Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


1Denial of secret US-Iran bilateral meetings
1-2US and Iran participate in UN meetings on Afghan issues
2-3,5Iran President Khatami remarks on potential dialogue w/American people
3-5US policy on potential for bilateral dialogue with Iran; areas of US concern, including support for international terrorism and lack of support for Middle East peace process
3No new developments in US-Iran claims case at ICJ in The Hague

DPB #181
MONDAY, DECEMBER 15, 1997, 1:00 P.M.

MR. FOLEY: Okay. Ready to start. I have no announcements.

QUESTION: There's an Israeli newspaper which says that the United States and Iran have been having unannounced discussions since the May election. Do you have anything on that?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, I do. The report is false.


QUESTION: Could you elaborate?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- up at the UN; right?

MR. FOLEY: I can tell you about that -- if that's what the question is.

QUESTION: Another question is whether you've had contacts with the Iranians?

MR. FOLEY: The question was - George, I don't know if you want to repeat it for the record - whether we've had secret contacts with the Iranians, as alleged -- I think it was Haaretz report. And I don't have to elaborate on something that's not true. If it were true, there would be something to elaborate upon.

In terms of the UN, though, Sid, you're right that we have participated in meetings that the Iranians have also attended at the United Nations. The UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has convened Afghanistan's immediate neighbors, the US and Russia, to search for ways to help end the conflict between Afghan factions.

Ambassador Brahimi believes -- and we agree -- that Afghanistan's neighbors can play an important role in encouraging the factions to stop fighting and move toward a political settlement. The United States fully supports this process, which is part of the continuing central role of the UN in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Now, the group has met three times at the UN since, I believe, late summer, in New York, under the chairmanship of Ambassador Brahimi; and the group includes representatives of Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Russia and the US. The US has been represented by Assistant Secretary for South Asia Carl Inderfurth. But again, I would just note that the group meets under the auspices of the UN. The fact of the matter is that Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan, and this is the home of 1.4 million Afghan refugees. Iran has been a full participant in this process.

QUESTION: Would you say that within this forum, though, that there's been a focus on US-Iran contacts in trying to advance peace efforts in Afghanistan?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we have participated, along with quite a number of other nations that I just enumerated, including Iran, in this forum, to discuss Afghanistan. But it is to discuss Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR. FOLEY: Assistant Secretary Inderfurth is responsible for South Asian Affairs in the State Department, not for Near East-Asia.

QUESTION: There must have been a number of meetings like this, on different subjects, where you and the Iranians had been grouped together. I mean, I wouldn't expect this is the only time. There was the test ban -- probably some test ban meetings where you all were with the Iranians, maybe some global climate stuff.

MR. FOLEY: Well, there's a claims settlement forum in The Hague, as well. I don't have the information at my fingertips concerning what international fora meetings where we might have simultaneously been represented. I think that's not surprising. We both belong to the United Nations and would ordinarily find ourselves, in the course of work, present in the same room. But this is a completely separate issue from the question I received at the beginning of the briefing -- bilateral contacts, as such.

QUESTION: It would hardly be unique for the Iranians and the Americans to be in the same room in an international forum over the last 20 years.

MR. FOLEY: It wouldn't be unprecedented. I couldn't answer specifically how many times it's happened, but certainly Afghanistan is an issue that has brought us around the same table in New York.

QUESTION: You mentioned --

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the comments by the Iranian president yesterday?

MR. FOLEY: Well, President Clinton has already spoken to that this morning, and you noted that he expressed a desire on the part of the United States to have a dialogue with Iran. He said that he was encouraged by President Khatami's remarks. We have welcomed the new tone we have begun to hear from the Iranian president, and we regard the remarks, as reported, as a positive statement.

From our perspective, it is not new that we have favored a serious dialogue between the United States and Iran, as long as all the issues are on the table. Of course, we're looking for a change in Iranian actions as well as an improvement in Iranian statements. And as we have often said, in any dialogue, we would raise our concerns about Iranian actions -- specifically, support for terrorism, sponsorship of violent opposition to the peace process, and efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Jim, you talked about the tone of Iran, but has the US tone changed, in any way, over the course of the last, I guess, month or so, in light of this new tone coming out of Iran?

MR. FOLEY: I think you have to go back to the election of President Khatami as a development that we regarded and stated publicly as an interesting one, which perhaps had carried the potential for change on the part of Iranian actions and opening the possibility for a dialogue between the United States and Iran on issues of concern.

We've seen, over the course of the last few days, further statements on the part of the Iranian president which indicate a desire to find common ground with the world community, and statements which indicated a desire to achieve a different, qualitatively better relationship with the Arab world, including, most notably, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I believe President Khatami referred to that yesterday.

