Interview with Elise Labott of CNN

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Lausanne, Switzerland
April 2, 2015

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

SECRETARY KERRY: Pleased to be with you.

QUESTION: This is a lot more than you thought you’d get.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, it’s what we knew we wanted to get and had to get, but you never know in a negotiation if you’ll get it. But we knew we were going after something important. I’ve said continually we can’t – we’ve got to have a good deal and we have to close off those pathways, and that’s what we’ve been working to do.

QUESTION: This is a U.S. fact sheet. The foreign minister already kind of tweeted it out as spin. It doesn’t have Iran’s name on it. And what’s to say that Iran’s not going to come back when you’re doing the final negotiating and try to reopen all of this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Then they don’t get an agreement. I mean, look, we’re very clear about where we are. I’m quite confident about the parameters as they have been articulated. They will have a narrative that is different from ours, obviously. And we will have what we have.

But I think what is important is that we have both agreed to move forward, to go back into the negotiating --

QUESTION: If they try to renegotiate, you’ll end? You won’t give them an agreement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not going to – what we’ve agreed we’ve agreed, and we’re not going to renegotiate things. We’ve been very clear about that.

QUESTION: When this is over in 15 years, Iran can pretty much do whatever it wants. So this is a real political --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it can’t. No, it --

QUESTION: This is a real political gamble, Mr. Secretary, that the regime is going to be different in 15 years.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it is not a gamble on the regime being different. It is not a gamble. It is based on proof. There’s no element of trusting here. This is based on verification.

QUESTION: You don’t trust the Iranians?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s not the issue. In any negotiation about arms, you can’t just do it on words; you do it on actions and verifiability. Now, here we have a system of inspection, a system of accountability, where we will be able to know – or challenge if we don’t know – for access to have an understanding of what’s happening.

QUESTION: But they won’t be bound by it like they are in this agreement.

SECRETARY KERRY: We have very long – no, no, that’s not true. There are – there’s a 15-year set of things that are required. There’s no enrichment, for instance, no this or – then there’s a 20-year component. There’s a 25-year component of being able to track the uranium from the mining through into the milling and so forth. So there’s a lot here that on close examination people will see reinforces the ability to be able to know what is happening.

But the Iranians, to their credit, have said we’re willing to joint venture in some situations. You may have the French or the Chinese or the Koreans or somebody in there working on some of this. And so there are a lot of compounded components which, when you put them all together, our experts are quite confident gives us a sense of confidence about that long term. And if they violate, then, of course, we’re going to have available to us all the kinds of choices we have today.

QUESTION: Several members of Congress are already coming out against this agreement. They seem to have a veto-proof majority for a vote, for a say. They could kill this.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t believe so. And I think on close inspection I don’t believe that will happen. That would be very irresponsible to make politics trump facts and science and the realities of what is possible here. And it would be particularly irresponsible to do it when you have six nations standing – seven, actually, Iran too – but the P5+1 permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany; China and Russia, which don’t have always every day common interests with us in everything, but they are absolutely dedicated to the enforcement of this. So I think that really some of our senators and congressmen need to step back, take a deep breath, and just look at the facts --

QUESTION: What about the Arabs --

SECRETARY KERRY: -- and examine this with the experts.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what about the Arabs? They say now they’re going to want everything that Iran wants. Would you be comfortable if all Arab allies had everything that Iran would have in this agreement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they will make individual choices about what they want their nuclear program to be. We have a 123 Agreement, for instance, with the Emirates with respect to civil --

QUESTION: But with enrichment?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, with respect to civil power. But we think a lot of countries would be better off not enriching and they don’t have to. Iran already is enriching and they can enrich. They began that a long time ago, long before I became Secretary of State. They were enriching back in 2003, 2004. They were – and there were attempts made to try to control that enriching back there, but it didn’t work, so their enriching grew and their program grew.

And so we have a choice. If we don’t have an agreement, their program will grow rapidly and then we face: What do you do? Are you going to have a confrontation, et cetera? We think this is actually – President Obama, myself, others are convinced this is actually a better way to guarantee that they won’t have a weapon, certainly for the period of time that the agreement is in full effect. And then when they’re an NPT member, we have long-term, long-lasting – some of them forever – measures of verification and transparency. So we believe that if people look at this hard, they will see this agreement can stand the test.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’ve spent more time with the Iranian foreign minister than most foreign ministers you’ve been meeting with, and certainly more than any U.S. official has spent with an Iranian official in 30 years. What was the most surprising thing about these negotiations with the Iranians? Take us inside there.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think there was a seriousness of purpose. People negotiated hard. It was tough, very intense at times, sometimes emotional and confrontational. It was a very intensive process. But because the stakes are very high and because there is a long history of not talking to each other, for 35 years we haven’t talked with the Iranians directly like this, so we’re not basing this on a naivete or trust or some element of good faith. This is based on real steps, real accountability, real measures that have to be implemented, and on accountability if they’re not. We haven’t lost one option that is available to us today as we go forward. But we think that this is a better way, a peaceful way, to try to resolve a difference. And as the foreign minister said to me, it’s a long time since people were able to try to resolve this kind of a big-stakes issue without letting things come apart.

And so, look, I’m not vouching for it. I’m not even saying to you we will absolutely get an agreement on June 23rd. I don’t know if we will. But we’ve opened up that opportunity, and we’ve done it with specificity, we’ve done it with clarity, and we’ve done it with real figures and with real science. And we think that’s a good building block.

QUESTION: Does this help you with Iran with other areas, for instance, Yemen and --

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no idea, because we didn’t talk about it.

QUESTION: Do you want it to?

SECRETARY KERRY: We didn’t – Iran has a lot of challenges right now with the rest of the community in that region, and we’ve made it clear that an Iran without a nuclear weapon is better than, given some of what’s happening in the region, an Iran with a weapon. So we have been focused on trying to deal with the nuclear issue. And we will continue – as I made very clear tonight, as the President has made clear – to be focused on the other issues of what Iran is doing within the region. Obviously, we’d love to see that improve, change over time, but that’s not what this nuclear deal is about. The same issues are in existence tomorrow morning as were today with respect to those other issues. And we will stand by our allies – all of them – our friends in the region, as we have made clear. Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Emirates – we are not going to allow our friends to be threatened and to have their security impugned as a consequence of any actions by any country. They’re our friends.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.