Interview With George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thank you for joining us, Mr. Secretary. The big question right now: Will this agreement really stop the Iranian nuclear program in its tracks? We’ve already got some critics in Congress suggesting it won’t. Marco Rubio says it will not freeze the Iranian nuclear program, makes a nuclear Iran more not less likely. Lindsey Graham says unless the deal requires dismantling centrifuges, we haven’t gained anything. Your response?
SECRETARY KERRY: This negotiation is not the art of fantasy or the art of the ideal. It’s the art of the possible, which is verifiable and clear in its capacity to be able to make Israel and the region safer. The fact is that Iran’s ability to break out, George, will expand under this program. Therefore, Israel will be safer, the region will be safer. Iran’s 20 percent uranium will be destroyed, therefore they are safer. Iran’s 3.5 percent uranium stock will be frozen at its current level, and the centrifuges will not be able to be installed in places they could otherwise be installed and advance the program.
QUESTION: But not dismantle.
SECRETARY KERRY: The fact is we will have daily inspections. We will have daily inspections – no, it’s not. That’s correct. That’s the next step. Now, the choice people have is do you want to sit there and argue that you have to dismantle your program before you’ve stopped it, and while you’re arguing about dismantling it, they progress. In 2003, Iran made an offer to the Bush Administration that they would, in fact, do major things with respect to their program. They had 164 centrifuges. Nobody took that – nothing has happened. Therefore, here we are in 2013 – they have 19,000 centrifuges and they’re closer to a weapon. You cannot sit there and pretend that you’re just going to get the thing you want while they continue to move towards the program that they’ve been chasing.
We’ve actually succeeded through the sanctions that Congress put in place to be able to get to a point where we’re locking in knowledgeably what their current level is and forcing them to go backwards. And while we go through these next six months, we will be negotiating the dismantling; we will be negotiating the limitations. But you can’t always start where you want to wind up. And most people I’ve talked to who’ve looked at this carefully say the alternative that they’re proposing just doesn’t work.
QUESTION: There also seems to be a clear difference between the United States and Iran on the issue of whether they have the right to enrich uranium. You say the deal does not include any recognition of that right. The Foreign Minister of Iran says it includes it in two distinct places. I just want to know: What is the U.S. position? Does the U.S. respect and recognize that right of Iran’s, yes or no?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, there is no right to enrich. We do not recognize a right to enrich. It is clear in the NPT, in the Nonproliferation Treaty. It’s very, very clear that there is no right to enrich. But under the terms of this agreement, there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program where they might have some medical research or other things they could do. But there is no inherent right to enrich. And everywhere in this particular agreement, it states that they could only do that by mutual agreement, and that nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on. That language appears at least twice, in significant places in this agreement.
So there is no agreement that they can enrich. They have ability to negotiate it, but they could only gain that capacity to have some enrichment, as some countries do, if they live up to the whole set of terms necessary to prove it’s a peaceful program. So Iran has some very stiff hurdles that they’re going to have to meet in order to do that. There is no right, and there is no right granted in this agreement.
QUESTION: We’re seeing the first Israeli --
SECRETARY KERRY: They have a right according to the NPT. Let me just say, George, they do have a right, any country has a right, if you’re in the NPT, to a peaceful nuclear program. That – there is a defined right within the NPT. But a peaceful nuclear program does not mean you have the right to enrich.
QUESTION: We’ve just seen the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu call it a bad deal. Are you confident you can convince him to respect it and that Israel will not take unilateral military action against the Iranian nuclear program?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, actually, Israel and the United States absolutely share the same goal here. There is no daylight between us with respect to what we want to achieve at this point. We both want to make it certain Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon and Iran cannot be in a place where they could break out and suddenly get that nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But the Prime Minister says this deal won’t do that.
SECRETARY KERRY: With this – that’s not accurate. The deal is the beginning and first step. It leads us into the negotiation so that we guarantee that while we are negotiating for the dismantling, while we are negotiating for the tougher provisions, they will not grow the program and their capacity to threaten Israel. Israel will actually gain a larger breathing space in terms of the breakout capacity of Iran. It’s just clear.
QUESTION: The U.S. has pledged in this deal to hold off on new sanctions for six more months. The President said now is not the time for new sanctions. Are you confident you can convince Congress not to pass new sanctions? And if they do, will the President veto them?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, George, I believe Congress will recognize that this deal actually has a great deal of benefit in it. And I look forward to going up and working with our colleagues on the Hill in order to try to persuade them that this is not the moment to increase sanctions. I’m confident that as Congress examines what we’ve been able to achieve here, and as they measure the fact that if you didn’t do what we’re doing, they would be marching forward and putting more centrifuges in, enriching more, moving closer to a weapon. What we have done absolutely, unequivocally allows us to get into Fordow, know what they’re doing in that enrichment, stop the enrichment. And if they’re not prepared to do the things necessary to be able to have a peaceful program – truly peaceful and provable as such – then the sanctions can be turned back up, and of course, he always has every other option available to him as Commander-in-Chief.
QUESTION: And finally, Mr. Secretary, you just emerged from the first face-to-face negotiations with the Iranians since 1979. Is the U.S. now heading towards a normal relationship with Iran, and how do you reconcile your experience with the words of their Supreme Leader, who calls Israel a rabid dog and accuses the United States of war crimes?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, obviously, those are the most insulting and unacceptable terms – obviously. I mean, that goes without stating. And we don’t accept that kind of terminology, and we hope that that’s not going to be part of the future. But we’re not going to sit around and deal with hopes or words and pretend that there’s trust where it has to be built over a long period of time. So we have no illusions. This is not going to change in one fell swoop and overnight. We have a long building process to engage in here. We need to put to test Iran’s words and intentions without any cobwebs, without any false assumptions, without any illusions. This is a hard road. And we will stand by Israel 100 percent, and I believe we will show that this particular approach has the ability to be able to garner greater, broader international support for whether or not Iran is, in fact, following through on its commitments or not.
If you ultimately have to hold them accountable because they’re not doing it, you have to be able to show that you’ve gone through all of the diplomatic avenues available before considering other alternatives.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve been going around the clock. Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, George. Good to be with you. Thank you very much.