Reporters Grill State Department Spokesman Over Report on Nuclear Deal Exemptions Granted to Iran (VIDEO)
A State Department spokesman was grilled by reporters on Thursday following the publication of a report that the US and other world powers agreed to grant Iran secret exemptions to last year’s nuclear agreement to enable it to meet the deadline to start getting sanctions relief.
At the daily press briefing in Washington on Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby faced a flurry of questions over the Institute for Science and International Security report, coauthored by the institute’s founder, David Albright.
Kirby disputed the findings of the report. “Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) have not changed,” he said. “There’s been no moving of the goal post.”
Referring to the body set up to implement the JCPOA, Kirby said, “The work of the joint commission, as stipulated in the agreement itself, is to be confidential. I also would assert that the joint commission has not and will not loosen any of the commitments and has not provided any exceptions that would allow Iran to retain or process material in excess of its JCPOA limits that it could use in a breakout scenario.”
Furthermore, he said, “the notion…that there was some untowardness here about the confidentiality of the work of the joint commission is not founded.”
Reporters pushed the State Department spokesman to provide further clarity on the matter. James Rosen of Fox News said to Kirby, “I don’t want to play semantics with you, but I am concerned that I ask you a question of whether or not the joint commission has enacted any exemptions for Iran or anything that a reasonable observer would conclude to be an exemption, and by way of answering you talk about the loosening of commitments. And so I just wonder if you can address my question on its own terms.”
Kirby replied, “I understand where you’re going here. I’m not going to talk about that. But what I can assure you and everyone else is that there has been no loosening of Iran’s commitments and there have been no exceptions given that would allow them to exceed the limits, whether it’s the limits of LEU (low-enriched uranium) or the limits of heavy water, that would allow them to have a useable amount of material in excess of what they’re supposed to have towards the production of fissile material.”
Following up, Rosen asked: “So if you can say there’s been no loosening and there’s been no exceptions, what is it that prevents you from using the word ‘exemptions’ — there have been no exemptions granted?”
In response, Kirby said, “The joint commission has provided guidance on implementing the JCPOA. That’s what it’s for. It’s designed to do that. None of that guidance allows Iran to have more than 300 kilograms of LEU that it can use to enrich further. And as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has said themselves, Iran is implementing on that commitment.”
Following Rosen, Arshad Mohammed of Reuters echoed the Fox reporter in his question to Kirby, saying, “As James points out, every time he asks you about exemptions and whether or not the joint commission has issued any exemptions, you say there’s no loosening and they did not provide any exceptions. Can you tell…[d]id they provide any exemptions?”
Kirby replied, “What I can tell you is the work of the joint commission is confidential and I’m not privy to it, as I shouldn’t be. And even if I was, I wouldn’t be at liberty to discuss it. What I can assure you of is the same thing I assured your colleague of, is that there’s been no loosening of the commitments and Iran has not and will not under the JCPOA be allowed to exceed the limits that are spelled out in the JCPOA.”
Trying again, Mohammed asked, “So just for the last time, you’re not going to address the question of whether or not exemptions were issued?”
“I’m not going to address the work of the joint commission because I cannot address the work of the joint commission,” Kirby said.
At this point, Rosen chimed back in, saying, “You’re standing there and telling us there was no loosening, there were no exceptions made. So you are very materially discussing their work in those sentences, aren’t you?”
“I’m telling you what is not happening, which is Iran is not being permitted under the JCPOA to exceed it, James,” Kirby said. “Look, I understand the wordplay here too, okay? And I get what you’re trying to do. But I’m not going to speak for the work of the joint commission and…the deliberations that they have worked through in order…to make sure that they are properly supervising Iran and the JCPOA.”
Later, Mohammed returned to the issue of low-enriched uranium. “The JCPOA in point seven explicitly states that Iran, quote, ‘will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kilograms of up to 3.67 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride, or the equivalent in other chemical forms.’ The Albright report says that one of the exemptions that it says was in effect on implementation day allowed Iran to have more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium in the following forms: low-level solid waste, low-level liquid waste [and] sludge waste – [d]o you — can you state unequivocally that Iran never had more than 300 kilograms of LEU in uranium hexafluoride or any other chemical forms, including the three that I just named?”
Kirby replied, “What I said — I’ll say it again: Iran is allowed under the JCPOA to have no more than 300 kilograms of LEU in its stockpile, material that it could enrich further if it were not for the JCPOA. And they are not above that limit, and they have not exceeded that limit of 300 kilograms of usable LEU which could be used to enrich further. They have not exceeded that limit.”
Mohammed pressed on, saying, “But what the agreement says — and I just read it — it doesn’t say ‘usable.’ The word ‘usable’ ain’t in there. It’s point seven, it’s explicit in the agreement, it’s in black and white, and it doesn’t say ‘usable.’ It says ‘will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kilograms of up to 3.67 enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6), or the equivalent in other chemical forms’”… No word ‘usable’ in there. So that’s the question: Did it ever go above it?”
“I answered the question, Arshad,” Kirby said.
Responding to another question, from Bradley Klapper of The Associated Press, Kirby said, “[T]here is a limit of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that can be further enriched for fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb. That’s the limit that they’re allowed to possess.”
”That’s not the limit,” Klapper shot back. “He [Mohammed] just read it out…It doesn’t say that. You’ve just changed it again. It does not say that in the agreement. This sentence you just said does not exist in the JCPOA. You’ve just invented it.”
“I don’t know how to address it any further, Brad,” Kirby said.
A full transcript of Thursday’s State Department press briefing can be viewed here.
Meanwhile, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said in a statement on Thursday it was “deeply troubled” by the Institute for Science and International Security report.
“If the report is accurate, this unwarranted leniency sets a dangerous precedent concerning adherence to the agreement,” the AIPAC statement said. “No further concessions should be granted to Iran, and complete transparency related to the deal’s implementation must be provided.”
Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told Jewish Insider, “This latest report further confirms that the Obama Administration has consistently misled the American people on the Iran nuclear deal… Simply put, President Obama and his fellow Democrats have never been straightforward with the American people about Iran.”
Watch a video of Kirby’s exchange with reporters below: