Reporter, State Dept. Get Into Heated Discussion Over Iran Sanctions

Associated Press reporter Bradley Klapper and State Department spokesman John Kirby got into a heated discussion at Wednesday's press briefing while discussing possible sanctions against Iran for the country's involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Iran is one of the primary backers of the Assad regime in Syria, along with Russia.

Klapper said that Kirby had downplayed in recent briefings the role Iran has played in Syria, focusing instead on Russia's support for the Assad regime. Kirby denied that he has downplayed Iran's involvement and said Russia has had a larger role in the conflict. Klapper then brought up the issue of sanctions.

"How many sanctions have you put on Iran over Syria in the last two years? Zero," Klapper said.

Kirby responded by bringing up the rhetoric that has come out of Iran over Syria recently. Tehran has hailed the Assad regime's effective seizure of the city of Aleppo from rebels this week.

"Even though they're directing a lot of the ground attacks and they have their own kind of proxies embedded with the Syrians, and you've done nothing on the sanctions front even though you have widespread authority to sanction Iran," Klapper said.

"We have sanctions in place on Iran's destabilizing activities as well as their support for terrorism and groups like Hezbollah, which we know are operating in Syria," Kirby said before stating that he would not debate with Klapper at the press briefing about policy.

Klapper said that the sanctions Kirby was referring to were not about Syria but other Iranian activities.

"This is not about state sponsorship of terrorism," Klapper said. "This is about their support for the Assad regime's military activity. It's a completely different set and you've done, the administration has done nothing."

The heated discussion ended with the two of them telling one another, "Don't get upset."

The Obama administration gave Iran large-scale sanctions relief this year after the comprehensive nuclear deal was implemented in January.