Interview With James Robbins of BBC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Vienna, Austria
July 14, 2015

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, with this agreement, is the world a safer place?

SECRETARY KERRY: I believe that with the interim agreement, even, the world is a safer place because we have undone their 20 percent enriched uranium; they have reduced their stockpile and they have stopped building Arak, and we are way ahead of where we were. So for the last two years, even, we have had a breakout time that has expanded beyond where it was a few months ago. So clearly, it’s safer, and with this agreement, if it is fully implemented, the world would be a safer place, yes.

QUESTION: Critics of the deal, particularly in Israel and Saudi Arabia, are convinced the world is actually much more dangerous as a consequence of your deal with --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Saudi Arabia has not made up its mind yet. Israel has been opposed to this from day one, and Prime Minister Netanyahu was opposed to the interim agreement, which, by the way, worked and which he subsequently said, “Oh, you should continue that.” So I think the verdict’s out on that. But with respect to Saudi Arabia, no, they simply said that if Iran continues to do the things it’s doing and doesn’t change and live up to this, it could be – could be – but we believe that they’re going to undertake these steps, because if they don’t, they don’t get any sanctions relief. The only way to get economic relief is implement this agreement. And with the implementation of the agreement, absolutely the region will be safer, and I think we’ll prove that.

QUESTION: Sanctions relief will pour lots of money into Iran. There must be a considerable risk they’ll spend at least some of that money supporting extremist terrorist groups who they’ve supported in the past, that money --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not --

QUESTION: -- freed up by this will actually cause more violence.

SECRETARY KERRY: Iran has something like $900 billion of economic need right now. To be able to pump oil and restore their energy sector, they have about a $300 billion investment. To be able to do infrastructure, improve the lives of their people – there are all kinds of things Iran needs to do. They have banking challenges, they have payment problem challenges. So the notion that 100 billion – which is what it is, not hundreds of billions, but 100 billion – is going to make all the difference in the world is just – it’s not true.

First of all, what Iran is doing in Yemen right now does not depend on money. What Iran has done for years with Hizballah does not depend on money. What Iran is doing – and by the way, they’re fighting ISIL and helping Iraq in many ways, but that has not depended on money. So sure, something may go additionally somewhere. But if President Rouhani and his administration do not take care of the people of Iran, they will have an enormous problem. And our intelligence community analyzes that the amount that may be the differential that finds its way somewhere is not the difference in what is happening in the Middle East.

QUESTION: If the United States, in your eyes, sees Iran in a different light now – less of an isolated pariah, more potentially a partner – does that mean you can collaborate actively with Iran in the fight against extremism, against ISIL, so-called Islamic State?

SECRETARY KERRY: We have no idea what the future holds with respect to any kind of cooperation, and that is not the purpose of this agreement. This agreement is a nuclear agreement. We know that whatever activities Iran is engaged in today would be far more empowered and more of a challenge to the global community if they had a nuclear weapon.

This is pretty simple stuff. An Iran without a nuclear weapon is better to deal with than Iran with a nuclear weapon, and they have decided that they – the ayatollah has decided they’re not going to have one anyway. So they are proving to the world they have a peaceful program. We have safeguards that are being put in place with this agreement that will empower us to help prove it is a peaceful program. And if they don’t adhere to that, we have all kinds of alternatives, including the snapback of all of the sanctions. So I believe we are significantly safeguarded by this and strategically more better off.

Now, in the future, if Iran does change – they’ve said they’re willing to, they say they’re willing to do things, I’m not betting – but we will certainly put to the test as we go forward what their activities are and what their engagement is that they’re willing to shift in the region.

QUESTION: Finally, Secretary Kerry, you paid lavish tribute to your Iranian counterpart today. You called him a true patriot. Was there a time during these long, tortuous negotiations when you thought, “We’re never going to get this deal?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, there were a number of times. And when I say he’s a patriot, I mean, he’s – he represents his country. I mean, I’m not lauding something. I’m just saying he is a man who is dedicated to his country and he negotiated hard and he represented his country. But he did so with a mutual respect and with an effort to try to solve problems. So I’m just taking the experience we had and reflecting on that. I’m not extending it or somehow transferring it to whatever other possibilities may or may not exist. We have no idea what may happen, except we know that we – the United States – and our friends and allies will continue to push back against destabilizing activities, and we will continue to oppose any support by any country for terrorists or for other kinds of things that destabilize the region.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much for joining BBC.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you, sir.