Interview With Sir Harold Evans, Thomson Reuters Editor-At-Large
Secretary of State
Thomson Reuters Headquarters
New York, NY
August 11, 2015
MR EVANS: Secretary Kerry, you’ve had a fabulous career, nothing more dramatic than the recent tremendous number of journeys you’ve done. I want ask with a very simple question: Do the Iranians really want a nuclear weapon? What do you believe?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, Sir Harry, let me just say thank you to you and Thomson Reuters for gathering everybody here, and thank you all for taking time to come when life is busy enough. And I appreciate everybody wanting to have this dialogue, and I thank you, Sir Harry, for making the arrangements for us to do it.
This is a very – obviously, it’s emotional for a lot of people. It’s an issue that is about as important as anything that we have taken up in recent times, considering that we haven’t talked with Iran since 1979 in any serious way and considering all of the very complicated, volatile dynamics of the Middle East at this particular moment.
Our judgment is that clearly there was a period where Iran was chasing a nuclear weapon. We have no doubt about that. In 2003, we found them red-handed with facilities they shouldn’t have had and material they shouldn’t have had, and of course, we blew the whistle on them as everybody knows with respect to the underground facility at Fordow, which they claim they were declaring at the time, but we discovered it.
So I would say this, that there has been a fight within Iran – and it continues in some quarters – about where they should go with respect to their nuclear program. They have not pursued a weapon – to our best judgment and to the judgment of all of our allies, they haven’t pursued a weapon per se since that period of time. And the ayatollah – Ayatollah Khameni – has issued a fatwa, which I know if you’re not Muslim it doesn’t impact you, but he has issued one declaring that no one should ever pursue one in Iran and that they will not. And we effectively said to them, let’s take the fatwa and codify it into a policy, into an agreement, which is effectively what we tried to do.
Under this agreement, Iran —
MR EVANS: Let me stop you there because that’s a very good answer —
SECRETARY KERRY: But I just want to finish one part of it.
MR EVANS: Well, okay. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: The IRGC – the IRGC —
MR EVANS: Ah, yes.
SECRETARY KERRY: — I would suggest to you still wants one and they are opposed to this agreement, if that doesn’t tell you something. But the president, the foreign minister, the ayatollah, and the government in place today has adopted an agreement in which they are forbidden forever from having one or from pursuing one, or from doing any research whatsoever with respect to weaponization. That is one of the strengths of this agreement. And it’s one of the things we want to obviously hold onto.
MR EVANS: Just before you began this really prodigious journey, I just imagined not only has the Secretary of State been negotiating with Iran, he’s had to hold together a coalition of people who don’t normally agree readily to anything he says – Russia, China, et cetera. Even the French occasionally disagree with us – and the British, who, of course, usually follow along wisely. (Laughter.) But the point I want to get to is this: that when the Secretary – when you came in and when you assumed this responsibility, let’s say you’ve done nothing. Let’s say you went skiing again, okay, and you had an accident, whatever it was – where would we be now? Where would we be now if we’d done nothing? Where would Iran be? What would – how much danger would we be in or would we have lost an opportunity?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the – listen, I will answer that question and I’ll answer it directly but I need to put this agreement into its proper perspective, folks. You have to look at the history, and when I hear a senator or a congressman stand up and say, “Well, we should get a better deal; let’s stop and we’ll negotiate and go get a better deal” – that is not going to happen. There isn’t a, quote, “better deal” to be gotten, because George Bush to his credit in 2003 tried to get the better deal. And to his credit in 2008 tried to get the better deal. And what happened was in both occasions Iran went from a 103 or -4 centrifuges to 19,000. They went to 12,000 kilograms of fissile material, low-enriched, but if further enriched it would have produced 10-12 bombs.
They mastered the fuel cycle. They went to 19,000 centrifuges that could rapidly break out if they chose to. But they didn’t. So what everybody in this room and everybody in the world who is looking at this deal needs to understand – you can’t just sit there and say, “Oh, I say ‘no,’ let’s not do this deal; we’ll just go get a better one,” and not take into account the history of the road that has been traveled here.
When people say, “Oh my gosh, I’m worried about what happens in year 15 or 20; they may become a nuclear threshold nation” – folks, they are a nuclear threshold nation today. They became that. And they became that while we had a policy of no enrichment. That’s policy.
So when I became Secretary of State, what did I find? I found 12,000 kilograms of material – enough for 10-12 bombs – 19,000 centrifuges, a country that’s mastered the fuel cycle, and was rushing to the completion of the Arak heavy water plutonium reactor, which would allow them to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs a year. That’s where we found them.
MR EVANS: My god.
SECRETARY KERRY: We have rolled them back from that. Only President Obama has put in place a program that’s actually stopped that. And what nobody gives Iran any credit for – let alone the Administration – is the fact that we’re already two years into full compliance with an interim agreement. They rolled back their centrifuge production. They rolled back Arak. They actually stopped all work at Arak. We negotiated that. They have stopped all enrichment at Fordow. We’ve verified it by having 24/7 inspections of those facilities. We also have achieved 24/7 inspections of the Natanz facility where they have reduced their 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero, destroyed the stockpile. So when people say, “Well, I think we can get a better deal; I’m prepared to vote no,” that no vote takes 15 years or 20 years from now and makes it tomorrow. And it makes it tomorrow without any sanctions, without any inspections, without any requirement of them to do anything, because they’ll go do what they want to do after we walk away from the deal.
MR EVANS: Could you deal with the – with some people who say, “Oh, get the 5+1 together again and negotiate a better deal”? You’re beginning to deal with that; will you deal with the problem of getting that 5+1 again to get on the same position you’re in now?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. One of the reasons, Sir Harry, that we felt it was important to move forward with this negotiation is the fact that the sanctions was already fraying. Remember, folks – we don’t trade with Iran. We have a primary embargo. And by the way, the primary embargo will stay and the embargo on them for arms – weapons – stays. And we have other UN resolutions that prohibit them from sending weapons to the Houthi, weapons to the Iraqi Shia militia, weapons to Hizballah. We have all the things in the world to be able to enforce and deal with their behavior; it just hasn’t happened sufficiently.
