Secretary of State
November 10, 2013
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you for hanging in here with all of us in what has obviously been a long and interesting process, but a very productive one if I can say so. I want to thank my colleagues from the United Kingdom, Turkey, France, Russia and China. And I particularly want to thank Lady Catherine Ashton for her leadership and for the European Union’s convening all of us here in order to perform this very important business of trying to deal with the question of a country’s potential move towards nuclear weapons. And obviously, the commitment by the President, by all of the member states of the P5+1 and others in the world makes certain that that doesn’t happen, that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.
I want to say that the negotiations were conducted with mutual respect. They were very serious. But they were conducted in a very civil and appropriate way for a subject matter as serious as this one. And we came to Geneva determined. As President Obama has said, his goal is, since day one as President, to make certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. That remains our goal because we remain committed to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and we remain committed to protecting our allies, particularly our allies in that region where security is so critical. We also are committed to protecting our interests in the world from the consequences of the spread of these weapons.
We came to Geneva to narrow the differences. And I can tell you without any exaggeration we not only narrowed differences and clarified those that remain, but we made significant progress in working through the approaches to this question of how one brings in a program that guarantees this peaceful nature. There’s no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva, than we were when we came, and that with good work and good faith over the course of the next weeks, we can in fact secure our goal.
And over the last two days, a significant amount of progress was made. I am impressed and grateful for the way in which the P5 + 1 countries joined together and worked effectively together, the teams worked effectively together. And I think that tonight there was a unity in our position and a unity in the purpose as we leave here. We are committed to have our political directors – and I think Lady Catherine Ashton probably shared this with you – meet in the next days, and we are also committed to returning as necessary somewhere over the next weeks, hopefully, with the goal of either building on what was done today or completing the task.
Let me just say that for those who are wondering about this kind of process, it takes time to build confidence between countries that have really been at odds with each other for a long time now – in the case of Iran, since 1979. And so we are working hard to try to overcome mistrust, to try to build confidence, to try to find the ways that both the P5+1 and the united – and Iran have the ability to be able to achieve this goal of ascertaining for certain, without a doubt, that a program is a peaceful nuclear program.
Diplomacy takes time, and all the parties here need time to fully consider the issues – very complicated, technical, difficult issues that we discussed here in the last days. And I particularly am anxious to return to brief the President and to share with Congress and others what we’ve learned and what we are thinking as we look forward. We also understand there are very strong feelings about the consequences of the choices we face for our allies, and we respect that. Some of them are absolutely directly, immediately involved and we have enormous respect, needless to say, for those concerns.
I want to caution everyone from jumping to conclusions or believing premature reports or prejudging outcomes or, particularly, believing either rumors or other little parcels of information that somebody portends to know or that leak out. The fact is that the negotiations are actually taking place enormously privately, and that is a sign of the seriousness of what is taking place. We have been working on this for a long time. The P5+1 has been at this for something like four years or more. I know that I’ve been watching and engaged in this effort as a Senator and now as Secretary of State for some period of time, and so I am aware of the complicated nature of this particular challenge.
But we came to Geneva with the clear purpose of trying to advance the goal of preventing Iran from securing a nuclear weapon, and I believe we leave this round of talks not only committed, recommitted to that goal, but clearly further down the road in understanding what the remaining challenges are and clarifying the ways that we can actually do certain things together to reach that goal.
I would emphasize also that the window for diplomacy does not stay open indefinitely, and we will continue working to find a peaceful solution because we believe that forceful diplomacy is a powerful enough weapon to be able to actually defuse the world’s most threatening weapons of mass destruction. And that’s why we’ll continue to do this.
So with that, I’m happy to answer a couple of questions here, see where we are.
MS. PSAKI: The first question is going to be from Kim Ghattas of BBC.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Good evening – good morning.
QUESTION: Good morning.
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s all right.
QUESTION: I can only imagine how tired you are.
SECRETARY KERRY: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, two questions. How much coordination takes place between the members of the P5+1 ahead of a meeting like this? Were you blindsided by the French and their objections to the agreement? And a second question is, you don’t have a deal yet; you’re hoping to get one in the coming weeks with further negotiations. But that does give detractors of a deal with Iran time to derail your work. I’m thinking of Israel. I’m thinking of Saudi Arabia, but also of Congress in the U.S. Are you worried that Congress is going to push once again for further sanctions against Iran?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer the second part of your question first, and just tell you point blank that this is an issue of such consequence that it really needs to rise or fall on the merits, not on politics. People need to stop and think about what happens each day now that you don’t have an agreement. Each day that you don’t have an agreement, Iran will continue to enrich, and Iran will continue to put centrifuges in, and Iran will continue its program. What we were looking to do here – and will do, I believe – is freeze that program in place so that it is not in a position to continue while the real negotiation goes on to figure out what the future final agreement would look like. And that takes time.
Now, it seems to me that the members of Congress and others in the world understand that you need to give diplomacy the chance to exhaust all the remedies available to it if you are ultimately going to exercise your ultimate option, which is the potential use of force. The world wants to know that it was a last resort, not a first resort. So I believe it is essential for Congress, essential for all of our countries – and I think we all share this – the P5+1 is absolutely united in the notion that we must pursue diplomacy as a means of trying to prevent Iran from acquiring a weapon. We know the clock is ticking. That is part of what makes this urgent. But I am convinced that over these next days, the reasonableness of what we were doing and the reality of what we achieve will be taken into account by those who need to know what that is, and that will be shared as appropriate as we get back.
With respect to the negotiation itself, we work very closely with the French. We agreed with the French that there were certain issues that we needed to work through. We came here with bracketed language. That’s the nature of a negotiation. And we knew that we were going to have to negotiate going forward, and we did. And I think we were unified in feeling we needed certain language here that clarified certain things. I certainly came in here intending to do that, and that’s what the President wanted me to do.
The President has repeatedly said we will not rush to an agreement. The President has made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal. And I think it’s good we’re going to take the time we’re taking to make certain that we are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and doing what is necessary to have an agreement – that we are assured we can look our allies and our friends in the face and say, “This gets the job done.” That’s the purpose of it.
So we thank the – we’re grateful to the French for the work that we did together, and we worked also – every member there made contributions in one way or another. That’s the nature of the P5 + 1. These are sovereign nations. No one country is going to come rolling in here, one point of view or another. We have to work it together, and that is the nature of the process.
And this is something that I think over the next weeks, as the political directors work together, they’ll build on what was achieved here in the last hours, and I feel very confident that this can be done. Not going to tell you it will be, but I can tell you it absolutely can be with good effort over these next days ahead.
MODERATOR: The next question will be from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the other day when you were in Israel, you said that the U.S. was asking Iran to agree, as you put it, to a complete freeze over where they are today. How important is it to impose constraints on the plutonium side of the Iranian program as part of a first-step agreement, say, precluding Iran from operating or putting fuel in the heavy water reactor that is being built in Iraq? Is that an important step to take as part of the complete freeze that you were talking about? And lastly, the next meeting, as you just pointed out, sir, is at the political director level, not at the foreign minister level. Doesn’t that suggest that there are significant differences that need to be narrowed before it makes sense to bring the foreign ministers back into the picture here in Geneva?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, it really is a reflection of wanting to get language issues that came up absolutely resolved, so the ministers, when they come, have a sense that everybody is in agreement with respect to the particular language. And the schedules of the ministers – it is not possible for all the ministers. And I think everybody felt they wanted to go back to their capitals, work through a few of these issues that are technical, complicated, and see if we can find the ways to deal with that with the political directors and the appropriate people to work that language at that level. That’s what got us here. And we’ve made a lot of progress. Now we go to the next step and hopefully, when the ministers come back – two weeks or so, something like that – we’ll be in the position to move forward.
But with respect to the plutonium, absolutely. It’s a very central issue and it’s one we spent a significant amount of time on, and one we are absolutely adamant must be addressed in the context of any kind of agreement – among others, and there are a number of others.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Is that it?
MS. PSAKI: We have to finish, unfortunately.
SECRETARY KERRY: I apologize. Thanks.