QUESTION: Okay, I have two more questions on Iran. The former prisoners who have been held in jail in Iran went on hunger strike in Vienna, as you know, and Robert Malley issued a statement – they wanted basically to make sure that the release of U.S. hostages in Iran is precondition to negotiation with the Iranian regime. The Iranians said they’re adamant that that’s not going to be linked. So despite your commitment to that, how you going to deal with the fact that Iran refused to discuss the release of the prisoners and give assurance to their families that you’re doing everything to make sure that they are released?
MR PRICE: So let me spend a moment just on Barry Rosen, one of the former embassy hostages you referenced. And you heard us welcome the end of Mr. Rosen’s hunger strike, and we applaud his heroic efforts to secure – to help secure the release of all foreign and dual nationals held by Iran. This is a challenge that continues to have, to your question, our full attention. Barry Rosen, his colleagues, they are – they’re heroes. And that’s why Special Envoy Malley met with Mr. Rosen in Vienna and will of course meet with him again at any time to hear his important perspective, to hear his thoughts. We are deeply moved by his commitment to the release of those American citizens and third-country nationals who are wrongfully detained in Iran. It’s a commitment that we completely share.
You heard from the special envoy that we are continuing to pursue separate indirect talks with Iran to secure the release of those who are unjustly held by the regime. You have heard us make the point that it would not serve our interest, it certainly would not serve the interests of the Americans and third-country nationals who are unjustly held in Iran to tie their fates to a proposition that is, at best, uncertain. And that is the proposition of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That is a proposition that is, at best, uncertain. We want the return of Americans and these third-country nationals to be a certainty. That is our goal: to bring them home, to reunite them with their families. And so, of course, we do not want to have anything unnecessarily stand in the way. So we’ll continue to treat these issues as separate as we strive to secure their release.
QUESTION: Okay. And one more on Iran. Is there any division within the negotiation team in Vienna? And is Mr. Nephew or – in agreement with your policy or does he disagree that – the way you’re handling imposing the sanction on Iran, the way you want to implement is different than that of Rob Malley and others?
MR PRICE: Well, I’m fortunate to say that Richard Nephew is still a member of the State Department team. He no longer serves as the deputy special envoy for Iran, but as you know, a year into an administration, personnel moves are common. Of course, we’re not going to get into the specifics —
QUESTION: In such a sensitive time it’s common for them to leave when they’re negotiating a deal that is hinged on getting back to this agreement?
MR PRICE: Well, look, I’m not going to comment on the specifics of any decision of someone to take a step back from a particular account, but you’ve seen across the administration that especially at this time, a year into the administration, there have been a number of personnel moves across a variety of fronts, including on high-profile issues.
The fact is, and I think the broader context here, is that the previous administration – we’ve been clear about this – left us with a terrible set of options. The maximum pressure campaign was an abject failure. Everything that it promised, the opposite ended up coming true, whether it was promises of a better deal; whether it was promises of a subdued Iran, a cowed set of proxies and terrorist affiliates; whether it was putting the brakes on Iran’s nuclear program; whether it was bringing together the world to bring about maximalist demands on Iran. Across all of those areas, the opposite came true.
We inherited an Iranian nuclear program that was galloping ahead, that has continued to gallop ahead, and an Iranian nuclear program that was not subject, unfortunately, to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, and a verification and monitoring regime that was working, and verifiably so – working according to the State Department, working according to our Intelligence Community, working according to the IAEA, working according to our allies and partners. So having inherited a very difficult and challenging – terrible, even – set of options, we’ve set about a path that we believe is in our national security interests, and that is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. It’s a path that, up until now, has been, in our estimation, the best way to once again put those stringent, permanent, verifiable limitations on Iran’s nuclear program.
But we’ve been equally clear that there will come a day – and there will come a day soon – when the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA promised in 2015 and that were implemented in 2016 will be watered down and eroded by the advancements that Iran has made, since the last administration left the deal, in its nuclear program. So right now, we are still seeking to achieve a mutual return to compliance, but we’re weighing all options and weighing alternatives.
QUESTION: A quick one on Iran, very quickly. What happened since yesterday and the – when the foreign minister – Iranian foreign minister said they were open to direct talks? Have you reached indirectly out to them saying okay, you’re open, we’re open, let’s do this now and just meet?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to speak to anything like that, but it would not take us reaching out for the Iranians to know precisely where we are and what we have long preferred. We’ve been very clear, just —
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, but just to organize an actual meeting.
MR PRICE: Well, we – again, we have been open to sitting down directly with our allies and partners, with the Iranians, since this began last April, I believe it was. So it is up to the Iranians to make good on that statement. We do believe that it would be more productive to engage directly with Iran when it comes to JCPOA, when it comes to other issues. It would also enable more efficient communication, and that is what we need especially at this moment, when we have precious little time left in an effort to try and salvage or to effect a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.