But the bottom line is that under this agreement, Iran is in a much tighter box, if you will, because they have to live up to the international agreement with the threat that all the sanctions will snap back if they don’t. And they will snap back automatically. One nation alone can bring them back. And we will have the support of France, Germany, Britain, China, and Russia when that happens because it’ll be under a process. But if everybody thinks, “Oh, no, we’re just tough; the United States of America, we have our secondary sanctions; we can force people to do what we want.” I actually heard that argument on television this morning. I’ve heard it from a number of the organizations that are working that are opposed to this agreement. They’re spreading the word, “America is strong enough, our banks are tough enough; we can just bring the hammer down and force our friends to do what we want them to.”
Well, look – a lot of business people in this room. Are you kidding me? The United States is going to start sanctioning our allies and their banks and their businesses because we walked away from a deal and we’re going to force them to do what we want them to do even though they agreed to the deal we came to? Are you kidding? That is a recipe quickly, my friends, for them to walk away from Ukraine, where they are already very dicey and ready to say, “Well, we’ve done our bit.” They were ready in many cases to say, “Well, we’re the ones paying the price for your sanctions.” We – it was Obama who went out and actually put together a sanctions regime that had an impact. By – I went to China. We persuaded China, “Don’t buy more oil.” We persuaded India and other countries to step back.
Can you imagine trying to sanction them after persuading them to put in phased sanctions to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and when they have not only come to the table but they made a deal, we turn around and nix the deal and then tell them you’re going to have to obey our rules on the sanctions anyway? That is a recipe very quickly, my friends, businesspeople here, for the American dollar to cease to be the reserve currency of the world – which is already bubbling out there. And if the United States were to behave that way, not only would we have lost them with respect to the sanctions, but we will lose their support if we have to use military action. Can you imagine Israel and the United States taking military action because we forced a situation where Iran goes back to what it was doing because we wouldn’t live by the deal that we already agreed to, which the United Nations has already approved 15 to nothing in the Security Council? It doesn’t make sense.
Now, whether or not ultimately you decide it makes sense depends on the quality of the deal. And I will tell you this deal is a good deal. It gets the job done. And I need to just take a moment to explain it to you.
Building on what we did in the interim agreement, where we already have two years under our belt, they have to undo two-thirds of their centrifuges right away. They don’t get a dime of relief from the sanctions until they have built a two-month breakout time to one year for ten years. Then it starts to go down a bit, but we did it on a slope where you go up to about 15, they will have very little if none – they’ll have almost no research on their advanced centrifuges for the first 10 years. Then they get some research, but they’ve got a long way to go before they have viable centrifuges for a major program. And during that time, for 15 years, they cannot enrich more than 3.67 percent. Everybody will tell you to a —
MR EVANS: That’s much less than necessary for a bomb.
SECRETARY KERRY: A civil nuclear program is around 3, 4, or 5 percent. You could go up to 20 percent for medical isotopes, for fuel for various nuclear facility of one kind or another. But anything 20 percent on is a cutoff between low enriched and high enriched. You have to go to high enriched to make a bomb. Because this is a civil nuclear program, even after year 15, every one of their facilities is what we call a declared facility. They’re not allowed an undeclared facility. And the IAEA will have lifetime – not 10 years, not 15, not 20, not 25, where we have provisions in here – but lifetime rights to inspect any facility they suspect of being a nuclear facility. And if Iran doesn’t comply, folks, we go right back to where we are. But we do it with the support of the international community.
MR EVANS: So Secretary, when President Obama said – and he’s been attacked for it this week, actually – when he says this permanently prohibits Iran from – nuclear work – and he got attacked for saying that, but you’ve just said – and in fact he’s right. Am I reading it correctly?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me —
MR EVANS: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, let me frame that, Harry. Here’s what happens, because I didn’t quite finish sort of what they have to do here. They have to undo two-thirds of their centrifuges. They have to store them – take them off their stands, store them in a different facility. They have to undo their piping and their electrical; they have to destroy that. This is how you build the breakout time bigger. They have to take their stockpile of fissile material down from 12,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms for 15 years, folks. You cannot physically build a nuclear weapon, even if you wanted to, with a 300 kilogram stockpile and 3.67 percent enrichment. You cannot do it.
Moreover, after that, way into the future, we have 24/7 inspection of all their facilities. We have electronic seals on centrifuges. We have radio-transmitted messages about their level of enrichment. We don’t even – and we will have 150 additional inspectors going into Iran with an office in Iran. They will be living there and working in this program every single day. Iran could not possibly create, according to our intelligence community and our Energy Department – they can’t create an entire secret, separate fuel cycle track. Not doable without being detected.
So I can’t tell you that Iran might not decide in 15 years let’s go try to break out. What I can tell you is that if they did, we will know it to a certainty. We have 20 years of live television tracking of their centrifuge production, and we have 25 years – no agreement in the world has this. We negotiated a 25-year process by which we track the uranium mining, milling, to the yellowcake, to the gas, to the centrifuge, to waste. So 25 years of that tracking also is an enormous insurance policy against the ability to make a bomb. But since we have the ability under the Additional Protocol which is for lifetime under this agreement, we have a lifetime of inspection rights anywhere there is suspicion they are violating this agreement.
Without inspectors, in the year 2000 we discovered what they were doing. I’m telling you that we are confident that with inspectors, with all the bells and whistles that we put in place here, we are going to know what they are doing. And that is why we say Israel, all of the Gulf states, everybody in the region – we, the United States, who have our own security concerns – are safer with this deal than without it. Because if you don’t do this deal, folks, not only will we have walked away from our allies – Britain, France, Germany – and non-allies but interested parties – Russia, China – we will have lost the moral imperative, if you will, or high ground. We will have left Iran free to go do its program without restraints, without inspections, without knocking down its stockpile, without knowing what they’re doing.
