to do to try to resolve it in ways we have not had before.
And I think if you talk to any of the P5+1 members – and some of them have been doing this for a lot longer than I have – my political director colleagues – they would tell you the same thing.
MODERATOR: Yes, Indira.
QUESTION: Thanks. I wanted to ask you – obviously, the – Iran’s request for its recognition of its so-called right to enrichment is central to all of this, and they’ve made it clear that that’s non-negotiable. Did they make as a condition of going forward in these talks the understanding that at the back end, if they satisfy the P5+1 on everything, that they would – that that – it would be possible for that right to be recognized? That’s my first question.
And then my second is for you and Official Number Two and Official Number Three, if – and didn’t look up, so I don’t know if they realize I’m (inaudible). (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I know what you mean.
QUESTION: Whether we can hear a little bit more on the questions we’ve heard from Washington about the difficulty in lifting some of the sanctions, even if the Obama Administration wanted to, that there are certain difficulties with lifting congressional sanctions. And I know these sanctions experts were in there to talk about that and reassure Iran. So if we get a little on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to directly answer your first question because to do so would be for me to tell you the details of the discussions we had, and I’m not going to do that.
What I will say: Obviously, Iran has put things out in the public about what they believe they need, but this is a negotiation, and in negotiations, parties put out what they feel they must have. And you begin and you see where you go, and we will see where we go. We are very clear that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon. We mean to assure ourselves and the international community that all of their concerns about Iran’s nuclear program are answered. That’s what we are about doing. That’s the outcome we’re seeking to achieve.
MODERATOR: Yes, Jay.
QUESTION: And on the sanctions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And on the sanctions question —
MODERATOR: Oh, sorry. Then we’ll go to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: — let me say this. If my colleagues who are here want to add something, they can.
If we have what I call the high-class problem of a verifiable and sound agreement that addresses all of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and assures the world that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon, I feel pretty confident that everyone who is engaged in this process will support that outcome, including the United States Congress.
QUESTION: Right. But not yet up to that point in terms of step by step?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ll see. We’ll have conversations. We will talk. We are as – we want to make sure and have always wanted to make sure that the sanctions architecture and regime that we have put in place stays in place until our concerns are addressed, and we build that confidence. There are many steps along the way, there are many ways to approach this, and we will have to work hard to find that way forward.
But as I said, the outcome is one we all share, that we hope to achieve. Congress has been a very significant partner in putting that sanctions regime and architecture in place. None of us want to undo it before we know we have some results that answer our concerns. The international community has remained united in support. The fact that sanctions were a key election issue in the Iranian election and that Iranian officials have now publicly spoken quite candidly about their desire for sanctions relief underscores the importance of this architecture.
MODERATOR: Yes, Jay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. A bit more on sort of the Administration’s selling of this process. I know that Secretary Kerry is meeting with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in a few days. Are you planning to travel to Israel or the Gulf as part of this process, or is – or other people?
And back onto the Congress, do you expect Secretary Kerry, who was the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, himself just weigh in more heavily now in trying to sell this process, and maybe even the President and the White House itself? Because, as Paul was saying, in the past you have not come out very strongly in some of these phases with Congress on sanctions and this process. So I’m just curious; as the stakes get higher, do you expect the Secretary and the White House to get more involved?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the question of Congress, the Secretary and the White House have always been involved. All of the departments that are engaged in this, including the Treasury Department and others, Department of Defense, have been very engaged and very involved. And I would suspect that that pace will increase as these negotiations increase, and if they in fact gain the traction that we hope for but still don’t know whether they will, to achieve an outcome. So I think that we will do whatever we need to if we feel we are making progress, can achieve the outcome to address the international community’s concerns about the peace – ensuring a peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and ensuring that they don’t acquire a nuclear weapon, that we will all have to work at this very hard to achieve that.
Now your first question? I forget. Jet lag.
QUESTION: Just about the allies —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, the allies. Very, very important. I did a series of meetings and calls with key allies and partners around the world before I came, which I do every time. I have a P5+1 round, and I will by phone from here, by meetings as soon as I’m back in Washington that are already being scheduled, with all of the partners that you described and many more. We’ll do so with Congress, we’ll do so with partners, and with you as well.
MODERATOR: Jim Sciutto in the back.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Just – I want to ask you first about the timeline. Zarif has said he believes you could have an agreement within a year. Just spoke to the Deputy Foreign Minister; he said three to six months.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Quite aggressive timing. I wonder if you feel that that’s unrealistic. And also on that point, I asked him just now – the reason I was late – about his redline. The Deputy Foreign Minister, before he arrived, said it was a redline issued for Iran shipping enriched uranium out of the country. I said, it’s still a redline. And he said, well, redlines don’t have to be obstacles, which sounded remarkably like that wasn’t really a redline. You said that from Iran you’ve heard surprising candor. I’m just curious if you heard surprising flexibility in these last few days on some of these issues that have been sticking points in the past.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I want to be very careful about characterizing where we are, how far we’ve come, where we’re going, again because I think these were serious enough discussions that they ought to have a chance. And so I want to be thoughtful about characterizing them. They’re just at the beginning. In that beginning, they were serious, they were substantive, they were detailed, they were technical. I understand Foreign Minister Zarif just said in his press conference that to this experts meeting they’d better bring some sanctions people because they didn’t have them here and we got into a very intense discussion, and we had our experts here and we know the details very, very well. So I think that his response is, okay, we’re going to go to work; we’ve got to have the people to do the work. Their delegation was very senior, very broad, had technical expertise, no question about it. But I think his response on that issue speaks to how everyone is trying to go to work here, really go to work and do real things. Whether we will, we are still testing. But it was, as a beginning, not a bad start.
MODERATOR: Michael Adler.
QUESTION: Nice to see you again. You did mention one detail in your talk, which was the sanctions, and you said there’s a question about how many sanctions were a helpful first step. And I’m just wondering, since that’s been an intractable problem for years, and the process is more user-friendly at this point, that’s for sure, but if you hit a wall over this and it gums up the works and things don’t move along, is there a Plan B? At what point would that kick in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is quite a hypothetical, Michael.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Laughter.) And I don’t think there’s a really straightforward answer to that question. What we’re focused on now is trying to move this process forward with some quickness. You asked about the three – someone else asked about the three- to six-month timeline and whether we can move that fast. It depends. I don’t know. There’s a lot of hard work, highly technical work, as I said. We’re going to set about doing it, and we’ll see how fast we can move this forward. We all understand we want to move it forward because we want to constrain and even move back Iran’s program as quickly as we can and get to a comprehensive agreement to give the world the assurance that we all want.
So that’s what we have to be focused on, and trying to see that. There are many options if that doesn’t work, but there is no question that diplomacy is the best of those options.
QUESTION: Just one quick follow-up. Are you concerned that as the talks drag on – if they drag on – I mean, of course, it’s a hypothetical, but if Iran is making strong progress on the ground in installing more centrifuges, in firing up advanced centrifuges, how would that complicate the situation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, it’s a hypothetical. I think it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to speculate at this point.
MODERATOR: Yes, right here.
QUESTION: Roy Gutman from McClatchy. Could you talk about something that’s not hypothetical, something just – how did today run? The two plenaries seem to be linked back to back. It was a little bit confusing for us just to be watching the process. What actually happened (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think for those of you who have been here before, you know that the P5+1 usually has some fits and starts because we have to coordinate among six of us. That takes some time. We have bilaterals as well as plenaries as well as expert meetings as well as subgroup meetings, and so we usually – whenever any P5+1 member has a bilateral, we bring it back to the whole group. There’s sort of a whole rhythm that we all have with each other now. Anything we do bilaterally or in any other format comes back to the whole group, reports back in. That just takes some time.
So what we did this morning is after yesterday’s meetings, which was a lot of information for us to absorb from Iran – a lot of information – we needed some time to talk with each other, sort through it, think about how to proceed next.
Then we had a session later this morning. Well, it was supposed to be late this morning. It started – ended up being early afternoon. Some of my colleagues had bilaterals during that time. So because they had bilaterals scheduled, we didn’t schedule the plenary. That was a very intensive session that we had early this afternoon. Then I think we took a lunch break at about three, and came back for a closing plenary at about 4:30.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about those plenaries? What function did they play today, other than writing the final statement and what you’re saying now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We covered the range of subjects in these plenaries that you would imagine that we would.
MODERATOR: I’m going to go to Scott Peterson.
QUESTION: You described in some detail, actually, about some of the things that surprised you on the positive side that were kind of unprecedented in the sense of the amount of detail that you were able to get into, the levels of candor and that sort of thing that really have made a difference. What on the negative side surprised you the most or kind of – that just didn’t grate in a way that you either weren’t expecting or something else? I mean, just as a way of (inaudible) see that really things were —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing is – this is hard. We are, as I said earlier, far apart still on many things. We are at the very beginning of a process. So there’s no question that as much detail as we got, we need a considerable amount more detail because this is highly technical, because the devil is truly in the detail in this particular subject matter. You can say you want to do X but you have to know what X means. How will that be executed? How will that implemented? How it will be verified. How long will it take? What’s the scope? What’s the nature of it? Who will get it done? There’s just tons and tons of detail for every step you want to take.
So although we got more today than we’ve ever gotten, there’s a whole lot more that we need to get and probably a whole lot more Iran wants to get from us in understanding what we will do, how we will proceed, how we will respond. That’s going to take a little bit of time. I think the reason we decided on an experts meeting as part of the process to the next P5+1 is because there is a lot of detail that has to get unpacked, and some of it is best done by the experts directly with each other.
MODERATOR: Yes, right here.
QUESTION: Over the last two days, Mr. Araqchi went on the record to say that Iran will be prepared to accept the Additional Protocol with the IAEA. It does seem to us a very important step (inaudible).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I saw that.
QUESTION: Zarif just said the opposite.
QUESTION: Zarif just said it’s against the law right now and – because the parliament —
QUESTION: Or the Majlis has —
MODERATOR: We’ll let you guys all work this out amongst yourselves. (Laughter.) We’ll go to the next question right over here on the left. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Jasmin Ramsey, IPS News. This morning, Mr. Araqchi said that he was looking forward to the P5+1’s response to Iran’s proposal that was presented on the first day. Is this – is the Iranian proposal now the proposal that everyone’s looking at, or will there be a counter proposal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. What Iran did is give us their – what they think is an approach that will work. We have an approach that we believe will work.
QUESTION: Are you working on a counter proposal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’re not in the proposal/counter-proposal/counter-proposal stage. We’re in the understanding each other’s needs, what each other is willing to do, what are the issues that have to be addressed, and how we can then put together a way forward. That’s the process that we are undergoing.
MODERATOR: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Just a couple of questions, one very factual one. Will there be foreign ministers at the November 7th-8th meeting apart from Mr. Zarif? And just a bit more (inaudible), when you talked about the details of —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And Lady Ashton.
QUESTION: Is she a foreign minister? Does she count?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ministerial level, yes.
QUESTION: You talked about —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: She does count. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You talked about the details —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I won’t tell. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We have the transcript. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’ll start over again. (Laughter.)
You talked about the details that Iran might want from us. And I’m wondering: Did we give them any real details in the past two days of talks additional to what we said to them in Almaty? Did we add anything to what we might be offering them to what we said in Almaty? Even if you can’t tell us what it is, was there something added?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you should ask them, obviously, what they think. We tried to be as frank, as candid, and as direct as we wanted them to be. We brought experts with us that have not been with us before so that we would be ready to have discussions, to explain how things work, what it would take to move forward for things they are looking for.
MODERATOR: Someone’s phone is beeping. I’ll just pick it up. Okay, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hopefully it’ll stop buzzing.
So I would hope that we provided information that was useful to the process in the same way we wanted and expected and got information from them.
QUESTION: And what about the foreign ministers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, the foreign ministers? I think – I understand Foreign Minister Zarif just said that foreign ministers will attend when there is a reason for foreign ministers to attend. This – as we have said often, this takes – and you’ve heard me say now probably more than you want to hear, this takes a lot of work; a lot of it’s highly technical and expert work. We owe the foreign ministers that work before asking them to come to either resolve high-level political issues that can’t be resolved at my level or to bless an agreement that we have reached. Each of the political directors is quite empowered to act, and modern communications means getting instructions is pretty easy. So at every step, it’s no problem at all for any of us to reach back to our capitals to the highest levels to get a sense of, if we have questions, whether we can proceed in one direction or the other.
So I haven’t found that any of my colleagues have any problem whatsoever in moving forward. I think that the Iranians believe that as well, and that ministers should attend when that’s the step that makes sense.
QUESTION: Which means not next time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’d have to make a lot of progress.
MODERATOR: Yes, Laura Rozen.
QUESTION: Thanks. Can you just characterize a little bit the mood in the one-hour meeting between the American and Iranian delegations last night and talk a little bit – some of your colleagues have thought it would be quite useful to establish a more solid bilateral channel as you have over the past month. And there really has been progress in the past month on that. (Inaudible) your colleagues from the Iranian team at the hotel last night and they were very blasé about meeting with the Americans for an hour and said it’s no big deal (inaudible). So now can you talk a little bit about that? And do you see any (inaudible) narrow – (phone rings) – sorry – narrow differences more quickly if you all can talk on the sidelines of the P5+1 and shorten this process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it’s always been our view that all of the members of the P5+1 should engage in whatever bilateral discussions they can because it brings information back to the process. Sometimes in a bilateral discussion, you can indeed illuminate issues, talk about things, get insights that help the whole process. So it’s not only about U.S. bilaterals; it’s everybody having bilaterals bringing information back to the P5+1 that does absolutely help the process proceed forward, also keeps the group unified, which is quite crucial, not only in terms of the sanctions architecture that’s in place, but the dual-track policy of engagement as well and this negotiating process.
I think in terms of the – them being blasé about it, I wouldn’t say I’m blasé about it, but I would say after the President of the United States has spoken to the President of Iran on the phone and the Secretary of State has met with the Foreign Minister, and I’ve talked with some of them on the margins of the UN General Assembly, it is no longer the Rubicon that it once was, and that is a good thing.
QUESTION: And can you characterize a little bit just the mood of the one-hour meeting? That’s the longest I’ve heard of even with —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was professional. It was – I didn’t think it was tense. I thought it was a diplomatic meeting like I might have with many colleagues around the world. Now, that’s not to say that we won’t – we aren’t both aware of the unusualness of the relationship, the nature of the relationship. As I said in my opening remarks, yes, this is a new administration in Tehran, and one that was elected with a mandate toward greater moderation. But as the President said, there are years of mistrust and a legacy that is hard to overcome. So it is not like we sit together and are not cognizant of all that has come before and what the nature of our relationship is. We’re quite cognizant of it, but even with that, very professional and a very useful discussion.
QUESTION: Can you say how many on your side came?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s best I don’t.
QUESTION: Did you talk to Minister Zarif about his hurt back at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I did. We all did. It was sort of – there isn’t one among us who doesn’t have a back problem. (Laughter.) It’s probably true of all of you. You cannot travel on as many airplanes as we all do and not have back problems.
