State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke claimed Friday that the "goal posts haven’t moved" in Iran negotiations as he struggled to explain the administration’s latest concessions.
The United States is in negotiations with Iran in regards to their nuclear program. During Friday’s press briefing, Rathke struggled to define what concessions or conditions were required for the Iranians to meet for a nuclear deal to be achieved.
Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pressed Rathke to clarify what the United States objectives are for the negotiations.
MATT LEE: Does your unwillingness to even characterize where the talks are, at a difficult phase with two and a half weeks left, does that extend to not commenting on various reports that have out this week and last about concessions that the P5 +1 appear to be making to Iran in terms of both sanctions relief and the PMD issue.
JEFF RATHKE: I think we've spoken to this a bit yesterday. But on the PMD issue, we've seen reports that you're referring to. I think our position on this hasn't changed. We've always made clear to the Iranians that they will have to reach an agreement with the IAEA on providing the necessary access to address the concerns about the possible military dimensions of their program. Without that agreement, we will not be able to move forward with sanctions relief. That's been our position throughout these negotiations.
LEE: Right, but that suggests that the actual questions don't have to be answered and the concerns resolved in order to get the deal. Correct? They only have to agree to, at some point, whatever that might be, but at some point after an agreement is reached, to deal with this. Is that correct?
RATHKE: Well the point is that Iran has to provide the necessary access to the IAEA for them to address these concerns.
LEE: Yeah. But does that have to happen to get to a deal or can that happen after a deal?
RATHKE: Without agreement on the access, we — we won't be able to reach sanctions relief.
LEE: So if Iran agrees to give access to the sites that the IAEA wants but hasn't actually given the access by June 30, that's still ok. Is that correct?
RATHKE: Well, there I think we're getting into details that I will leave in the negotiating room. I think what I'm trying to convey, though, is that our position on the possible military dimensions issue and the necessity of Iran working with the IAEA, that position remains the same. It hasn't changed.
LEE: Is it correct that there's a difference between me, if I'm Iran, saying to you, ok, you can have access in 50 years. And me, as Iran, saying ok, come on in now and ask all the questions you want and we'll address your concerns.
Rathke didn’t clarify when Iran would have to provide access since those are details still being discussed in negotiations.
Lee then focused on the reports that the United States is conceding on the issue of possible military dimensions (PMD).
LEE: So it has never been the U.S. position that Iran must resolve the PMD concerns to get to an agreement. That's never been a condition.
RATHKE: Look you want to go back and look at what was said at the time. Our position on this —
LEE: I wish this wasn't —
RATHKE: — remains the same.
LEE: It doesn't remain the same, Jeff. It's changed. Secretary Kerry even said that they had to be resolved in order for there to be a deal.
RATHKE: You're trying to draw a distinction between the words address and resolve.
LEE: No. You're lowering the bar even further from address to just agree to give access to, which means — I mean, if they give access —
RATHKE: No, I've said the word address, Matt.
LEE: If they give access — your version now says that if they give access, the IAEA goes in and finds some huge secret bomb making thing, that's ok. They've given access and that's alright.
RATHKE: I think you were listening to what I said.
LEE: I was.
RATHKE: I said that Iran has to provide the necessary access to address the concerns about the possible military dimensions of their program.
LEE: But what if the concerns aren't addressed? What if the access that they give doesn't address the concerns? You already got the deal. They're already getting sanctions relief. Or are you saying that if the concerns aren't addressed at some point down the road, then they're not going to get the sanctions relief that they would have gotten for that part of —
RATHKE: I've laid our position out clearly. It hasn't changed.
LEE: Well, I'm very confused because it does seem that the goal posts seem to be moving.
RATHKE: No the goal posts haven't moved.
In a PBS interview in April, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran must disclose past nuclear military activities for a final deal.