Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

IRAN: U.S. addresses Tehran unrest in daily briefing

July 17, 2009 |  4:11 pm


The unrest in Tehran on Friday put Iran front and center again on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Below is a partial transcript from U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood's regular briefing for reporters. 

He said the unrest today showed that Iran is "divided" and faces a "crisis of confidence," but he said the door remained open for talks between Tehran and Washington.

Here is the Iran discussion during today's briefing:

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the demonstrations in Iran today and whether it’s going 

ROBERT WOOD: I’ve seen some of the footage from the demonstrations and certainly saw a number of press reports, but I think this is just another example of how divided Iran is right now. This is just another example, as I’ve said, of Iran needing to – the Iranian Government needing to come to grips with the reality it faces within its borders. And I don’t think I have very much more to add than – to what we’ve said all along. 

QUESTION: And what is the reality that Iran faces? I mean, how do you see that reality? 

WOOD: Well, clearly, the people of Iran are not happy with the current situation. Of course, we are all familiar with the aftermath of the Iranian elections. The Iranian government is – has a crisis of confidence with its people. And so it needs to address that crisis of confidence. And until it does, it’s going to be very hard for that government to gain legitimacy in the eyes of its people. 

QUESTION: So are you saying that the government is not legitimate, then, in the eyes of its...

WOOD: It’s not for me to say whether it’s legitimate or not. I think we’ve said this over and again. This is something that has to be determined by the Iranian people. It’s only a decision that the Iranian people can make, not any outside government. 

QUESTION: Today, Mr. Rafsanjani was – well, spoke openly about, and with – and critically about the election. And he said that the media should be more open in Iran. Do you consider this comment as significant, or is it for you something, you know, as usual? 

WOOD: Well, I mean, the fact that you have a major clerical figure, a former president, making those types of comments is clearly something that one has to pay attention to. It’s no secret that there have been problems with freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, in Iran, and we’ve been mostly concerned, of course, about the violence that has taken place in the aftermath of the election. But again, this is something that the Iranian Government is going to have to square with its own people. As I said, there’s a crisis of confidence, and we’ve said from the beginning we in no way want to interfere with what’s going on in Iran. But the world is concerned about – particularly in the aftermath of the violence and where Iran seems to be heading. 

QUESTION: Would the offer for engagement with Iran go ahead before the government in Iran settled this confidence problem with its people? I mean, do you condition that or you are willing to negotiate with this situation?  

WOOD: Well, Samir, as you know, there has been an invitation out to the Iranian government to engage in a dialogue with the United States. There was an invitation sent by Javier Solana, if you remember, for Iran to attend a P-5+1 meeting. Iran has not responded to these overtures. It’s hard for us to say what kind of a dialogue we’re going to be able to have with Iran if Iran is not willing to engage back. But as I said, going forward, the Iranian leadership is going to have to deal with the crisis of confidence that the people of Iran have with its leaders – with their leaders. So it’s really up to the Iranian government as to whether it wants to go down the path that we, the United States, and others in the international community have offered it. And again, our main interests are seeing that Iran not develop a nuclear weapon. And it’s in our interests, as we’ve said many times, to have this type of direct diplomacy with Iran so that Iran can address some of the concerns that we and others in the international community have, not only about their nuclear program, but other activities around the region.  

QUESTION: Robert, [Ahmadinejad]  has been reelected. He has reacted very sharply to Secretary Clinton’s speech the other day this week. She talked about Iran, told her – said that, you know, time for Iran to accept the offer, it’s not indefinite, it’s not unlimited. Do you think this is a sign of what you’re to expect in the future? And any reactions to what he has said? 

WOOD: Well, I don’t know what to expect from Iran’s – the Iranian leadership in the future. We’ll have to see. But again, the secretary is very clear: We want to engage Iran and we want to do that. But that offer is not going to be out there forever. Iran needs to take advantage of the opportunities that the international community has put forward to engage. So far, they haven’t chosen to do that, and it’s really – it’s up to Iran whether it wants to pursue a path of engagement or a path of isolation. It’s really up to Iran, but we have been very clear in terms of where our national interests lie, and that direct engagement is the method that we would like to pursue in terms of dealing with these problems that we face with Iran. Matt had a – you had something?  

QUESTION: In that same vein, I was just wondering, at that same speech at CFR, she said that the U.S. is standing up for human rights everywhere, but when the U.S. makes statements that it’s going to sit down at the negotiating table, considering the government treatment of protesters in Iran, isn’t the U.S. sending mixed signals? Are we concerned about that? I mean – or is it just that we put keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran as a higher priority over human rights? 

WOOD: No. The secretary spoke very clearly in her speech about human rights. And we’re very concerned, as we’ve said many times, about human rights violations in Iran. But we’ve also said at the same time that Iran’s nuclear program is something of great concern to not only the United States, but other countries of the world. And we’re going to do what we can. We’ve said that we want to engage Iran on not only the nuclear issue, but other issues, as I mentioned. Human rights would certainly be one of those issues, and I don’t see them as separate. I mean, they’re all important. That’s why we want to have this dialogue with Iran, so that we can try to get to the bottom of some of these differences that we have. But again, Iran needs to respond to our offers of engagement. And we still await their response.

-- Los Angeles Times

Photo: Iranian opposition supporters take part in Friday prayers outside Tehran University in the Iranian capital. Credit: SHAIGAN/AFP/Getty Images