And what do you think happens then? I ask anybody in this room. What do you think happens when Iran has no restraint, no inspections, free to do its program because we walk away? Then you’re going to hear a hue and cry, “Oh my God, President Obama. They’re enriching. Now that’s a threat. What are you going to do about it?” “Well, let’s go negotiate.” “We just negotiated.”
That’s why the President says this leads to conflict: because they will do what they think they have a right to do. They will feel legitimate in doing it because they signed up to the deal. They were ready to destroy two-thirds of their centrifuges, destroy their stockpile, live under restraints, live under the NPT, and they’re not the ones who said no.
MR EVANS: Secretary, deal with the common statement that they won, quote, the right to enrichment. Just deal with that —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they don’t have a right to enrich. They have – under the NPT there is no right. The NPT is silent on the right to enrich. It doesn’t grant people automatically a right to enrich. But the NPT also doesn’t ban it. It doesn’t say you can’t enrich. And there are about 12 NPT countries, we among them, who enrich. At the moment we’re not doing that, but others are. I think you have Brazil – there are a group of countries that use enrichment.
And so what they – what they argue vehemently is that they paid for their right to have a peaceful nuclear program and they want to be able to do medical isotopes, and you have to be able to enrich for that. They want to be able to do other medical research, et cetera. They say they need the right to enrichment. And – or not a right – they need to be able to, because they don’t have a right. And that’s very important to remember here. Everything they do forever is under the license of the IAEA and under their complying with the IAEA process. Every year the IAEA passes on every NPT country whether or not they are in compliance, and they give what’s called a broad conclusion that they are not violating the declared facilities requirements and they’re not violating the possibility of undeclared activities. And it’s only if they get the clean bill of health that they are allowed to continue with their activities. Each year we will be inspecting in order to make that conclusion.
And so they have to live by the restraints here that they – and here’s what – I mean, they argue very passionately. They say, “Look, a certain country has been assassinating our scientists. You and others have been invading us with technical means and trying to screw up our program. Notwithstanding all of these attacks on us, we have pursued our program, which we think is our right because we have never – we’re not outside the NPT.” They’ve never left the NPT. When they had enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs, we don’t believe they tried to go make that bomb. One thing you can’t bomb away here, folks, is knowledge. And so one of the things that – or concerns is, obviously, that if you resort to the – we do have a military option, and I know President Obama is prepared to use it if we have to.
When I became Secretary of State and I was alone with him in the Oval Office and I said – I said, “Mr. President, if I’m going to go out as your Secretary of State and tell Israel or any country in the region that we’re prepared to use the military option, I need to know you’re really serious because I don’t want the rug pulled out from under me.” And he looked at me and he said, “John, so help me, I promise you, I’m the only president who has designed the weapon to do it, I’ve deployed the weapon to do it, and if that’s the only option, I’ll do it. But I believe” – he then said, “I believe that we owe it to the world to first try to use diplomacy to see if we can get an agreement whereby we don’t have to use that option. The option’s always available to us, but first we ought to try to make an agreement which is not based on trust but which is verifiable.”
My friends, I believe we have that agreement. This is verifiable. Between Israel, the Gulf states, the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia, we have enough intelligence capacity to know what they are doing, and we will. And we always have the military option if that’s what we have to use.
MR EVANS: You came back from the Gulf states and the Emirates with the endorsement – am I correct – the endorsement of your proposal and the agreement. Is that right?
SECRETARY KERRY: What the Gulf states said very clearly is that if this agreement is fully implemented, and we obviously intend to do that, it will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and it will increase the stability of the region. That is their statement. It’s very bold, very straightforward. And I’m not going to tell you that people don’t have concerns. I mean, our friends in Israel obviously have concerns. I mean, I have – 28 and a half – 29 years in the United States Senate, I have 100 percent voting record for Israel. I understand the existential challenge to Israel. And I’ve talked with the prime minister many times about this. We’ve agreed to disagree. He has a different point of view. I respect that. He represents his country, but we represent the United States, which also has huge stakes in that region. And one of our commitments is we will never, ever allow Israel to be attacked from externally or to be blackmailed or to be existentially threatened, nor will we allow our friends and allies in the Gulf states to be so. That’s why at Camp David we made a very clear pronounced, profound statement of our increased commitment to their security working on ballistic missile defense, working on their special forces training, working on their counterterrorism counterinsurgency. We are engaged with them and we will be deeply engaged with them pushing back against Iran’s nefarious activities.
Now, nothing in this agreement, folks, obviously, was focused on – for instance, people have said, “Well, Mr. Secretary, why didn’t you negotiate that they have to stop saying ‘Death to America, death to Israel? Why didn’t you negotiate that they get out of Yemen and stop doing what they’re doing with Hizballah?’” Well, the answer is very simple: If you, all of you here, accept, as I do, that Iran is a problem in the region – or has been, certainly – are you better off pushing back against an Iran with a nuclear weapon or without one? It’s pretty evident that the single greatest threat to the region was their getting the nuclear weapon, so we focused on getting rid of the nuclear weapon. Nothing, however, has been diminished in our ability to push back against them on their arms trafficking, their support for terror, their proxies that they send into other countries, the things that happen in their support for Assad, their messing around with the Iraqi Shia. We will push back on all of that.
But I’m telling you this, given the experience that I’ve had for the last several years negotiating with them, they said to me, “If we can get this deal done, then we’re ready to sit down and talk about the regional issues and we may be able to work things in different places.” I just got a message today from my counterpart from Iran. He’s in Beirut meeting with the government officials there. You know where he was last weekend? He was in Kuwait and in Qatar. He’s reaching out to those countries. Are we going to turn our backs on the possibility that Rouhani and Zarif might, in fact, want to try to have a different – I don’t know the answer. But I know we’ve got ample amount of time here within which we can put all of that to the test. And we owe it to the world to try to put it to the test.
