Background Briefing: Readout on the United Nations Security Council P-5+1 Ministerial
MODERATOR: Good evening, everybody. Thank you for your patience. As you know, the Secretary just completed a P-5+1 minus Iran ministers meeting. Here to give you a sense of that meeting is [Senior State Department Official], hereafter Senior State Department Official.
Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, good evening. I’ve lost all sense of time. I’m sure you have as well.
We had a political directors meeting with High Representative Ashton for about 90 minutes prior to the ministers joining for a little over 30 minutes. And we had excellent consultations with our colleagues in both settings. And I would say the watch words for both were unity. The P-5+1 remains completely unified in wanting to get the Iranians to consider and to address the concerns of the international community, and that the P-5+1 is completely united in ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
In addition, the P-5+1 is unified in our dual-track approach. No one likes sanctions. We understand that sanctions sometimes not only hurt countries, but have an effect for people’s day-to-day lives. We’re quite well aware of that. But we believe that it is necessary for Iran to understand that there are consequences to their not addressing the concerns of the international community, and we believe that it also helps to create political space for the diplomacy, which is far and away the preferred way to deal with this issue. All of the ministers were unified in their belief that diplomacy is the much preferred way forward, and that we are committed to that dialogue and diplomacy, and to the dual-track approach which we have been pursuing.
We discussed how we will proceed forward in making sure that we have all of the right substance on the table. We expect there to be contact in the next instance between Cathy Ashton and Dr. Jalili to discuss the next steps forward. She had said she would call him after this P-5+1 consultation, both with political directors and ministers. She will do that. They will talk about what we discussed as possible next steps. We think we will do this – continue to do this in a step-by-step process, which will include some additional consultations among ourselves, then consultations with the Iranians. And I would suspect at some point, we will indeed return to P-5+1 political directors track for a fourth round.
But we are taking this step by step, and so I think unity is – was the key word today. There was complete unanimity among the ministers most importantly, and also a strong affirmation of the job that the High Representative has been doing in coordinating this effort and coordinating these talks and the way forward.
Finally, all of the ministers also agreed that we had to proceed on a basis that was credible. As the High Representative has said many times, as the President has said, as the Secretary of State has said, we will not have talks just for talks’ sakes. So these informal conversations with Iran are very important to gauge the seriousness of their ability to really engage with us, and to take the diplomatic track, which is much preferred from our perspective.
So that’s where we are, and I’m happy to answer your questions.
QUESTION: Yeah. Firstly, just – you said there would probably be another meeting at the – a fourth meeting at the political --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: At some point, I’m sure there will be. I think we’ve got some work to do, some additional work to do first, so I would not expect that to happen immediately. But I would hope that we will get there in the not-too-distant future.
QUESTION: That’s a meeting that would include Iran, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And it’s not contingent on anything coming back from her discussions with Jalili?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Everything is step by step in this process, because we have to ensure that Iran is serious. We have to ensure that we aren’t going to have talks for talks’ sake. And we have some reason to believe that they will move to a point of seriousness, but we will test this out every step of the way.
QUESTION: And then, if I may – sorry, this is the last one – was there any mention by anyone about the redlines that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been speaking about in recent weeks?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we all heard the speech today, and we will continue to have our discussions. As the Prime Minister said, we consult very closely together. We are in discussions together. We are proceeding forward in both wanting to use diplomacy as the way ahead. And so that is how we are proceeding.
QUESTION: You mentioned that you were going to be going forward now with discussions with Iran about some of the ideas that you came up with today. So how are those ideas different from what you’ve already offered to Iran? Was there a new proposal that came out or was it a new idea?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What we have on the table is very substantive, very fair, and begins to address the concerns of the international community, but is only a first step to many steps that will have to be taken for Iran to address our concerns. So we have always been in discussions about a range of steps that will be necessary by Iran. So we will continue to have those internal consultations.
QUESTION: But the original plan that you had told us about as offered --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Stays on the – is on the – stays on the table.
QUESTION: -- that hasn’t been changed in any way?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That has not been changed, no.
QUESTION: And what about the Meyer report that came out – I guess it was yesterday – saying that Iran, according to the IAEA, was willing to give up the 20 percent enrichment in exchange for dropping of all sanctions? Was there any discussion about that offer?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We did not discuss that report, no.
QUESTION: Is that a nonstarter?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we have said that in order for Iran to get the sanctions relief that it’s looking for, they would have to do considerably more than the initial proposal.
QUESTION: And last question: Was there a discussion today about new steps? Because Europe has talked about new sanctions that they are proposing. Did they discuss that in their meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have – we all believe in a dual-track approach. As you note, the Europeans have been discussing additional sanctions. The President of the United States put out a new Executive Order recently. On Monday, we designated NIOC for their relationship as an agent or affiliate of the IRGC. The Congress passed additional legislation, which we are now implementing. So this dual track – the pressure track is going to continue.
QUESTION: So the Europeans didn’t tell you what they were coming up with?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ve had a lot of discussions.
QUESTION: What gives you confidence that – or hope that they (inaudible) may be moving – the Iranians may be moving to a point of greater seriousness? What signs do you see that that’s happening, and what would you count as for your seriousness?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think that the High Representative, when she had her dinner with Dr. Jalili, I think indicated to the press that Iran wants and looks forward to additional dialogue to try to reach an agreement. But that discussion has to be, as I said, a credible one. And we have to make sure that the timetable that’s being used is not just being used to buy time for Iran to continue its nuclear program.
The President and the Secretary have been very clear that we are not sure that Iran has made the strategic decision to really make a credible deal with the P-5+1. But there are some signals, because they were willing to discuss 20 percent, because we did have some serious discussions, that we might find a basis to move forward. We are not there yet. And as the Secretary said, what they put on, proposed, on the table in response to our proposal was a nonstarter.
QUESTION: I haven’t heard Western officials talk about concern about ordinary Iranians as a result of the sanctions. Is there – was there more discussion of the possible impact on ordinary Iranians these days?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not in this particular meeting, Paul. I think that’s just a fact of life, that when the rial has lost its value, when oil sales have decreased as fundamentally as they have in Iran, that Iran is going to face a struggle. And what we are trying to do here is to lead the Iranian regime to a decision that in order to be able to have the prosperity that they want, ostensibly for their people, they need to address the concerns of the international community.