Senior Administration Officials on P5+1 Talks With Iran
March 17, 2015
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: All right. Sounds like we’re ready to kick things off. So as you all know, this is a background briefing. [Senior Administration Official Two] will be Senior Administration Official, and same ground rules as yesterday, embargoed till the end of the briefing.
[Senior Administration Official Two] has a very hard stop at 10:45, so we’ll probably end a couple minutes – by about 10:40, so that gives us about 20 minutes to chat. So [Senior Administration Official Two] is going to make some brief opening remarks, and then [Moderator] will call on reporters. Hand over this. Okay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I’ll just say a few words to open it up, and especially, specifically, in terms of kind of the DOE role in these negotiations. And I think many of you are familiar with that, but let me say – just say a few more words.
Clearly, DOE is one of several agencies that are part of the negotiating team. And, obviously, our role is, principally, to address what are some inherently fairly complex questions, in terms of nuclear technology and how that shapes a potential agreement. This is Secretary Moniz’s third personal participation in the negotiations. And as you know, that has not accidentally coincided with the participation of Dr. Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization in Iran.
Secretary Moniz has been involved now in these three sessions going back, I guess, a bit less than a month, but just want to emphasize what I think you know, and that is DOE has been part of the negotiating team from the beginning, because of our being the resident place, essentially, for the country’s – certainly in the government – for the country’s nuclear expertise, both at the Department headquarters and at the laboratory.
So, Kevin Veal is, for example, someone who has been engaged from the beginning in terms of coordinating and sometimes even doing honest work in terms of the technical analysis of a variety of proposals, often proposals that we have generated, in terms of technical proposals to fit or to address questions that have been raised in the negotiation.
The topics that we are – we address include things like enrichment, reactors, reactor design, and fissile material production issues, how all of those come together in terms of quantitative analysis of things like breakout times. And of course, also there are technical measures in particular with regard to transparency and verification issues that obviously would be very important in a agreement that might be reached.
Secretary Moniz has had quite a few one-on-one meetings with Salehi, as we try to understand the technical gaps and to frame options in the technical space that ultimately will have to come together in a kind of political technical agreement that satisfies – certainly satisfies our needs in the U.S. and P5+1 in general, in terms of an agreement that respects our needs for complete confidence in a peaceful program, and has the contingency of adequate breakout time, going forward.
The – just to give an example, I mean, in terms of the reach that we have brought into play, in terms of these technical issues, in terms of our labs and facilities, Argonne National Laboratory has played a role; Livermore National Laboratory; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Pacific Northwest Laboratory; Sandia; the Savannah River National Laboratory; and the Kansas City and Y-12 plants in our production complex. So, I mean, just to kind of emphasize this is not Kevin Veal and pure thought – (laughter) – this is involving lots of capacity across our complex, lots of detail modeling, et cetera.
The – say with regard to the discussions with Salehi, and then the four corners discussions with Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Zarif, and the, I don’t know, 10 corners discussion involving the political directors and other elements, EU, et cetera, that – but I’ll just say in our interactions with Salehi – but let me just – I would say the discussions with him have been very, very professional; I think fruitful, in terms of, again, identifying the technical issues, clarifying them, sharpening them, and looking at what are the options on the table for a potential agreement. And it’s – again, he’s very knowledgeable. He’s very accomplished. He has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from a terrific school. And so I think very – again, the word that I would mostly use is extremely professional, in terms of our discussion.
So, I think that’s really – that’s kind of the laydown in terms of what DOE has been doing.
MODERATOR: Great. Let’s do a few questions. Michael Gordon of The New York Times.
QUESTION: I’m just following up yesterday. We had a discussion with a senior official yesterday, and that person said that in calculating breakout time, the United States uses a proprietary model of its own to try to figure out what would be required to extend the breakout time to a year for a period of double-digit years, but presumably, that means every other nations have their own proprietary models.
Have you engaged with the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese, and even the Iranians, to try to assess their models and come up with a common standard, since this is supposed to be an agreement not just between the United States and Iran, but between the six powers and Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, so the answer is yes, with regard to the P5+1. And to my knowledge, none of us has shared our specific approach to the fuel cycle modeling with the others. But what we share is what our various ideas on the table, and then we each do our analyses, for example, in breakout time. And the good news is that we all come out with, I would say, remarkably similar results.
QUESTION: Including with the Iranians?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I said the P5+1. Yes, P5+1, let’s say. Again, obviously, we don’t share those – again, our modeling. We share our results with the Iranians and – yeah.
QUESTION: Can I go?
MODERATOR: Yeah. Lesley Wroughton of Reuters.
QUESTION: So how large are the differences still, the technical differences? Or is that technical —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Again, I’m obviously not going to get into specifics. That’s clear. And what I would say is we have definitely made progress in terms of identifying technical options for each of the major areas, and there’s no way around it. We still have a ways to go. And I’m focusing here specifically on the technical —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: — dimensions, as opposed to the other areas, like sanctions, et cetera. But even within this space, we still have some tough, tough issues to address.
QUESTION: Can I ask —
MODERATOR: Brad Klapper of AP.
QUESTION: Is Secretary Moniz empowered right now to make technical compromises, or to lay out the options and kind of present where things are, and come to a kind of technical understanding?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, look. Ultimately, obviously, this is an agreement among the P5+1 and Iran, and so we should make no bones about it. Secretary Kerry is the lead negotiator, and ultimately would be the one to put together a package that we will discuss in the U.S. Government.
