Remarks at the American Jewish Committee's Global Forum 2015
Deputy Secretary of State
Well, thank you all very, very much. It is wonderful to be with you today. Stan, thank you for those incredibly kind and generous words, and thank you also for your reference to Vice President Biden and his family in this incredibly difficult time. Beau Biden was one of the finest people I’ve had the privilege to know, and his loss, first and foremost for his family, but also for the country is a great one. So I deeply appreciate your recognition.
I’d also like to recognize David Harris, an exemplary leader, a global citizen, a good friend who is celebrating 25 years at the helm of the AJC. (Applause.) David, congratulations, Mazel Tov – (laughter) – we look forward to 25 more years.
And shalom as well to our Israeli audience at the Herzliya Conference and our distinguished guests here in Washington, including Daniel Mitov, the foreign minister of Bulgaria. It’s great to be with you today as well. (Applause.) It’s a real pleasure to join all of you and to see so many familiar faces, even if mine isn’t the one you were hoping for. (Laughter.)
Secretary Kerry very much wanted to be here today. As I think many of you know, he has great admiration for the work that you do to advocate for the security of Israel, the wellbeing of the Jewish people, and the human dignity of all.
He may be off his feet for a short while, but he is very much in the lead of all our efforts across the board. In fact, I have to tell you probably the smartest thing we did at the State Department was to sign up for the AT&T family plan – (laughter) – because the Secretary has been burning up the phone lines night and day. No time zone is safe. (Laughter.) But we’re all looking forward to having him back in the office very, very soon.
We are also very fortunate to have an extraordinary team at the State Department directing our efforts every day to combat anti-Semitism, promote international religious freedom, and advance peace and security in the Middle East. Ira Forman and David Saperstein, who are both here this morning, as well as Frank Lowenstein, Larry Silverman, and Wendy Sherman – (applause) – they are exemplars of public servants of the highest caliber.
But their work, our work, would not be possible without yours, scholars and students, community members, global leaders who are building relationships across religious, ethnic, and national lines from Sofia to Tokyo, Sao Paulo to New Delhi.
You’ve been called the State Department of the Jewish people, a title so apt I may start giving out some assignments today. (Laughter.) Yours is a community whose beliefs, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described it, have, quote, “boldly been expressed and resolutely supported by deeds and action.” For over a century, AJC has raised its voice in defense of those who cannot, fighting oppression with unflinching advocacy and intolerance with unwavering commitment.
You were present in San Francisco at the birth of the United Nations, where you advocated for the inclusion of strong human rights safeguards in the UN Charter and championed the creation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. You dedicated years of diplomacy, research, and dialogue to help shape Nostra Aetate, a historic declaration passed by the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago that heralded a new era in Catholic-Jewish relations and stood up against hatred and persecution “at any time by anyone.”
And you have been an indispensable partner to President Obama and to his predecessors in America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s future as secure, democratic, prosperous, Jewish state. I quote, “It would be a moral failing on the part of the U.S Government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly, not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and to prosper.” That was President Obama last month at Adas Israel Congregation here in Washington.
For more than 65 years – (applause) – since Israel’s founding during periods of war and peace, calm and crisis, U.S. administrations of all stripes have backed this staunch, unshakable commitment with concrete support. But no administration and no President has done as much for Israel’s security as President Obama. (Applause.) Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to another voice who called this Administration’s support for Israel’s security, and I quote, “unprecedented.” And that is the voice of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is true in terms of our strategic and operational coordination. Simply put, it has never been stronger. Our nation’s armed forces have conducted more joint military exercises with Israel than ever before, including the largest exercises in our history. This work has strengthened our military capabilities and the security of both our countries. At every level of our relationship, we are engaging in more comprehensive and meaningful consultations than ever before – from our political leaders to our intelligence officers to our defense officials.
That unprecedence it is true in terms of our vigilance to protect Israel’s legitimacy on the world stage and fight for its full and equal participation in UN institutions.
We helped secure Israel’s permanent membership in the Western European and Others Group, as well as its membership in the like-minded human rights caucus from which it had long been excluded in New York.
Last year, the U.S. opposed 18 resolutions in the UN General Assembly that were biased against Israel. On five occasions last year, the U.S. cast the only “no” vote against unfair anti-Israel measures in the UN’s Human Rights Council. (Applause.) We will continue to stand with Israel and against one-sided, biased resolutions – even if we are the only country on earth to do so. (Applause.)
And finally, our unprecedented support for Israel’s security can be seen in our direct assistance to Israel’s defense. Last year, as you know, despite difficult budgetary times, the United States provided Israel with more security assistance than ever before – $3.1 billion. Since 2011, the United States has provided over $1.3 billion for Iron Dome, a missile defense system that has saved lives, protected homes, schools, hospitals from a rainfall of rockets, like those that fell again just this past weekend from Gaza. (Applause.)
To guard against more distant but equally dangerous threats, we have worked with Israel on the Arrow weapons system to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles – and David’s Sling, for shorter-range missiles. We collaborated on a powerful radar system linked to U.S. early warning satellites that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of a missile attack. And we will soon start deliveries to Israel of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, making Israel the only country in the Middle East with the most advanced fighter in the world. (Applause.)
This Administration has also stood firmly with Israel in its quest for peace with its neighbors, a prerequisite for long-term regional stability and the preservation of true and secure democracy in the Jewish homeland. As President Obama has repeatedly emphasized, the United States will never stop working to realize the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security because this is the best way to guarantee Israel’s future as a democratic, Jewish state. (Applause.)
Taken together, these examples are reflective of a President and an Administration with deep, personal, and abiding concern for Israel’s security and its future. And I can attest to this to you from direct personal experience. Last summer, late on a Thursday during the Gaza crisis, when I was still in my position at the White House, I got a call from Israeli’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. And Ron said to me, “I’d like to come over to see you urgently, anytime you can see me.” And I said, “Come on over now.” And he arrived at the White House a little later that evening, around 8:30 at night. And he told me that Israel needed an emergency resupply of more interceptors for the Iron Dome system. And the ambassador and Israel’s defense attache ran through the substance of what they needed and why they needed it immediately.
The very next day, Friday morning, I went to the Oval Office and briefed President Obama. He responded with three words: “Get it done.” And by Tuesday – (applause) – just a few short days later, we had an additional 225 million in short-fuse funding from the U.S. Congress to do just that. (Applause.)
The United States and Israel may not always see eye to eye. We may have our differences. But our bedrock security relationship is sacrosanct, and I’m here to tell you it is stronger than ever. (Applause.)
And I can tell you another thing this morning: It’s at the very top of our minds as we sit at the negotiating table with Iran. The United States and Israel share an absolute conviction that Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) When it comes to that core strategic goal, there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and Israel.
Now, we continue to believe that the very best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is through a verified, negotiated agreement that resolves the international community’s legitimate concerns and, as a practical matter, makes it impossible for Iran to develop the fissile material for a weapon without giving us the means and the time to see it and to stop it.
The June 30th deadline is fast approaching. And we do not yet have a comprehensive agreement, and there remains a chance that we won’t get one. If we don’t get where – what we need on a few key issues, we won’t get there.
But, as Secretary Kerry announced in Lausanne in April, the deal we are working toward will close each of Iran’s four pathways to obtaining enough fissile material for a weapon – the uranium pathways at Natanz and Fordow, the plutonium pathway through Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak, and a potential covert pathway.
To cut off these pathways, any comprehensive arrangement must include exceptional constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and extraordinary monitoring and intrusive transparency measures that maximize the international community’s ability to detect any attempt by Iran to break out, overtly or covertly.
Let me take this opportunity here today to address some of the concerns that are floating around about the deal that we’re working toward. And I have to tell you that many of these concerns are simply misplaced and are more myth than fact.
First, the deal that we are working to achieve will not expire. There will not be a so-called “sunset.” Different requirements of the deal would have different durations, but some – including Iran’s commitment to all of the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the obligation not to build a nuclear weapon, as well as the tough access and monitoring provisions of the Additional Protocol – those would continue in perpetuity.
By contrast, in the absence of an agreement, Iran’s obligations under the interim arrangement that we reached – the so-called Joint Plan of Action – those would sunset immediately. Then, Iran likely would speed to an industrial-scale program with tens of thousands of centrifuges.
Second, this deal would provide such extensive levels of transparency that if Iran fails to comply with the international community’s obligations, we’ll know about it – and we will know it virtually right away, giving us plenty of time to respond diplomatically, or, if necessary, by other means. Most of the sanctions would be suspended – not ended – for a long period of time, with provisions to snap back automatically if Iran reneges on its commitments.
Third, we would not agree to a deal unless the IAEA is granted access to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful – period. (Applause.)
Fourth, there is simply no better option to prevent Iran from obtaining the material for a nuclear weapon than a comprehensive agreement that meets the parameters that we set and announced in Lausanne.
I have to tell you that, unfortunately, it is a fantasy to believe that Iran will simply capitulate to every demand if we ratchet up the pressure even more through sanctions. After all, Iran suffered even more through the great depravations of the war with Iraq. And despite intensifying pressure over the last decade, Iran went from just 150 centrifuges in 2002 to 19,000 before we reached the interim agreement.
Nor is it likely that our international partners – without whom our sanctions are not effective – would go along with such a plan. They signed on to sanctions in order to get Iran to the negotiating table and to conclude an agreement that meets our core security interests, not to force Iran to abandon a peaceful nuclear program.
Up until now, we’ve kept other countries on board – despite the economic loss that it presents for some of them – in large part because they’re convinced we are serious about diplomacy and about reaching a diplomatic solution. If they lose that belief, it’s the United States, not Iran, that risks being isolated, and the sanctions regime we’ve worked so hard to build will crumble away.
And to those who would prefer that we simply take military action now against Iran without going the last diplomatic mile, you need to consider that such a response would first destroy the international sanctions coalition, and second, only set Iran’s nuclear program back by a few years at best, at which point Iran likely would bury a new program deep underground and speed toward an actual nuclear weapon. With the comprehensive agreement that we’re working to conclude, we have a chance to achieve much, much more than that.
All of that said, the United States continues to believe – as we have from day one – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal. We’ve had plenty of opportunities throughout this negotiating process to take a bad deal; we did not, and we will not. (Applause.)
And we know that just like the interim agreement we reached, any comprehensive agreement will be subject to the legitimate scrutiny of our citizens, our Congress, and our closest partners. We welcome that scrutiny, and will not agree to any deal that cannot withstand it. At the same time, I would say to any opponents of the agreement, if we reach it: You’ll have an obligation, too. Here in the United States, you’ll have an obligation to tell the American people exactly what you would do differently, and exactly how you would get it done. (Applause.)
Many of you will recall how, after we signed the interim Joint Plan of Action that enabled us to begin these comprehensive negotiations, there were those who told us we’d made a tragic mistake. That Iran wouldn’t comply and the sanctions regime that we’d painstakingly built over so many years would crumble. That we had jeopardized the safety and security of our nation and our partners.
But President Obama and Secretary Kerry maintained that the United States, our partners – including Israel – and the entire world would become safer the day after the Joint Plan of Action was implemented. That is exactly what happened. A year and a half ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full speed ahead toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, and the production of weapons-grade plutonium and even shorter breakout timelines.
Today, Iran has lived up to its commitments under that Joint Plan of Action. It’s halted progress on its nuclear program; it’s rolled it back in some key respects for the first time in a decade. How do we know that? Because today, as a result of the interim agreement, the international inspectors, the IAEA, have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities, and a far deeper understanding of Iran’s nuclear program. They’ve been able to learn new things about Iran’s centrifuge production, uranium mines, and other facilities. And they’ve been able to verify that Iran is indeed honoring its commitments.
If we do reach a comprehensive deal, it will not end nor will it alter our commitment to supporting those in Iran demanding greater respect for universal rights and the rule of law. And we continue to insist that Iran release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, and help us find Robert Levinson. (Applause.)
And reaching a comprehensive deal will not alter our commitment to fighting Iran’s efforts to spread instability and support terrorism. This will not change – with or without a deal. (Applause.)
But Iran with a nuclear weapon – without a nuclear weapon, excuse me – will be far less emboldened to take destabilizing actions in the region. It will reduce the pressure for a regional nuclear arms race and strengthen the international nonproliferation regime. In short, it is a critical step to greater global security – for the United States, for Israel, and for all of our partners in the region.
Finally, I’d like to address this morning another grave concern, and that is the deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in parts of our world that have already seen how this tragic story ends. In the last few years, as all of you know so well, there have been horrific attacks on Jews from Brussels to Paris, Toulouse to Copenhagen. In some countries, we’re seeing a rise in government officials and media personalities spinning abhorrent, dangerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish individuals, about Israel, about the United States. And in a few places, we see the rise of extreme right-wing parties – from Jobbik in Hungary to Golden Dawn in Greece – openly embracing Nazi-like hatred of Jews. This is happening today – just 70 years after the Holocaust. Just 70 years after we pledged Never Again. While survivors of the Shoah are still with us to bear witness.
With organizations like AJC at the forefront, communities are mobilizing in response. In France, Germany, the United Kingdom, leaders have strongly condemned these acts of vile hatred, reinforced security in Jewish communities and around key sites, and expressed their unshakable solidarity with their Jewish citizens. Citizens of many faiths have formed human rings of protection around synagogues in Denmark, in Sweden, in Norway. But more – much more – must be done to make this fight a global priority.
Last month, the AJC released a very thought-provoking “Call to Action” on anti-Semitism that raises important recommendations that all of us can benefit from. These include developing new curricula for civic education, undertaking thorough studies of the security of Jewish communities, and blocking social media sites that incite hatred and violence.
But all of you know so very well that anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish issue. It’s not a Jewish issue, period. It cannot be addressed by Jewish organizations alone. Anti-Semitism – like all forms of prejudice – is a fundamental threat to democracies and open societies in every corner of the globe. (Applause.)
It’s simple: We cannot and we will not tolerate it. That’s why the United States is devoting more and more resources to this fight. Our embassies, our consulates are increasingly involved in supporting Jewish communities under pressure and under threat. At the UN and other international institutions, our diplomats are undertaking efforts to push back against anti-Semitism – unfortunately, on virtually a daily basis. Earlier this year, the U.S. worked with Israel and the European Union to organize the first UN General Assembly session on anti-Semitism in UN history, where people of all faiths took to the podium to denounce anti-Semitism and pledge to halt its alarming rise.
And over the last two years, our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Ira Forman, who’s with us today, has traveled to 25 countries and 37 communities to discuss the deteriorating situation and find new ways to combat anti-Semitism wherever it exists. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, for over 100 years, AJC has led the campaign against intolerance, against injustice, against a false choice between security and peace for the state of Israel. For what AJC has always known and what the world must now understand is that these issues don’t just affect someone else – someone else’s freedom, someone else’s dignity, someone else’s safety – they affect all of us, each of us. They undermine our security. They defy our humanity. And they call into question our most basic values. And they’re personal, and I have to tell you they’re personal to me as well.
Last summer, at the height of the conflict in Gaza, I exchanged emails with a cousin who’s been living in Tel Aviv for nearly 30 years. She wrote to me and the rest of our family about living with the constant worry for her children, especially her eldest son, who is training for the engineering unit that would be deployed to uncover tunnels and dismantle bombs. She wrote about living with the fear that terrorists were tunneling underground and could kidnap or kill her fellow citizens. She wrote about transforming their storage room back into a bomb shelter; about cycling to work with one earbud out of her ear so that she could hear the air raid sirens; about living on a 90-second timer, because that’s how much time you have to get to a bomb shelter when the sirens go off. As I read her emails, I thought of the mothers and fathers in Israel who send their children off to school or military service and endure each day in the desperate hope that their sons and daughters will be okay. I thought of the mothers and fathers in Gaza who faced their worst nightmare when their children were caught in the crossfire. And I thought of how these parents share more experiences in pain than they do in joy, and how it must be – how it can be – the reverse.
This is not naive optimism or false hope, but rather the conviction that the steps we take today together can make all of us more free and more secure; the conviction that a two-state solution is the best and only way to preserve Israel’s future as a secure, democratic Jewish state, as well as fulfill the rightful aspirations of Palestinians to a state; that a verified, negotiated, comprehensive agreement is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; and that our united stand against anti-Semitism is the only way to uphold the democratic values on which our societies are built.
As they have for over a century, the voices of AJC remain essential in shaping this future, in setting us on a better course. It is daunting. It is uncertain. But we pursue this better future with courage and commitment and the confidence that comes from being with you in the very best of company. May your voices, your bold expressions and resolute actions – may they always carry far and wide, so that together we may usher in a world that is just a little bit more just, more free, and more secure for everyone. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)