MR EVANS: One of the things which hasn’t really come out, Mr. Halevy – you know Halevy, of course, former Mossad. Several former Mossad chiefs and top security people in Israel are in favor of this deal. I mean, why don’t you make more of that point? Or are you – are you kind of – are you thinking of embarrassing them or something?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no, no. It’s not – I have pointed out that Mossad, Mossad leaders, Shin Bet, there are seven – I think something like seven Shin Bet leaders came out saying they favor the deal. There are people in Israel who obviously favor the deal. But there’s been a – there’s an enormous amount of tension and there’s a lot of politics and we don’t want to get in the middle of that. We’re not seeking to get in the middle of that.
We want this agreement to be evaluated by all of you, by everybody – by every senator and every congressman – on its merits. And there’s an enormous amount of distortion out there. For instance, people talk about $100 billion, 150 billion going to Iran, a great windfall, 100 billion to – it’s not; not going to happen. The actual amount of money that Iran will possibly get in cash is about 50 billion – 50 to 55 billion. Why? Because of their 115 that is on the books, about 20-plus is committed to China service projects, there is tens of billions in nonperforming loans, and there are huge amounts otherwise already committed according to the government. The IMF says that you’ve got to have somewhere between 25 and 40 of reserves that they need for international finance. There are banking requirements. There are balance of payments requirements, trade requirements.
But in addition to that, Iran has to build something sustainable here, folks. In order for Iran to be able to pump oil and sell it and have a revenue stream that meets their expectations, they have about a 200 – a $150 to $200 billion investment in their oil sector that is needed just to bring them back to where they were five years ago. They have a huge investment requirement for agriculture, a huge number of infrastructure projects. And Rouhani has bet the farm on next year’s elections, by the way, that revolve around economic improvement in Iran. So it’s very important for him to focus on that.
Now, there are some things that are classified that I can’t go into that indicate to us the truth of where this money will go, and we’re inviting senators and congressmen to come in and look at this classified material because it’s very instructive with respect to what’s happening in Iran today. And people need to see that in order to be able to vote properly.
But in addition to the windfall argument, you also hear, “Oh, you guys are legitimizing their having a weapon in 15 or 20 years.” No, we’re not. In fact, the agreement very specifically states Iran can never have a nuclear weapon, never pursue it, and never engage in any of the weaponization activities that would allow you to do it. And we actually got into this agreement a prohibition against their work in metallurgy, their work in multiple-detonation systems that are necessary for a weapon, and their work on mechanical testing with respect to centrifuges.
So when you really dig into this agreement – I mean, Graham Allison of Harvard, who is a neutral – he’s spent years and a lifetime looking at these kinds of things – put out a report: Nine reasons why people should support the Iran agreement. And 29 physicists and scientists just yesterday or the day before issued a letter, which we’re going to distribute to every one of you, where at Stanford and Harvard and MIT and all across the country saying this is a really good deal, better than we might expect because it does X, Y, Z.
So people need to step back from the politics that surround this. How many people were announcing their opposition to this before they even read the agreement? How many people were tweeting how terrible this agreement was even though they said, well, Lausanne surprised them at how much detail it had, and we actually strengthened the agreement from what we had in Lausanne? This is a stronger agreement than what was put on the table in Lausanne.
MR EVANS: Do you think the distortion – I mean, the critics are actually now on a slightly different tack. They’re saying you’re making it a political argument when it should be nonpartisan. I mean, somebody says you’re demonizing the supporters – the critics of the deal. I’m not saying you, but some of the supporters are actually making politics —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think we should keep all politics out of this. I’m very, very, very adamant about that. This should not be political. When I say that the consequence of this might wind up being the conflict that I talked about earlier, I’m not accusing anybody of willfully choosing that or of being a warmonger or suggesting that they want that, even though we’ve heard some pretty flashy language in some hearings about who wins war and what happens. But what I am saying is people really owe it to everybody to evaluate fully what happens if Congress were to override a veto and say no.
The idea that the – I mean, I will just tell you, I spent a long time analyzing this. When I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Administration asked me to go over and I met with the sultan of Oman, who had some overtures from Iran, and we began evaluating this. And I can’t tell you how untrustful and how distrusting and suspicious the ayatollah is of the West. I mean, from their perspective, they look out and say: Well, what the hell were you guys doing? You were supporting Saddam Hussein against us. We fought – we fought a years – six years of war, we lost a million people, and you guys were giving them the weapons to do it. And when they gassed our citizens, you didn’t go to the UN the way you went to the UN with Assad.
So they sit there and they say to themselves – and I’m not defending it. I’m not sitting here saying legitimacy and all of that. I’m just saying if you don’t understand what the people you’re negotiating with are thinking, you can’t negotiate. And the truth is that he was extraordinary chary about even getting involved in this discussion – believed they had an absolute right to a program and living by the NPT; we should go do it.
But they were convinced by Rouhani and Zarif and others that it was important to try to resolve this issue. Now, despite all that distrust, they stayed at that table and we negotiated an agreement because Rouhani felt they really needed to get out from under the sanctions, which did bring them to the table. By the way, go read the UN resolution which created this framework, 1929, Resolution 1929. It specifically says that if Iran comes to the table and negotiates, the sanctions would be lifted. It doesn’t say get an agreement; it says negotiate.
Well, not only did they come to the table to negotiate, but they got an agreement. And we’re still not lifting all the sanctions. We’re leaving in place the missile sanctions for eight years, the arms sanctions for five years, the primary sanctions for who knows how long – forever. The sanctions against designees like Soleimani will stay forever. We have sanctions on terrorism, on their support for terror. We have sanctions against them for their support – for their nonsupport of human rights. We have sanctions on them for their nonproliferation activities – for their proliferation activities.
Think about it. Those don’t go away. We still have a deal. What legitimacy will we have to enforce those if we, after negotiating the deal, say no?
