Interview With George Stephanopoulos of ABC This Week

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 12, 2015

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning.

SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be with you.

QUESTION: So President Obama says it’s time to turn the page with Cuba. His critics, like Senator Marco Rubio, say that’s, quote, “ridiculous” because Cuba hasn’t changed its ways. So has Cuba changed, and what exactly will they have to do for a full relationship with the U.S.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the purpose of changing the policy, George, is, in fact, to encourage change and transformation. We’ve had this policy in place for – ever since the late 1950s since the revolution and Castro came into power. And frankly, it hasn’t had the impact that people wanted. The belief is very powerful that by beginning to engage, by beginning to have greater travel, greater ability to move, greater ability to visit, ideas and opportunities will grow, that the Cuban people themselves will have a greater opportunity for expression and for exchange of views. And that is what will promote a transformation over a period of time.

But we have to begin somewhere, and the President has courageously decided to change a policy that hasn’t worked and to move us down a different path. It will begin slowly. The first thing is diplomatic relations. Then we will move towards a process of normalization. And we had a very good meeting. I met with the foreign minister in Panama for several hours. We discussed the modalities of the diplomatic engagement. And then, of course, the President met with Raul Castro, the president, and we now go forward from there. But it’s going to be a process of transformation.

QUESTION: We’re also seeking a new relationship with Iran. You called that framework deal on the nuclear program historic; but the more we hear from the Iranian side, the less it sounds like a real deal at all. I want to – we saw Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, speak out this week on the deal. This office put out a tweet that says, “Hours after the talks Americans offered a fact sheet that most of it was contrary to what was agreed. They always deceive and break promises.”

And there do seem to be big differences. The ayatollah says that the sanctions will be lifted as soon as the deal is implemented. The United States says no, it will only come after Iran takes those steps and it’s verified by the IAEA. So is there a deal on that question or not?

SECRETARY KERRY: George, the facts on which the parameters are based are facts. And yesterday the Russians issued a statement saying that the fact sheet or the facts as expressed by the United States are reliable and accurate information. Now, you can go back to the interim agreement, and we have the same kind of dueling narratives. They’re going to put their spin on their point of view, and obviously, they’ll allege that we’re putting a spin on our point of view. But I will stand by every fact that I have said, stated publicly.

And you have to look to the interim agreement where they likewise put out a different set of interpretations. But when it came time to implement the agreement, the agreement that was implemented was the agreement that we had articulated and it was the agreement that has been kept. And to Iran’s credit, Iran has lived up to and lived by every requirement in that agreement.

So I’m going to let the facts speak for themselves. I don’t want to get into a back and forth publicly. I don’t think it serves any purpose. I’ll be consulting Congress – tomorrow the House and on Tuesday the Senate. I will lay out in full our understanding of this agreement. And if it isn’t the understanding, George, we’re not going to sign an agreement. I mean, we will come to these next two and a half months open to trying to improve still, perhaps finish on a few – not perhaps – definitely finish in a few areas that were clearly left unresolved. And that’s going to have to happen for a full agreement to be put into place.

QUESTION: When you go up to Capitol Hill, you’ll probably encounter your old friend and colleague, Senator John McCain, who seems to be saying – suggesting that the ayatollah has his interpretation right. He calls you, quote, “delusional.” And he went on to say this: “I can’t blame the ayatollah because I don’t think they ever agreed to it, and I think John Kerry tried to come back and sell a bill of goods hoping maybe that the Iranians wouldn’t say much about it.”

Selling us a bill of goods?

SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) I think President Obama spoke very, very powerfully to Senator McCain yesterday, and I’ll let the President’s words stand. I also stand by every fact that I have laid out. It’s an unusual affirmation of our facts to come from Russia, but Russia has said that what we’ve set out is reliable and accurate. And I will let the final agreement speak for itself.

QUESTION: As you know, your predecessor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing for president today. And already, her tenure as secretary of state is in the crosshairs: Marco Rubio calling her the architect of a failed foreign policy; Ted Cruz the Obama-Clinton foreign policy disaster; Jeb Bush says it’s a mess. You said you had big heels to fill when you took the job. What’s your response to these critiques?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, George, as you know, the secretary of state happily is able to not be involved in the presidential hurly-burly. I’m not going to get involved in it now. It’s important for me to be able to speak to both sides of the aisle and talk about our foreign policy without being involved in partisan politics. And so I’m not going to get involved in it now, but I will say that Secretary of State Clinton did a terrific job of rebuilding alliances that had been shredded over the course of the prior years. She spent a lot of time, as you know, working on a number of different issues, including the beginning of the effort with Iran as well as the Gaza ceasefire and other things. She will defend, I know, her own record for herself. It’s not my job to do it. But I wish her well in this race and I look forward to being able to stay well away from it.

QUESTION: Is she your candidate?

SECRETARY KERRY: Beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Is she your candidate?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not in the race, as I just said, George. I’m out of the partisan politics here.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning.