Interview With Siamak Dehghanpour of Voice of America Persian

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 20, 2014

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, Happy Nowruz.

SECRETARY KERRY: Happy Nowruz to you. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us --


QUESTION: -- especially on the day of Nowruz.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m very happy to do it. I just visited the Haft Seen Sofreh table and it was fascinating, really intriguing to see all of the different symbols and different food or substance. It’s really neat.

QUESTION: I’ve seen it before, I mean (inaudible) your son-in-law.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. No, he had a – when he got married they had a table at the wedding. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Yeah. And so we saw your Nowruz message. Do you have anything to add to that for our viewers (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we truly wish, we really do wish, the people of Iran and all people of Iranian descent a very happy New Year. It’s a joyous time. It’s the welcoming of spring and the New Year, and it’s a renewal. And we would hope that it could symbolize a renewal of a relationship that could change, and maybe it’s a moment where it can not just be a new year but a new moment in history. So we are constantly hopeful that we can resolve the differences between Iran and the United States and the international community, particularly on the nuclear program but on other issues too.

QUESTION: You’ve had a couple of bilaterals with Foreign Secretary – Foreign Minister Zarif.


QUESTION: How tough is it to (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, he’s very frank. He’s very direct. He doesn’t – he explains his position and the position of his government. And I understand that, and you have to find a way to find common ground. And we negotiated effectively, and I think successfully, to get a first-step agreement on the nuclear program. And he did a good job for his point of view.

I think in the end, we came up with an agreement that is sensible and balanced and thoughtful, but which ultimately leads us to make the final decisions that have to be done over the next, now, three and a half months. Time is ticking. And we had a six-month period; we’ve already used up two and a half of those months, and we have some big decisions to make ahead of us.

QUESTION: Has your tone changed since your last meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif? He recently said U.S. wishes won’t come true.


QUESTION: He said that U.S. wishes – he actually says that this is a wishful thinking that United States – and also he’s referring to your comments that expecting, imagining that you will stop any part of our nuclear program.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t know what he means. At this point I’m not going to negotiate on television. Iran knows that our absolute bottom line is there will not, cannot, be a nuclear weapon. That’s our bottom line. And if it’s a peaceful program, then it ought to be very easy to show everybody it’s a peaceful program. It’s not hard to do that if you’re serious. So we’re open to many different formula for trying to do that. But I’m not going to sit here and choose between one particular choice or another, except to say that we want to avoid confrontation. We don’t want this to not wind up producing what ought to be achievable, which is a method by which you prove that Iran’s program is truly peaceful and could not be quickly transformed into a weapons program.

QUESTION: And back to your Nowruz message. Having an Iranian-American in the family, Dr. Behrooz Vala Nahed as your son-in-law, help you understand Iranians better (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’d like to think that I understood Iranians before that. I mean, I hope that it didn’t become that sort of narrow. I mean, I’m delighted and I love my son-in-law and he’s a wonderful human being, but I didn’t attach one nation or another to those attributes. It’s just how he is.

But I’ve known Iran for a long time. My sister worked in Iran. My sister taught there in the international school and she lived in Tehran. And she left, unfortunately, very quickly in 1979. She had to leave. She was on one of the last planes getting out. And she learned Farsi, and she’s always told me she loved her Iranian friends, she loved being there. And Iranians are a very accomplished, capable, proud people with an amazing history. We would like nothing more than to see the issues that are blocking our ability to move forward dealt with. It would be wonderful for everybody.

And the challenge is for leaders to try to find a way forward. President Obama is committed to diplomacy and to dialogue as the first step, but it’s really up to the regime, it’s up to the supreme leader and the other leaders, President Rouhani and others, to make a decision about what they are willing to do in order to meet the – to answer the questions of not just America – this isn’t about America, this is about the international global community. The United Nations has passed resolutions which put restrictions on the nuclear efforts of Iran and asked for the answer to certain questions. That’s what we need, and I don’t think that it should be that difficult to be able to answer those questions.

QUESTION: Recently, in a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, you said there is some very tough decisions the Iranians are going to have to make – very tough – in order to meet international community’s standards of certainty as to the peacefulness of this program. What are those tough decisions?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, I mean, I’m not going to go into all of the decisions, because that’s really for the negotiating table. But clearly, you have to ask the question why you need a secret facility underneath a mountain in order to do your nuclear activities. If it’s secret --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: At Fordow, yes. If it’s secret and it’s hidden and it’s under a mountain and all of that, it raises questions about why would a peaceful program need that. How many centrifuges do you need? How much enriched uranium do you need for medical research or for other – I mean, these are legitimate questions. So the answers to those questions will require some effort by the Iranians to have a program that is like other programs in the world where you have restraint and you have limits and an understandable, practical application of whatever it is you’re doing. That’s what we set out in the interim agreement. The interim agreement specifically says that there would be limits and there has to be a practical application that is undertaken here.

So again, that’s all part of the negotiation, and I’m not going to go into any of those details now except to say that we think it’s achievable. We think – and I mean, of course Iran has a right to a peaceful nuclear program. We’re not suggesting they don’t. But it has to be one that meets the international standards of accountability, transparency, and restraint that exists in other programs in the world.

QUESTION: Supreme Leader Khamenei, who his fatwa is mentioned, is being mentioned again in the President’s Norwuz message, still says Americans are not trustworthy. How important is this fatwa in your opinion, the nuclear fatwa?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I have great respect for a fatwa. A fatwa is a very highly regarded message of religious importance. And when any fatwa is issued, I think people take it seriously, and so do we, even though it’s not our practice. But we have great respect for what it means. And – but the trick here – the trick – the art, the requirement here, is to translate the fatwa into a legally binding, globally recognized, international understanding. And so I hope that’s achievable. And I think it’s a good starting place. And President Obama and I both are extremely welcoming and grateful for the fact that the supreme leader has issued a fatwa declaring that. That’s an important statement. But now we need to take that and put it into a sort of understandable legal structure, if you will, that goes beyond an article of faith within a religious belief or a process into a more secular process that everybody can attach a meaning to.

QUESTION: Will increasing tension between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine have any impact on the nuclear talks with Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: I really hope not. I genuinely hope not. I think that the talks are much too important to the world, to the future of Iranians, to the future of our relationship. I think Russia has a profound interest in seeing it resolved, the questions about the program. That’s why Russia is part of the P5+1 effort, where everybody is in unity and agreement that Iran needs to show, like other countries do, what its program is all about. And Russia is very committed to that, I think.

QUESTION: But you know that Sergey Lavrov1, the Russian diplomat, said he thinks it’s so, to make – have some impact on it.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they say that. I think we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Let’s see where we go in the next days. I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest to have this – first of all, it’s in nobody’s interest to have Ukraine made more dangerous by Russia moving troops or becoming more provocative.

Secondly, it’s in nobody’s interest to have this grow rather than de-escalate. Thirdly, it is in nobody’s interest to have other serious issues become the victim even further, like Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, where we’ve been able to cooperate. And we would like to be able to cooperate on these things. We are not looking for confrontation. We didn’t ask for this. But we’re not going to allow the law to be completely run over. We’re not going to allow the post-World War II order, the international structure, to be destroyed by the unilateral actions of one country.

So it’s really up to President Putin and the Russians to decide how they’re going to proceed here. And we’re prepared to respond very, very strongly with additional serious sector sanctions if they continue to engage in illegal and provocative activities like crossing the border of an international – of a country. And they are not respecting the sovereign territory.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Appreciate it.


1 Sergey Ryabkov