QUESTION: All right. But just this one – just the final question. I’ve got to throw it here to the audience. You’ve dealt with a lot of points, and you did discuss earlier the fact that we knew about the centrifuges, all the time controlled. Will you just answer the specific point your colleague Senator Schumer that he’s not impressed by the 24 days the Iranians have, the fact that you have to go to the eight and take them along with you, just that specific point?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well —
QUESTION: You can be kind – not —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not – no, no, no, no. Look, no, I’m not struggling with this at all. Chuck Schumer is a good friend of mine. I have great respect for his political acumen, and he’s a very savvy, capable public person. And everybody is entitled to their opinion.
But I do disagree that there is a concern that we don’t – well, let me put it this way. We don’t share this concern about 24 days, and let me tell you why. We have – we negotiated something called snapback – automatic snapback of the sanctions. One – we also negotiated that because we wanted to protect our interests apart from France, Germany, and the others. We wanted to know that if the United States of America has information we’re concerned about, and we want to protect our interests and our ally Israel and our allies and friends in the Gulf states, we need to be able to act for ourselves.
So we specifically negotiated that one country alone can go the Security Council and raise the issue of their noncompliance; and if after 30 days there isn’t a vote in the Security Council, all the sanctions automatically snap back. Now, that’s pretty draconian, which is why we wrote the language you can snap back in whole or in part, and it may be that we want to work with our allies and do it in part. That’s why we allowed those days to be able to negotiate.
Most importantly, we allowed those days to negotiate with Iran. There’s a 24-hour notification that we want access to a site. It doesn’t mean it has to take 24 days to get that access; that’s the outer limit. If within 14 days they haven’t provided the access to the site, then the ministers meet and they have one week; and after the one week, there’s a three-day period to go to the UN and have the vote. That’s the 24 days – 14, 7, and 3.
Our Energy Department, our intelligence community is absolutely certain that the prerequisites for a bomb, which is fissile material, cannot be erased – not in 24 days, not in 24 months, not in 24 years, not in 2,000 years, mostly. That material is non-erasable. Our Energy Department actually did tests in which they put material, then came in and people were instructed to do everything you can to obliterate it, and they sandblasted and they poured concrete and they did all kinds of things. And guess what? They couldn’t get rid of it.
MR EVANS: Radioactive.
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s correct, radioactive. Go back to your basic high school science and think about half life.
So they will not be able to get rid – moreover, whatever the facility – let’s say it’s got some other activity – we’re going to watch it, folks. We’re going to watch it 24/7 with infrared capacity and all the other technical means we have. That 24 days is more than enough. And you know why that 24 days is actually an amazing accomplishment? The very reason we are in this pickle with Iran is because the IAEA was never able to close on getting access. They’ve been looking for years to resolve these unresolved questions, and they get stiffed. That’s all. And nothing would happen. That’s why we put the sanctions in place.
So I sat there with my counterpart and I said, “Look, I’m not negotiating a deal in which you guys just continue to play rope-a-dope with us for another five years. We’re going to do a deal in which we have to have an ending to the process of ask access. And if you haven’t given me access, you’re in material breach.” That is exactly what we achieved in this agreement. It is the only agreement in the world – with 189 countries party to the NPT, this is the only agreement in the world in which we have that kind of an access agreement.
Now, when we go to the UN and to the Security Council, one country, the United States – because we believe they’re in violation – we have an ability to make sure that these sanctions come back, because it’s – and it’s already been adopted by the Security Council – the vote is a negative vote. The vote is a vote on whether or not to continue the lifting of sanctions. So if 14 countries voted to continue lifting sanctions, we have the ability to veto it and they automatically come back. That’s how we gain one-country control, automaticity to the process of a return of the sanctions.
Now, all of you who engage in negotiating and diplomacy and think about this world we live in, obviously, that’s not the best way to do it, because to do it over the objection of every other country is not the best way to get enforcement. What will happen more likely is we’re going to all agree they’re in violation. And a country that has destroyed two-thirds of its centrifuges, knocked out its stockpile, destroyed its electrical and piping, that has sanctions relief – are you telling me they’re going to put all that at risk and invite back the sanctions by misbehavior? I believe that we have the leverage to achieve the negotiated outcome that logic would tell you they would want to reach before we go and automatically snap back all the sanctions.
And by the way, we don’t even have to go to the UN. The United States of America can unilaterally put sanctions in place anytime we decide to. The issue here is can you build the kind of international support structure that we built to make it really meaningful. We had our sanctions in place for quite a few years. It didn’t get the job done. It wasn’t until we got everybody else at the table, and more importantly, till we got a lot of countries that do trade with Iran, to stop the trading, that that had the impact.
Can you imagine if we walk away with a deal what it’s going to be like when I go in as Secretary of State to somebody and say, “Hey, by the way, you guys really ought to help us with the sanctions. Go trade with them”? They’re going to look at me and laugh and say, “Are you out of your mind, Mr. Secretary? You just had a deal. You guys walked away from it.”
MR EVANS: Okay. The Secretary has covered a huge amount of ground. There may be one or two people with a question. If you’re – please raise your hand and the microphone person will get you, but I’ll just say one thing: No speeches, no speeches. Just identify yourself and you’re allowed 150 words, something like that. Okay. (Laughter.) I used to be a sub-editor. I had to take the words out of copy. Anybody got a question? There’s a young man there.
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s like a text message, 147 characters.
MR EVANS: You got – the guy with silver hair. What are – who are you?
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, I’m Howard Goller with Reuters.
MR EVANS: Who are you?
QUESTION: Howard Goller with Reuters.
MR EVANS: Okay, identified.
SECRETARY KERRY: Hi, Howard. How are you?
QUESTION: Okay. Secretary Kerry, you spoke earlier of the need to stick to the merits and to stand back from the politics. Just days ago, President Obama accused critics of the deal of making common cause with Iranian hardliners who chant “Death to America” and accused lobbyists of having beaten the drum for the Iraq war. Is that sticking the merits and standing back from politics?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there’s – look, there’s —
MR EVANS: Here’s the question, I – okay, Secretary. Go.