So he told us – and I think you’ve seen this – he had an acupuncture treatment today. I think he had a physiotherapist with him, their press said, who came in to try to help him out at one point. So everybody had a piece of a back story for him – books they thought he should read, things he might try – because we all have suffered.
MODERATOR: Yes. Barak.
QUESTION: On the morning of the talks started, the Israeli cabinet released a statement saying for the first time that Israel does not oppose a peaceful nuclear program in Iran or civilian nuclear program. I was wondering: Was this statement coordinated with the U.S.? And what do you make of it? Do you see it as a shift?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the whole world would like to believe there is a possibility for a peaceful nuclear program. And I respect every country’s sovereign right to make clear its own policy, and very much appreciate always Israel’s interests in the world. They are important partners with the United States on many things, an important democracy, virtually the only democracy at the moment in the Middle East. And I think what I heard in that statement was the hope that we all have, but one we have to see whether it can be realized or not.
MODERATOR: Yes, in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. (Inaudible) with GRN. I was wondering – you spoke earlier that you’re still far apart on many issues with the heavy reactor of Iraq being one redline for the U.S. And secondly, if your (administration) expert who’s here on sanctions could elaborate how the sanctions regime is indirectly hindering life-saving (inaudible) going into Iran. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to speak to redlines, not because I don’t care about them. I certainly don’t want – the only redline I want to speak to today is that Iran will not – the President has said he will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. That’s the redline that matters the most to us, because I don’t think it’s helpful to the negotiating process. But there is no question that we have concerns about Iraq, and we will address those concerns in this negotiation.
On humanitarian needs, as I think most of you know, medicine, medical devices, food are exempt from the sanctions. There have been concerns raised that there are banks and institutions that are concerned because of relationships with correspondent banks in the United States for, in fact, helping to get food, medicine into Iran. My Treasury Department colleagues, our State Department sanctions colleagues have traveled the world trying to encourage governments, industries, pharmaceutical industries, to understand what they are permitted to do. And we will continue to do whatever we can to address this concern.
QUESTION: But what is the technical problem here that’s triggering this indirect activation of sanctions on food and medicines? What is the technical problem? Maybe your (administration) expert can elaborate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I think first, one needs to look at the premise of the question. If one takes a look at Iran’s own trade statistics, which they publish, they imported roughly the same level and value of medicine last year as they did the year previous. They’ve recently put up statistics for the first half of the Persian year, which begins in March, and the level of medical imports has gone up 100 percent over the same six-month period the year before that. So I think some of the reports that one sees in the press are heavily overblown, and one needs to take them with a grain of salt.
To the extent that there are issues, as you can hear from those statistics, one needs to look at the allocation on the Iranian side both of their foreign currency and of the medical products once they come into Iran. Because if Iran is importing the same or slightly higher levels of medicines, and they’re not getting to all parts of the country or to all medical treatment facilities in an even way as needed, then that’s not a product of sanctions.
But as the Senior Administration Official said, we of course want to do and will continue to do everything we can to ensure that the letter and spirit of our humanitarian exemptions are fully carried out.
MODERATOR: Okay. Last one, I think, going over here to Ann.
QUESTION: Just a very quick question: You’ve made it very clear you didn’t want to talk about the details, and yet it seemed when you talked about something new from the Iranian proposal – would you describe, just talking about the proposal itself, the tenor, the way it was presented, in fact, within (inaudible), and what was the (inaudible)? Would you say that the Iranian proposal (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And whether the proposal was groundbreaking. Given the conversation that was had, the presentation that was made, the discussion that has occurred, I’m not sure the adjective is appropriate to the process that has taken place over the last two days. This is a beginning. Beginnings are rarely groundbreaking because you are sort of putting pieces on the table. Everybody’s laying down in some detail what their interests are.
So I think, just given what the process is at the beginning of something like this, that’s probably the wrong way to look at it, to be perfectly frank.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, everyone, so much for coming. You all know how to get ahold of me if you have any additional follow-ups. And wit