Interview With MSNBC's "Morning Joe"

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 14, 2013

MS. BRZEZINSKI: What a night. Here with us now from the State Department now, Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thanks for being on the show.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m happy to be with you. Happy to be – welcome to Washington.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Thanks very much. I think Boston was --

SECRETARY KERRY: What’s that “yeah”? That doesn’t sound enthusiastic. (Laughter.)

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Well, Boston was funner. I think you’d agree.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m telling you, this is not a box seat at the Red Sox, that’s for sure – on the sixth game.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: No, it is not. So let’s – no, it was a good night. It was a good night.

SECRETARY KERRY: It was a great night. One of the best.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Let’s talk about the Iran nuclear talks. There were so many initial signs of hope, positive signs. What’s the status at this point?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re still hopeful. I think what’s critical is to focus, first of all, on the President’s policy. The President’s policy is that under no circumstances will Iran get a nuclear weapon. That is a centerpiece of Obama foreign policy. He’s made that pledge any number of times, and that is the policy that we’re pursuing. But I was in the Senate. I was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at the time when we passed the sanctions bill, and I helped to pass it, believe in them, and the reason we passed the sanctions was to be able to negotiate. The sanctions are working. We’re now able to negotiate. What we’re really asking the Congress to do is give us the time to be able to negotiate and present a good deal that will be able to protect Israel, protect our interests, protect the region, and guarantee – I mean, guarantee, failsafe, that Iran will not be able to get a nuclear weapon. It’s a pretty simple proposition.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: I understand that, that simple math you’re doing. Yesterday though, you told everyone – you told reporters – everybody – that they need to calm down about the prospect of postponing new sanctions on Iran. But I guess some might ask why we would even be considering easing sanctions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re – in fact, the core sanctions regime does not really get eased. Ninety-five percent or more of the current sanctions will remain in place. Iran was bringing in about 110 billion, maybe a 120 billion a year in income from its oil revenues and banking and so forth. That has been knocked down to about 40 to 45 billion now because of the sanctions, and that 45 billion is frozen in banks around the world. They can’t access it. All we’re talking about doing is a tiny portion of that would be released, because you have to do something in order to make it worthwhile for them to say, “Yes, we’re going to lock our program where it is in today, and actually roll it back.”

The President’s plan on Iran would actually expand the current breakout time. If we don’t negotiate and we don’t get this agreement, the exact opposite happens. The breakout time contracts, the world becomes more dangerous, and there is nothing to suggest that Iran is just going to up and say okay, we’re going to do this because you’ve increased your sanctions. In fact, increasing the sanctions would be viewed by Iran as a bad-faith step by the United States --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- and it will encourage the hardliners in Iran to hold President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif accountable for dealing with us at all because we don’t operate in good faith. And then we’re locked into the next whatever number of years of a standoff. But a standoff in this circumstance which becomes far more dangerous for Israel – our ally and friend – far more dangerous for the region, may even push other countries to nuclearize, and could result in the requirement that we have to, rather than have a negotiated, peaceful resolution of this, take military action in order to secure our goals.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Robert Gibbs.

MR. GIBBS: Mr. Secretary, you have a week before the next round of talks. You’ve had this back and forth between some saying the French decided this wasn’t a good deal --


MR. GIBBS: -- the United States did, or even Iran may have walked away. I’m interested in how do you talk to and what do you say to Prime Minister Netanyahu between now and the beginning of those talks next week that the path that you’re pursuing is best for them and what do you say specifically around Iran’s continued enrichment abilities or continue to build a nuclear reactor for plutonium enrichment?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not going to let them do that, first of all. I mean, we’ve made it clear to our friends up on the Hill that each of those critical enrichment facilities are part of this agreement, and none of them will be able to progress further if we get this first step. That’s how we begin to roll back the program and hold it where it is. So that’s an essential component of this.

But I’ve had several conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week. In fact, literally just before coming here, I hung up the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And we’re having a very friendly and civil conversation about this. I respect completely his deep concerns as a Prime Minister of Israel should have about the existential nature of this threat to Israel. We understand that, which is why President Obama has made this firm commitment that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.

Now what we agree on – what we disagree on is not the goal. We all agree on the goal; we disagree on a tactic. We believe that you need to take this first step and that you will not get Iran to simply surrender and believe you’re dealing in good faith if after two years of negotiating you don’t follow through on --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- what’s on the table. But Bibi, the Prime Minister – Netanyahu believes that you can increase the sanctions, put the pressure on even further, and that somehow that’s going to force them to do what they haven’t been willing to do at any time previously. We just don’t agree with that as a – but I don’t want to go into the – I mean, what’s important here is we stand with Israel firmly – 100 percent. There’s no distance between us about the danger of this program, and the end game for us is exactly the same. Iran cannot have a peaceful nuclear program that is, in fact, a deceptive program or a program geared to allow them breakout. There’ll have to be failsafe mechanisms, absolute clarity about the processes which will guarantee it is peaceful program. That’s our mutual goal.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Mr. Secretary, Steve Ratner has a question for you.

MR. RATNER: Quick last question, I think, Mr. Secretary. Sir, you laid out your case very unemotionally, very clearly, very logically. Why are you having so much trouble with so many of your former colleagues, including Senator Corker, the ranking minority, Senator Schumer --

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Yes, there is that.

MR. RATTNER: -- the number three Democrat, and so forth.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there are a lot of reasons for that, Steve. I’m not going to enumerate all of them now except to say that every senator is entitled to be skeptical, entitled to ask tough questions. They did yesterday and they will – and we’ll answer them. And we’ll answer their questions. I’m going to continue to talk to senators in the next days. I believe that what we are doing is – and the President believes this very deeply – is the best first step that will actually make Israel safer. It will extend the breakout time. If we don’t get this first step, not only will that breakout time shrink, but Iran may interpret the congressional reaction of wanting to increase sanctions as bad faith on our part, an unwillingness to, in fact, negotiate, and it may drive the hardliners even more into a commitment that they have to have the weapon.

These are difficult judgments. We each come to the table with our input and our information. I respect their positions, but we respectfully believe that the Executive Branch of government under the Constitution deserves the right to negotiate and present them with something and that this is not the moment to second guess that process when two years have gone in to creating the trust and common understanding that has been building to bring us to this moment. We believe we ought to be able to get the first step, and again I reiterate, our goal is the same: no nuclear weapon capacity; they must adhere to the strictest standards.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Secretary of State John Kerry, thank you very much for being on the show this morning.


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PRN: 2013/1410