Jeffrey LewisParis Negotiations 1: Boucher Confuses Everyone Over Iran

Apparently we do have an Iran policy: be very, very vague. Check out these headlines:

U.S. Signals Opposition to Light-Water Reactor Offer to Iran; Tehran Expected to Offer Deal to Europeans (Global Security Newswire, October 21, 2004)

US presses Iran to respond to European nuclear proposal (Agence France Presse, October 21, 2004)

Yup, from the same press briefing. Before you throw rocks at GSN and AFP, read over what Boucher said (or most of it, anyway). At any minute, I was expecting The Booch to express doubt about the existence of places named Europe and Iran, let alone admit that one has a proposal for the other.

QUESTION: What’s your view of the European proposal, which I presume that you—well, what’s your view of the—

MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that it’s a European proposal, that it’s for them to describe, for them to make. We haven’t bought on, signed on or endorsed it, but we know they’re going to do it, and they like—and, as allies, we’ve kept each other informed of what we’re doing, what our views are.

Our view remains the same: that Iran has shown, unfortunately, no sign of compliance with the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors; they have shown a long-term effort to—a long-term effort not to comply with the requirements of the safeguards and other agreements; and therefore, they need to be referred to the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: Right. But in this package that the Europeans shared with you, there is the provision for, if—for giving Iran light-water reactor technology and other assistance in that way, if they come into compliance. And this appears to be strikingly similar to the kind of deal that you guys had with the North Koreans, which didn’t work out. So I’m just wondering if you—do you have similar concerns about the Iranians following through on their end of the bargain with the Europeans as you obviously have with the North Koreans and the Agreed Framework?

MR. BOUCHER: A couple of things to say: First of all, to repeat once again, this is a European proposal. What’s in it, what they’re going to propose, what they’re going to say, is up to them, and they’re going to tell you if anybody is going to tell you.

Second of all, I don’t think the two circumstances are comparable, North Korea and Iran, because the histories are different, and although the pattern, to some extent, the pattern of violations of commitments and agreements is similar. But they are situations—each has to be handled on its own merits and its own fashion based on a lot of different factors.

But third of all, I would say that the fundamental premise of the question is true, that we have long had concerns about Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capability, of nuclear technology, because for many years we have seen a confirmed pattern of noncompliance with safeguards; we have seen the use of nuclear exchanges, nuclear technology, in order to develop what we can only describe is a nuclear weapons program. And therefore, we have been concerned and would remain concerned about Iran acquiring new capability and—new capability in nuclear technology areas.

QUESTION: Okay. So your general proliferation concerns, though, are not or are spiked by the prospect of Europeans running around handing out light-water reactor technology?

MR. BOUCHER: Once again, if you think the Europeans are running around handing out light-water reactor technology, first of all, you’ll have to get that confirmed by the Europeans.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for your confirmation. We already know this out of Vienna. I’m not—so I’m asking for you to comment.

MR. BOUCHER: You’re asking me to comment on something that I don’t think—
bq. QUESTION: I’m asking you to comment on something that you were presented with last week on Friday that you have seen.

MR. BOUCHER: And we’re not going to be the vehicle for talking about what they presented to us.

QUESTION: I’m not asking—they already talked about it, Richard. It’s out.

MR. BOUCHER: They have not talked about it, as far as I can tell. I think there was—

QUESTION: You have not seen reports on—

MR. BOUCHER: I have seen a wire service report that pretends—purports to quote from a paper that the Europeans have. Okay? Now, the wire service in this case may be correct and it may not be, but—

QUESTION: Well, I think you’ve probably seen several wire service reports.

MR. BOUCHER: I’ve only seen one. I’m sure all the wires have it by now. What I’m trying to tell you, Matt, is that I’m not here to comment on something the Europeans may be presenting because what the Europeans present and versus—you know, drafts versus thoughts versus things they talk to us about versus things they might actually present tomorrow to the Iranians may—I don’t know exactly what they are going to present. We’ll hear back from them after they do it.

But the bottom line for us has been and continues to be that the problem is Iran. The problem is Iran’s noncompliance. The problem is that Iran, whatever the Europeans present, has had a consistent pattern of noncompliance and shows no inclination or effort to break that pattern of noncompliance, and that the issue needs to remain in focus, that the issue is not what might the Europeans be prepared to do if Iran were to comply fully, but is Iran going to comply fully or not, and I’m afraid the U.S. view is based on experience, based on the history of Iran.

Our view is that any discussion at this point of what might happen if the Iranians complied is probably pretty hypothetical because, consistently, the Iranians have shown a pattern of not being willing to comply and of not being willing to be transparent and open about their intentions and programs.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s possible that the Europeans are going to go in tomorrow and present the Iranians with something different than they told you they were going to do? Because that strikes me as being, you know, a little bit distrustful.

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know what their final proposal is going to be. I would expect it to be very similar to what they briefed us on, yes. But I can’t confirm on their behalf what they’re really going to present.

QUESTION: And you’re, but you’re not—and you’re saying that it’s strictly a European proposal. Are you suggesting that the United States has no interest in this?

MR. BOUCHER: We obviously have an interest. We are friends and allies, we’re cooperating in all these matters, but it is a European proposal and not one that we have—

QUESTION: Right, but then, so I don’t understand how you can say you don’t have any opinion about it. I think it’s a—

MR. BOUCHER: I didn’t say we didn’t have any opinion. I said that the—our opinion is the problems with the Iranians, still, and that we’re not at the point of trying to comment one way or the other on what the Europeans might provide.

QUESTION: I mean, one likely scenario is that the Iranians could agree in principle to some parts of the proposal, but not comply once again. How do we avoid the merry-go-round of not complying?

MR. BOUCHER: Because the issue, as framed by the International Atomic Energy Agency Board in September, is that Iran needs to comply and show evidence of real compliance before the next Board meeting in November; otherwise, the Board will have to make the decision of referral to the UN Security Council. That’s the decision that we have put forward and one that we long ago supported.

And therefore, we realize there may be varying statements coming out of the Iranians in this up-and-coming period. I think what the Europeans have made clear, what we have made clear, what we all made clear together as the G-8 in Sea Island, was that the Iranians must bring their program into conformity with all the NPT safeguards and obligations that they have and all the IAEA Board requirements. And in September, we made clear in the resolution at the Board, Iran had to do that before the next meeting in November.

QUESTION: So regardless of what happens with the European proposal, the Iranians still have to do that?

MR. BOUCHER: The United States, the Europeans, the Board of the IAEA, remain united that the Iranians still have to meet all the requirements of the Board, and remain united behind the resolution that was passed in September that that needs to be done; the Iranians need to do that before the November meeting. So regardless of what people might say, regardless of what people might offer or float with the Iranians, the issue, fundamentally, comes down to: Is Iran going to meet all these requirements by the next Board meeting? And that’s something that, as I said, history and experience guide us in our predictions.


As a spokesperson, you should never have to clarify that “I didn’t say we didn’t have any opinion.” That pretty much sums up the Administration’s entire Iran policy: We have an opinion … We won’t tell you what it is, but we will claim that Senator Kerry has two.

Maybe next time, The Booch could answer with a zen koan …

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Note: I have updated the title all my posts regarding the Iran-EU3 negotiations to place them in a special series.