SECRETARY KERRY: There’s certainly – you can quabble maybe – squabble maybe with the choice of words, et cetera, but there’s obviously fact behind what was going on. There was an enormous push, as you know, for the Iraq war. I voted to give President Obama – President Bush the – and it cost me. It was a vote that I paid a high price for for a long period of time because I thought the President needed the clout to be able to leverage behavior, and in my speech on the floor of the Senate I said very clearly I’m not voting to give carte blanche to race to war; I want to see all the things that were promised achieved, i.e. last resort, go through the allies, do everything else. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and so a lot of people feel there was a rush there. You can, as I say, squabble about the terminology, but I think – I think it’s better, frankly, that we don’t go down into the path that I just – that you just articulated and argue this on the merits, because I think the merits are very, very strong and I think the President does too.
My feeling is that when you really examine this agreement – for instance, many people say – and I know I’m – well, what happens after 15 years? You’ve got the 300 kilograms for 15 years, you’ve got 3.67 percent. But then they can obviously grow their program. The answer is yes. They can grow the program, but at that point, the Additional Protocol is in existence and the Additional Protocol, my friends, came out of the failure of the North Korea project. North Korea, by the way, already had exploded weapons and they had fissile material – very different. North Korea didn’t enter to the same kind of agreement that we have with Iran – didn’t have the inspections, a whole bunch of things.
But not even going there, the point I’m making is that the Additional Protocol was done because the people felt there wasn’t adequate access and inspection. Now, you have the Additional Protocol, which Iran has agreed to live by, to adopt and ratify and live by. That Additional Protocol – I urge you to take a look at it – requires massive documentation of the entire nuclear program with rights to inspect and have access at any time – for life. We will know, as I said, what Iran is doing because we’re going to have people on the ground looking at what they’re doing. And if they were to notch up their enrichment, which they would have to do to make a bomb, we’ll know it immediately. If they were to have a rush to militarization, we will know it immediately.
And here’s what we did in this, which is very important: in the old – I was in the Senate when we debated MX missile and we did START agreement, all these things – breakout traditionally in arms control refers to the notion of getting a weapon – breaking out and having a weapon. We didn’t – our term of breakout is having enough fissile material for one bomb. It’s not having the bomb. So if we have a one year period of time for them to have enough fissile material for one weapon, there’s still a year, two years, three, whatever, to get a bomb. And they will have brought the wrath of the world down on them for that movement just to get that fissile material.
We then have every option available to us that we have today.
MR EVANS: Yeah, I think you’ve —
SECRETARY KERRY: Reinstate sanctions or use a military option.
MR EVANS: Question? Here (inaudible)? The person at the back. Give him a microphone. Identity and brief, brief, please.
QUESTION: Thanks. Lou Charbonneau, Reuters, UN bureau chief. And I’ve spent the last 12 years focusing on this Iran nuclear saga. Two – a two-pronged question, very simple: If Iran violates the UN sanctions, the arms embargo, the restrictions on ballistic missile development, will there be a snapback of UN sanctions? And well —
MR EVANS: That’s enough. Okay? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: No. We – the – specifically the arms embargo is not tied to the snapback. It is tied to a separate set of obligations. So they are not in material breach of the nuclear agreement for violating the arms piece of it. But we have ample tools at our disposal; we can bring other sanctions to them for that violation. And we have an ability to hold them accountable in many different ways on the missiles, on the arms, on terror, through other sanctions.
For instance, there is a specific UN resolution outside of the – outside of this agreement that prohibits them from sending weapons to Hizballah. There is a separate and specific UN resolution that prohibits them from sending weapons to the Shia militia in Iraq. There is a separate from that and specific resolution that prohibits them from sending weapons to the Houthi, to Libya, to North Korea, et cetera. We also have what’s called the missile control technology regime. We have a Proliferation Security Initiative with a hundred countries that allows us to put sanctions on countries for any kind of missile sales, missile advance, et cetera. We have a separate presidential executive order which allows the President to sanction people for transferring or authorizing the transfer or engaging in any sale of any materials for missile technology. So we have huge tools available to us outside of this agreement.
And the reason we want all that is that if Iran complies completely with this agreement and the IAEA comes to its broad conclusion that they are not doing anything in declared or undeclared facilities in violation, automatically the arms and missiles that were in the UN resolution on their weapons – on their nuclear program are lifted. And we didn’t want that to happen without something else.
So we believe we are more than covered here on all of the nefarious activities except to the degree that we are now upping what we’re going to do for Israel and we will up what we’re going to do for the Gulf states in order to make sure they’re comfortable and well protected against any of those activities.
MR EVANS: Another question?
QUESTION: A quick follow-up: Hi, how will UN monitoring be carried out —
MR EVANS: Wait a minute. Who’s speaking?
QUESTION: — with the UN panel of experts being removed?
MR EVANS: Hey, wait a minute, you can’t speak until you’ve identified yourself. Where are you?
QUESTION: It’s the same, just a follow-up —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the UN – they have to build the structure to do that.
MR EVANS: It’s got to be brief.
QUESTION: Will there be a structure to follow —
SECRETARY KERRY: They have to. I mean, that’s a requirement. They’re supposed to.
SECRETARY KERRY: They’ve got to monitor it adequately. But frankly, we’re not dependent on the UN to do that and I think Israel and others are much happier that we’re not. We will depend on our own intel community, on our own military, on our own information; we’ll work with Israel, we’ll work with others. I can assure you we’ll have the best intelligence in the world regarding this, and – but the UN is also required to do its own efforts.
MR EVANS: Yes, sir. You, sir. Identify, please.
