Interview With Margaret Brennan of CBS

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

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for making time.

SECRETARY KERRY: Glad to be with you.

QUESTION: This is a historic deal. It’s going to freeze Iran’s nuclear program for a decade. How is that long enough?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it actually has enormous restraints on Iran’s nuclear program much longer than that. This is a lifetime deal, and it has 10-year components, but then it also has 15-year components. Their stockpile can only be 300 kilograms for 15 years. They can only enrich to 3.67 percent – you can’t make a bomb from that – for 15 years. