Remarks With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Before Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Villa Taverna
Rome, Italy
October 23, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very, very much. My great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel Bibi Netanyahu here at Villa Taverna, which is the American Ambassador’s residence here in Rome. And I’m really grateful that our schedules were able to work out so that both of us could combine our travel and meet here in the course of today.

And I want to begin by wishing the Prime Minister a very, very happy birthday.


SECRETARY KERRY: Your birthday was Monday and happy to wish you best returns.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yeah. Getting younger all the time, John. (Laughter.) Like you.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no. I think we’re earning some gray hairs together.

This is a very important opportunity for us to be able to meet because there are a series of issues that are of huge importance to both of our countries, and our people are watching closely what is happening with respect to threats in the region and the challenges that we face. It’s particularly timely, because we are, as the Prime Minister and people in the world know, engaged in negotiations with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This is something the Prime Minister and I have talked about for a long time. It is of major concern to all of us that Iran not be able to develop a nuclear weapon.

While we welcome, and we do welcome, the change of rhetoric, the change of tone, the diplomatic opening that the Iranians have offered through President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, we have made clear and we are adamant that words are no substitute for actions. And what we will need, all of us – in order to be satisfied with respect to the United Nations sanctions, to the demands of the IAEA, as well as to our own security requirements – we will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, failsafe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program.

We have said, President Obama has made it very clear he will pursue a diplomatic initiative, but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove that those programs are indeed peaceful. I have said a number of times, President Obama has said a number of times, and I reiterate today, no deal is better than a bad deal. But if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone. And we are looking for an opportunity to be able to do that.

We obviously have other issues to discuss. Thanks to the courage of the Prime Minister and the courage of President Abbas, both of whom took risks to reengage in talks, our negotiators have been meeting now – our negotiators – the facilitator, which is the United States, and the two parties are the negotiators – but the Palestinians and the Israelis have come together now some 13 times and are meeting even now as we are here. And our Special Envoy for these talks, Martin Indyk, is in Jerusalem and helping to facilitate those discussions. So obviously, we will have some time also to discuss that, Syria, Egypt, other issues of the region.

But I’m very grateful to the Prime Minister, whose schedule is obviously enormously busy, for laying aside a good amount of time today for us to be able to dig into these issues. And I look forward to having a very candid and very constructive conversation.

Thanks very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, John. Thank you.

Well, Secretary Kerry, John, it’s good to see you again. Last time in Jerusalem – or rather, in Washington, before that in Jerusalem, and now in Rome. Any time is a good time to talk about security and peace. The foremost security problem that we face, as you said, is Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. Preventing that is a goal I share with you and President Obama. And you have said, I think wisely, that Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges for enrichment. They shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy water plant which is used only for nuclear weapons. They should get rid of the amassed fissile material. And they shouldn’t have underground nuclear facilities, underground for one reason – for military purposes.

I think you’re right. I think no deal is better than a bad deal. I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal. You wisely insisted there wouldn’t be a partial deal with Syria. You’re right. If Assad had said, well, I’d like to keep, I don’t know, 20 percent, 50 percent, or 80 percent of my chemical weapons capability, you would have refused, and correctly so. And I think in the case of Iran, it’s essential that it be made to live up to Security Council resolutions that demand an end to enrichment and enrichment capability and an end to plutonium heavy water capability towards fissile material for nuclear weapons.

I think we’re very close to getting that. And I agree with you that the goal is get it peacefully – peacefully. The best way to get it peacefully is to maintain the pressure on Iran. That’s what got them into these renewed negotiations in the first place. The leadership the United States and the President have shown on the issue of sanctions, I think, has been centrally important. I think it would be a tragic mistake to stop right before that goal is realized, and I look forward to discussing this issue, obviously, with you.

The second thing we’re discussing all the time – and I’m not revealing state secrets if I tell you that we – the Secretary and I talk more or less every other day about these twin goals – is to advance the peace with the Palestinians. That peace is premised on mutual recognition of two states for two peoples – the Palestinian state for the Palestinian people mirrored by the Jewish state for the Jewish people. I think that’s fundamental for any peace, but equally it must be a peace that – as President Obama has said – a peace that Israel can defend by itself, for itself against any conceivable threat. I think these are the two twin pillars of peace, and I look forward to discussing how we can advance both goals in our discussions today, and undoubtedly our discussions tomorrow as well.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good. Thank you, my friend.


SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thanks for the birthday offering.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. Well, we have more to offer. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. We’ll see you later.

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PRN: 2013/T16-04