He's made comments recently about civil society and the rule of law. On the negative side, we found his rejection of the Middle East peace process and comments on Israel were of a nature to be continuing to be troubling to us. And now, yesterday he's talked about a desire on his part for a dialogue with the American people.

He appeared to make a distinction, perhaps, between the American people and the American government. He also indicated that he might have more to say on the subject in the near future. We are continuing to watch developments, to listen carefully to everything that is being said, and if, in fact, he were to address the American people, as he said he might, we will be listening carefully.

But it is not new, though, that the United States has declared itself open to having a dialogue with Iran. I believe that goes back at least to the Bush Administration. But as President Clinton made clear this morning, we're seeing encouraging signs, certainly a new tone, which we welcome, but we look for changes in Iranian actions. I don't need to repeat, because I just did a few minutes ago, what areas of concern we have with the Iranian Government. We'll have to stay tuned for further developments to see if Iran is willing to address areas of concern and to move toward more concrete actions in this regard.

QUESTION: Jim, the actions, do you have any evidence that Iran is at present supporting international terrorism?

MR. FOLEY: Do we have any evidence that --

QUESTION: As of now, Iran is supporting international terrorism.

MR. FOLEY: Well, in the three areas of concern that I noted, that we have with Iranian actions, we have not seen any changes in - we've not seen changes, measurable changes, in those areas.

QUESTION: Well, the specific question: Have you new evidence that Iran continues to support terrorism?

MR. FOLEY: Well, you're referring to --

QUESTION: Terrorism.

MR. FOLEY: -- to issues that are not easily discussed from the podium, and I couldn't comment specifically the nature of all the information that's available to us. I would simply reiterate what I just said, which is that we've not seen changes in the areas of concern to us, concerning Iranian behavior.

QUESTION: Well, on the peace process, as I understand what Khatami said, was that Iran does not like or support the peace process, but accepts the willingness of others to engage in it. Is that not --

MR. FOLEY: I've not seen that comment. If he, in fact, said that, that would mark some movement, I believe, in their standard line until now. Although, I would note that in the OIC meeting itself, which concluded last week, that the resolutions on the Middle East peace process were also not indicative of standard Iranian blanket opposition that we've seen for years and years and years.

QUESTION: You mentioned earlier the claims settlement in The Hague. Is there anything new on that?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of any new developments, no.

QUESTION: Has the United States - have the US and Iran discussed their bilateral relationship through any third parties?

MR. FOLEY: Not to my knowledge. We have an interest section, of course - I'm sorry -- the Swiss represent us, diplomatically, our interests in Iran. But I'm not aware of a third-party dialogue.

As you know, I've had numerous occasions over the last week or so to talk about the nature of a dialogue that we would like to have with the Iranian Government; and I've made clear on all such occasions that we would want any such dialogue to be authoritative and for Iran to be prepared for the dialogue to be acknowledged publicly.

QUESTION: Well, when you talk about supporting terrorism, for instance, that's a broad term. I mean support could range from financial help, to supplying weapons, to simply making positive statements about what terrorists have done. Do you have a benchmark? I mean, what concrete steps would Iran have to take to satisfy the United States on that issue, sir?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we don't have a nuanced view of the terrorism issue. We think that terrorism is to be condemned and rejected in all of its forms, and all support for terrorism - be it financial, logistic or even rhetorical - ought to be condemned and rejected.

QUESTION: You mentioned that Khatami appeared to be making a distinction between the American people and the American leadership. What does that tell you? Why did you note that?

MR. FOLEY: I noted it because he appeared to have made that distinction. He also indicated that he might have more to say on the subject in the near future. So we'll have to see if he and the Iranian authorities are willing to move beyond a general formula and to indicate a willingness to enter the kind of open dialogue that we have been calling for.

QUESTION: Well, isn't that an actual mirror statement of what you and other spokesmen have been saying from that podium - that the United States has no quarrel with the Iranian or even the Iraqi people; it's the policies of the government that the United States finds objectionable.

MR. FOLEY: Well, we've believed all along that the estrangement between the Iranian and the American peoples was unnatural. I think if you look at historical perspective, if you look at decades and decades, this is something that will end at some point. We ought to have a normal, civilized relationship with the people of Iran.

Our problem is that the government of Iran has pursued policies which are not in conformity with the policies of a state that wishes to normalize its relations with the rest of the world and play the role which it ought to play as a leading member of the international community.

QUESTION: Just for the record, this won't be the first time or the last time, for the moment the policy of the US Government is still described as dual containment; is that right?

MR. FOLEY: There's been no change in American policy.

QUESTION: It is dual containment?

MR. FOLEY: There's been no change.