12 May 2003
U.S., Iran Discussing Afghanistan, Iraq, Other Issues of Mutual Interest
Reeker says establishment of diplomatic relations not being considered
The State Department's deputy spokesman, Philip Reeker, said the United States and Iran are communicating with each other through a variety of international channels on Afghanistan, Iraq and other issues of mutual interest, but the question of establishing diplomatic relations is not under consideration.
Briefing reporters at the daily State Department briefing May 12, Reeker said the United States has long-standing differences with Iran on matters concerning weapons proliferation, human rights, opposition to the Middle East peace process, and terrorism.
Reeker said the Bush administration believes that Iran ought to review its policies on those matters, given the changed strategic situation in the Middle East brought about by the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Following is an excerpt from Reeker's May 12 briefing containing his comments about Iran:
Question: On Iran, USA Today was talking about an Iranian interest in establishing diplomatic relations or reestablishing diplomatic relations. In Iran's conversations with U.S. officials, has the issue of diplomatic relations ever come up?
Mr. Reeker: I think, as Secretary Powell indicated to a number of your colleagues on his airplane a couple of nights ago -- and that transcript is fully available -- diplomatic relations are not what's on the table in discussions with Iran.
And, as National Security Advisor Rice has said in an interview with one of your competing wire services, George, you know -- I think we have talked about it before -- that the United Nations has regularly facilitated contacts between the United States and Iran through what we call the Geneva process, to discuss practical issues regarding Afghanistan originally, and that has expanded to Iraq.
Dr. Rice noted just a short time ago that talks with officials from Iran, that these talks have involved the Presidential Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, as Dr. Rice said, grew directly out of needing to deal with some practical matters dealing with Afghanistan, and then we extended this to Iraq.
This is not somehow a new opening of diplomatic relations. This is an opportunity to deal with some practical issues. And we have talked about the opportunity before and where we can discuss issues of mutual concern, particularly as they have to do with neighbors of Iran's -- that is, Afghanistan or Iraq.
We continue to have longstanding policy differences with Iran. Our concerns, as you know, include Tehran's ongoing support for terrorism, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, the opposition to Middle East peace and the human rights process in Iran, the human rights situation, their record there, which we consider to be quite poor. Those things have not changed. Those issues remain the serious concerns we have about Iran.
But our ability through a variety of channels, including the Geneva channel, to have these contacts in order to discuss issues, to communicate with them, issues on things like Afghanistan and Iraq, have gone on and will, I am sure, go on in the future.
Question: Could you explain, help us understand a little bit more of this Geneva process? I know originally the conversations were with Iran vis-à-vis the 6+2 group, but could you just kind of give a little bit more definition of what the Geneva process actually is?
Mr. Reeker: No, I don't think I could. It is a reference to Geneva as a place where the United Nations facilitates talks. As you mentioned, the 6+2 context was a format the United Nations developed to deal with Afghanistan some years ago, and that included the six neighboring countries of Afghanistan, plus the United States and Russia, who had serious concerns about the situation in Afghanistan.
We saw the situation with the Taliban, the support for terrorism there, the dreadful situation that the Afghan people were living under; and, of course, after September 11th we all know the history of the coalition efforts in Afghanistan that liberated that country from the Taliban and rooting out the terrorist cells, including al-Qaida, of course, based there. That was a process where we could discuss also with Iran issues pertaining to Afghanistan, and we have been able to expand that process to discuss issues of mutual interest, mutual concern in terms of Iraq. And that is really about as far as I can go.
Question: Do you see this process being expanded into areas of mutual cooperation beyond Iraq, such as drug trafficking, you know, to other issues of terrorism such as al-Qaida, issues of mutual concern to the two countries?
Mr. Reeker: I don't know if I would want to go beyond that. This is what we have used that structure for. And I would just refer you to Dr. Rice's remarks a short time ago and to what the Secretary said on the plane. I really don't think there is anything to add.
Question: So, can you say that these talks did only cover issues involved with Iraq? And at whose behest were the talks convened?
Mr. Reeker: I think it has been a matter of mutual interest. As the Secretary said, we have these channels with Iran. We use them to communicate. As the Secretary also pointed out, we use them to communicate how we believe that Iran ought to review their policies in terms of the changed situation in Iraq, the changed equation in the region, and I have outlined for you again the areas that are of concern to us. We have been quite clear, quite open, about those areas of concern. We publish annually a report on global terrorism that talks about Iranian support, state support, for terrorism. Our Human Rights Report outlines the human rights situation in Iran, which is of concern to us.
Question: (Inaudible) other than Iraq have traditionally been brought up in these --
Mr. Reeker: It is where we can make clear to Iran what our concerns are, and on the basis of the fact that in Iraq there is a new situation and a new opportunity for the region, just as we have told other countries, like Syria, that they should examine, seriously think about how they want to deal with the neighborhood under the new situation and move forward. So that is the opportunity that we use and discuss that with them there.
Question: Why do they have to be held under UN auspices?
Mr. Reeker: This is the way it works, George.
Question: There is no reason why the two countries couldn't get together without somebody overseeing it, right?
Mr. Reeker: This is the way we have done it; this is the way we are doing it; this is the way we will do it.
Question: My name is (inaudible). I represent the Daily Journal in Pakistan. After the initial euphoria about the Indo-Pak contacts and desire to meet --
Mr. Reeker: Do we have other things on this subject? We tend to go subject by subject, sir. So if we have --
Question: Well, I think this is in the subject, Mr. Armitage -- okay, close this.
Mr. Reeker: The subject we were on was Iran. When we are done with that subject, I will be happy to move on to another one. Thank you.
Question: Can you say anything now that would allay concerns that the Iranians might have about a future government in Iraq, and how that pro-American government would -- would somehow threaten the regime over in Tehran? I mean, is there anything you can say to that? There seems to be a lot of Iranian officials have --
Mr. Reeker: I'm not quite sure what you're referring to.
Question: Many Iranian officials have said openly over the past three months that an American -- a pro-American government in Baghdad would be as dangerous or more dangerous to Iranian national security interests than even Saddam himself (inaudible) --
Mr. Reeker: I haven't seen any of these comments that you're suggesting. I am sure they're out there. I have just missed it in my reading. So I am not going to try to address them generally.
We have been quite clear, in terms of the vision we have for the future of Iraq, a government by Iraqis for Iraqis that is representative, that is democratic, that builds upon the diversity of the Iranian nation -- pardon me -- the Iraqi nation to have a government that can serve the people of Iraq, certainly better than the horrible regime of Saddam Hussein that tortured them. That is our goal, and there is nothing that I can see in that that should then represent any threat to any part of the neighborhood.
We have been quite clear that our goal was an Iraq that had its territorial integrity in place, that did not threaten its neighbors, as the Saddam Hussein regime did for many, many years, and Iran is certainly an example of that, as is Kuwait. Also, that doesn't threaten the region, that doesn't develop weapons of mass destruction, and that doesn't harbor terrorists or have links to international terrorists groups that threaten all of us around the world.
Question: I mean, I don't want to go further than what you just said there. Are you conveying this message to the Iranians in Geneva and other --
Mr. Reeker: I am sure they just heard it now.
Question: They just heard it now. But --
Mr. Reeker: I am sure they read all of our statements, Eli, about what we hope for the future Iraq. And from the very beginning and before there was even a decision to take military action, we had discussed for years our goal of seeing an Iraq with a government that represented all of the Iraqi people and did not threaten its neighbors and brought stability to the region. And, indeed, as the President said, as the Secretary said, we now have a new opportunity with Saddam Hussein gone from the scene to build on that and make a better region for all of the peoples of the area.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)