Now, having said that, on our side at least – and I think it’s pretty clear on the Iranian side – that obviously, Salehi and Moniz have discussions that are very important, in terms of trying to put together the overall agreement. But it’s very important, again, that even if Salehi and Moniz “have some agreement in some area” nominally, it’s the old story: Nothing’s decided till everything is decided. And that’s where, then, Kerry and Zarif initially, and then ultimately, U.S. Government-wide, it’s really looking at the whole package as it comes together.
MODERATOR: We’ll do Paul Richter of the LA Times.
QUESTION: After the deal is out there, there are probably experts on the outside of government and maybe other governments, like the Israelis, who are going to offer opinions on your modeling and your conclusions. In your view, are they equipped, do they have the information they need to make those judgments? Or is it really – because you guys are the insiders, are you the ones who are exclusively positioned to make the most accurate judgments?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, at this stage – I mean, at this stage I would say they certainly do not have the full information that they would need to make the judgment, but that’s the idea. What – if there is a proposed solution among the P5+1, obviously we’re going to have to defend that. And that means that we’re going to be – have to – we will be sharing the information, and there will be other evaluations.
Now, I believe, as another senior administration official has discussed, we have had some – what you might call peer review of some of our proposals, bringing in – actually, I’ll say we’ve had both in our family – that is, let’s say, laboratory experts who have not been part of the negotiation and then some nongovernmental people with the appropriate technical knowledge and security clearances. We’ve had some runs through some of our proposals. And we think that’s important, because that, of course, gives us more confidence, A, in our analyses; and B, in our ability to articulate those as satisfying our requirements.
QUESTION: I see. But ultimately, all the information will be out there. So after the deal is public, then all of these outside interested parties will have all the information, indeed, to make a fully informed judgment.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: We expect plenty of judgments, fully informed or not. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But will they —
MODERATOR: I think we can’t do too many follow-ups, because we’re tight on time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, but I – obviously, I believe there will be enough information out there for people to do independent analysis.
MODERATOR: Carol Morello of the Post. We just have time for a couple more, so make them good.
QUESTION: With the understanding that nothing’s agreed to till everything’s agreed to, would it be fair to say that you are near or maybe even at the point where you’re starting to feel pretty confident in – that you will have a year breakout time, a year advance knowledge (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, again, I don’t know what – another brilliant insightful statement is “It’s never over till it’s over,” right? And the – so what I would say is that we have made a lot of progress in terms of getting, in the different areas of – the different technical dimensions, what could be options as part of an agreement.
We are constantly – and that’s where our analysis comes in, and people like Kevin Veal and others, who are – some of whom are here, and many of whom are back home – we are always looking at making sure that any combination of options that is viewed as viable satisfies our fundamental redline, in terms of breakout. So again, it’s – that’s why a lot of these things are linked in the end, in terms of if something is kind of given here, it’s got to be offset someplace else.
MODERATOR: Let’s do George Jahn of the AP, and then Michel is getting our last question.
QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official Two], at this point, how technical will be any March agreement? Will there be numbers? Will there be parameters? Will there —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I think if there is an agreement, I don’t see what it – how it could be meaningful without having some quantitative dimensions, yeah. So, I mean, otherwise, it’s not an executable program.
QUESTION: This is the March agreement he’s talking about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.
QUESTION: The March agreement, the framework agreement?
PARTICIPANT: The – yeah, yeah. So I’m saying I think, to me – look, in the end, again, I’m not the lead negotiator.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: But I don’t see how one can have a meaningful framework put down without having some quantitative dimensions.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll do two more —
QUESTION: My question is related to this.
MODERATOR: — and then Bloomberg gets the last question.
QUESTION: That means you will be able to solve this tough issue that you talked about this weekend before the end of March, or it will take you till July to solve all these issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Look, obviously, the goal – as Secretary Kerry has said many times, the goal is to have the framework laid down by the end of this month. And that’s the goal. I cannot predict whether we will get there or not.
MODERATOR: Bloomberg, last question.
QUESTION: Jon Tirone, with Bloomberg. Totally wonky question to end: Does the negotiation extend to safeguard material that can be withdrawn, such as tails that have a subsidiary utility outside of the fuel cycle?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: The – look, all fissile material is relevant to the – fissile material, in terms of amounts and forms and locations, are all relevant to —
QUESTION: But the standard process to withdraw tails, for example – so, I mean, is that something that can happen going forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: The – I can’t – I really can’t go into that in specifics. The – it’s clear that tails have a role, right? Obviously, they – by definition, they are not at an enrichment level to be put into a reactor, for example. But they clearly – you know how tails come into various nuclear fuel cycle activities.
QUESTION: And can I just wrap up with one very quick thing? So you said that you and the P5+1 had not shared the proprietary models, but you talked about how you get to one year. Has Israel done the same thing with you, using their own proprietary models? And what’s the number they come to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: That’s a very good question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you for the question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg.
MODERATOR: She took the last question by Bloomberg to mean two questions.
QUESTION: When you say P5+1, you’re including the Russians, too?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Correct.
QUESTION: So you’re pretty much on the same page with all the P5 – within the P5+1?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I didn’t say we were on the same page; I said we are – (laughter) —
QUESTION: I thought you said that you were very close —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Oh, no. In terms of that one – in terms of the issue of what specific proposals mean in breakout time —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: — yes, yes. But, I mean, there’s a whole bunch of issues that still need to be —
QUESTION: Right. But with – you agree —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: On that specific area, yes.
QUESTION: So what do the Israelis – what’s their number (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I really can’t go there.
QUESTION: Netanyahu said it was shorter.
MODERATOR: Ask them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: He’s – and, yes, he’s made some excellent technical analyses himself. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Guys, he has a hard stop.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, we have to go.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I’m sorry.
MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.