Iran approaches the 'point of no-return', US State Department briefing

Subject(s):
US Under Secretary for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns
21 April 2006
Briefing on the Iran Nuclear Issue, R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Robert Joseph, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, April 21, 2006.

Briefing on the Iran Nuclear Issue, R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Robert Joseph, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, April 21, 2006.

MR. ERELI: Welcome, everybody, to this special briefing with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bob Joseph. Both officials have just returned from trips abroad on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. They're here to tell you about those visits and give you an update on where we are on our diplomacy on this. We'll begin with Under Secretary Burns and then go to Under Secretary Joseph. I'd ask you to keep your questions very short because the gentlemen have to leave in about 25 minutes.

Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good morning. Nice to see all of you. Let me just tell you about a trip that I made to Moscow this week where I represented the United States at talks among the P-5 countries and Germany, so that was Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, one in the series of talks we've had at the political director level but also at the ministerial level about how to isolate Iran and how to pressure Iran, place pressure on Iran, to put its nuclear programs into suspension and to return to negotiations, which is the short-term objective here. We also had meetings of the G-8 in Moscow and there's no question now in our mind that Iran is probably now the leading issue to be discussed when the G-8 foreign ministers get together at the end of June and when our leaders get together in St. Petersburg in the middle of July.

I was struck in the two days of meetings that I had both with the Perm 5 as well as with the G-8 countries, I was struck by how much the atmosphere has changed. As for you know, for the last year the United States has been supporting the EU negotiating efforts and we've also been very supportive of the Russian efforts to try to get -- or the Russian proposal that's been made to try to get Iran to return to its senses and to return to a rational discussion with the international community about its very obvious attempt to create a nuclear weapons capability for itself.

For many months over the past year, countries were not willing to entertain the idea of sanctions. And for many months, countries were not willing to think about concerted action in the Security Council that would effectively block Iran and then push it back diplomatically so that it could not achieve its purposes. And I think the atmosphere has changed. It's changed because you've seen over the last four months Iran take a series of steps -- the January steps to take the seals off, but also the steps last week where they made this big public show of going forward to enrichment and then they predicted -- they said what they'd be doing throughout the rest of the year to take that enrichment program forward.

Under Secretary Joseph will describe to you our view of that, but diplomatically the consequence of it was that in all of our discussions each country, including Russia and China, said it is their policy that Iran should not have nuclear weapons. Each country said that we all ought to act now collectively to ensure that we speak with one voice and take one series of actions designed to isolate the Iranians and, if necessary, to think about punitive diplomatic, economic measures for Iran to stop its current efforts. And I was struck by the change in atmosphere and, if you will, the sense of urgency as we think about the actions in the Security Council in May and June to make sure that we are operating together.

We all agreed that while we're willing to support efforts to see civil nuclear power made available to the Iranian people, none of us are willing to see a nuclear weapons capability produced. And for the first time, all countries said that action had to be considered. Now, the majority of countries in the room said that they were already considering sanctions of a collective or individual nature. You've seen the announcement by the European Union that they are considering a specific list of sanctions. You know that the United States, which has had sanctions in place for 26 years, is also willing to support these efforts. And if there's any other way that we could possibly sanction Iran, we would entertain that possibility.

And I can't speak and I won't speak for the other countries in the room, but there was an agreement that we