QUESTION: Warren Strobel, diplomatic correspondent with Reuters. Mr. Secretary, thanks for being here. Two quick questions. You mentioned a little while ago that the U.S. dollar could cease being the reserve currency if the deal fails and the U.S. has to sanction countries like China. Can you explain how that would work? And secondly, in practical terms, do you and President Obama have a plan B if the worst happens and the deal is killed by Congress? Do you resubmit it later on for a vote, do you go hold an emergency meeting with Zarif? Does the President have any executive authority to try to implement —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to discuss plan B because we’re going to be successful in plan A. And that’s our policy. And I’m quite confident we’re going to be. But with respect to the – first part of your question was the —
QUESTION: The U.S. dollar —
SECRETARY KERRY: The U.S. dollar. It’s not going to happen overnight. But I’m telling you, I already – there’s huge antipathy out there to many – you’ve seen Putin and you’ve seen China sort of working together and – in the wake of Ukraine, Putin’s been reaching out. You may have observed the BRICS summit that took place in Russia recently, the nonaligned countries. There’s a big bloc out there, folks, that doesn’t just sit around waiting to be told what to do by the United States. And in today’s new global marketplace, where there’s an extraordinary amount of voracious competition going on, lots of people chafing under the current post-World War II Bretton Woods sort of structure. They feel it doesn’t take them into account. It’s not fair. It gives undue power, et cetera.
So it’s a growing movement. It’s not about to take Boston tomorrow, but I’m telling you, if we wind up sanctioning our own allies with whom we’re trying to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, the TTIP, you can imagine what the response is going to be. What happens when we walk into them and say, “Well, we got to tighten down on Russia because of Ukraine; they’re still not moving with respect to the elections and the full implementation of Minsk”? I mean, the complications that will grow out of that are enormous. And there will be an increase in this notion that there ought to be a different reserve currency because the United States is misbehaving and not, in fact, living by the agreements that it negotiates itself.
So it has broad implications. The Treasury Department is going to be putting out more on this. You should call and talk to Secretary Lew’s people, who are doing a full dive on exactly how this works and what the implications are. But the notion that we can just sort of diss the deal, unilaterally walk away because Congress wants to, will have a profound negative impact on people’s sense of American leadership and reliability.
And I might just add to you – I would – two things I want to share with you quickly. I’m sorry, Sir Harry, but I want to just —
MR EVANS: No, take your time.
SECRETARY KERRY: — quickly – there’s an article that appeared – here it is. This is Sandy Berger’s article yesterday in Politico.
MR EVANS: Sandy Berger, former national security advisor.
SECRETARY KERRY: Former national security advisor – deputy national security advisor to Clinton for the first four years and national security advisor for the last four years. And he wrote a very thoughtful piece that appeared yesterday – said “a no to Iran means forever.” And he lays out not only what happens in terms of the unwillingness and inability of Iran to come back, but the loss of American lift, clout, leverage, influence. And it will have been a shift all of a sudden of the executive power of negotiation to Congress, which has profound impact in people’s trust in what we’re doing. I will tell you that if that happens, it’s very hard for me to go back to any number of countries and say, “Well, let’s sit down and negotiate this.” And they’ll say, “Well, are you serious?”
I might also point out – and I think this is very important – here’s what – I want to – I want everybody to understand. On June 12th of 2008, under a cover note signed by the P5+1 foreign ministers, including Condoleezza Rice, the proposal was put to Iran to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing. And in exchange, here is what we were ready to do in 2008. “One: Recognize Iran’s right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Two: Treat Iran’s nuclear program in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT once international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program is restored.” That’s what we’re doing for 15 years. “Three: Provide technical and financial assistance for peaceful nuclear energy, including state-of-the-art power reactors, support for R&D, and legally binding fuel supply guarantees; improve relations with Iran and support Iran in playing an important and constructive role in international affairs; work with Iran and others in the region on confidence building measures in regional security; reaffirmation of the obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force; cooperation on Afghanistan; steps towards normalization of trade and economic relations; energy partnership; support for agricultural development; civilian projects; civil aviation cooperation, including renewal of Iran’s civil aviation fleet; assistance in Iran’s economic and social development.”
Folks, that’s way beyond what we’ve offered – way beyond. So I think it’s important for people to focus in on what are the realities of what we have achieved.
MR EVANS: And let me just say, last question over here, and then I want you to have a chance to wind up.
QUESTION: Jonathan Alter from NBC News.
MR EVANS: Identity?
QUESTION: Jonathan Alter, NBC News and the Daily Beast. You mention the tools that you have at your disposal for if Iran misbehaves in the region, when it misbehaves in the region with proxy wars and so forth. If the deal goes through, if we’re in a post-deal environment, does that give you and the President a freer hand to confront Iran and use interdiction, enforce these instruments that we have much more aggressively than we have in the past? And if the answer to that is yes, might that mean a worsening of relations between the United States and Iran in the short term if a deal goes through?
SECRETARY KERRY: Jonathan, it’s a very good question and I appreciate it. First of all, the answer is – I do believe is yes, that we will be freer and more capable. First of all, if there’s no deal and the United States starts to push, Iran’s reaction will be, “Well, wow, they’re giving us a pretty good reason to have a bomb.” I mean, the people who say, “Well, let’s use the military option” – we do have a military option, folks. It’s real. But our military will tell you it’s an option that gives you about a two to three-year delay. And as President Obama says, you have to be prepared to mow the grass. You got to come back then if something hasn’t been worked out.
Now, let me ask you something – human nature. If the military option were to now be employed after we have come to an agreement on a deal like this, where we have every way in the world of knowing what they’re doing for years and years, and they’re willing to roll their back and destroy parts of it and undo things, let me tell you – go look at the debate in Iran and see how tough that is for them to do with their hardliners. I mean, the IRGC’s been counting on this nuclear thing to give them the umbrella of protection over their nefarious activities, and they object to this precisely because it takes that umbrella away. We want this partly because we believe it is a step towards bringing Iran into some kind of compliance, ultimately, with the norms of international behavior. And it will be much harder for them, having signed up to this deal and living by it, to sell the notion that they want to invite new sanctions by doing clearly overt violations in other ways.
Now, it means a really active engagement, I think, over something like the Houthis. It means an active engagement over something like Syria, which I look forward to. I just met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Saudi foreign minister – a first-time trilateral between us in Doha – in order to talk about how we might work together to get a political settlement in Syria. Iran could conceivably, obviously, figure into that. So we believe that in – that no, it doesn’t necessarily lead to worse at all, because Iran specifically said to us if we can get this agreement, we are prepared to talk with you about the other regional issues. And I believe that’s an opportunity, not a closing. So to me, I think there’s a greater chance.
Now, I’m going to be very clear to everybody: I’m not going to tell you that Iran is definitely going to change. I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re betting on it, because we’re not. There’s nothing in this agreement that is based on trust or on an expectation of a change of behavior. It is based on verification and the knowledge that we have the ability to enforce this regime. And that’s very important. We will hope that Iran would change, and we will certainly explore diplomatically – it would be diplomatic malpractice not to go out and try to explore that possibility, and we’ll do so with our eyes wide open. But we’re going to be very clear in the meantime through our additional efforts with Israel, with the Gulf states, that we’re not going to just stand by.
This deal is not done and then the region is forgotten. We’re going to stand up against that bad behavior, and we hope that it will lead, Jonathan, to a constructive period of engagement for the region that will actually stabilize and make it easier to fight ISIL; make it easier to restore Syria to a secular, pluralistic, unified country; and to do things that we need to do to reduce the violence and pressures of the region. And so we hope, obviously, that that would be the outcome. But I can’t tell you that someday there might not be a conflict depending on what choices Iran makes.
MR EVANS: The 67 percent – according to a poll, University of Maryland, 67 percent of the Iraqi people – all those polled – support the agreement.
SECRETARY KERRY: Of the Iranians.
MR EVANS: Do you have any better knowledge than I get from the University of Maryland about this situation?
SECRETARY KERRY: The folks in Iran support this agreement. Iran is a country where 50 percent of the country is under the age of 30 – I think 65, 60 percent; 65 percent’s under the age of 35. When Zarif and his team came back, they were out in the streets, joyfully cheering the opportunity that Iran may have to sort of join the world. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, and again, I’m not betting on it. But life isn’t staying the same in any country on the face of this planet. Things are changing. We are living in the most volatile, complex period of various forces of clashing modernity and religious extremism and violent ideology and other things. It’s very complicated. And I think that Iran, no less than others, is going to – has the possibility of contributing constructively to that but not the certainty of doing so.
I do have trouble, folks, and I think everybody here ought to think through this notion of hegemony, because it’s very hard for me to figure out how Persian Shia will exercise hegemony over Arab Sunni who are 90 percent of that part of the world. That’s not an equation that I find very workable.
MR EVANS: You – you’ll have the last word, Secretary Kerry, after all the prodigious endeavors. You can have the last word – a brief message to those people in Congress who’re going to vote on this plan and who are either on the fence and opposed.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, in my – my very brief message is that certainly as a 29-year veteran of the Congress, I have nothing but respect for the prerogatives of Congress and the right of every member of Congress to look at this. I just would like very much for members to take the time to look at the latest intel that has been coming in over the past year, really, and to factor that into their thinking about what the possibilities are here. And I regret I can’t go into it here, but I think it’s a very important part of any analysis about the IRGC, about Iran, about the – where things may or may not be heading, number one.
Number two, I think people really have an obligation here. If you’re going to decide that you are against it, I don’t think that it’s sufficient to say let’s go get a better deal when, in fact, I just described to you how the Bush administration tried twice to get that better deal, which is no enrichment. If anybody believes that Iran is going to give up its enrichment, you’re ignoring what happened from years 2000 to the present. They went from 103 centrifuges – they were ready to make a deal.
By the way, when they fought their war with Iran, we had 150,000 troops on their doorstep in Iraq. Think about that. And there were whispers from certain members of the Bush administration – not the president, but there were advisors, people in the Defense Department and in the State Department who had openly and who were identified with the theory that Iran’s next. Remember that? It was going to rearrange the order of the Middle East. So Iran is sitting there knowing they’ve got 150,000 troops. They saw what happened to Saddam Hussein. They fought a war to a draw, losing a million people and spending $600 billion, and notwithstanding all of that, they said no to George Bush’s proposal. And they took their program flagrantly, openly, from 103 centrifuges to 19,000. They have mastered enrichment; they’ve mastered the cycle. They have the fissile material.
So Iran may bend, but I don’t believe and our intel community doesn’t believe you’re going to break them with sanctions. You’re not going to break them with a delayed military operation. And you have to think hard about what the other alternatives are. I believe that – that Iran has made it clear that they’ve signed up to an agreement where they are not allowed to ever have a nuclear weapon, where they are not allowed to engage in weaponization, where they are not allowed to work towards it, even, and where they have acceded to an inspection regime that allows us to know what they are doing all the time. To turn one’s back on that is to take the potential of that confrontation and make it right now. And I think you owe people answers. What happens when Iran starts to enrich? What happens when they pursue the program they pursued even when George Bush said no enrichment and we had 150,000 soldiers parked on their doorstep? They still pursued it. What happens then? That’s why President Obama talks about the potential of a conflict.
MR EVANS: I want to thank Secretary Kerry. Did you notice he came in on crutches? He was skiing – a great skiing accident. So —
SECRETARY KERRY: No, biking. Biking, biking. Biking, actually. I wish I had been skiing.
MR EVANS: So for the candor and frankness by which he dealt with these questions, thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. I’ll tell you, I’ll just share with you quickly, this – I’ll share with you quickly, if you don’t know the story. This cane I have only been on for one week, and this cane belonged to Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy in London, and then Jack Kennedy used it when he had a bad back when he returned from the war, Teddy Kennedy used it after he broke his back, and when I had two meniscus operations in the Senate, Teddy insisted I use this cane. And when I fell the other day, Vicki Kennedy very kindly sent it over to me so I have an old friend to lean on. (Laughter.)
MR EVANS: Very good. Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, my friend.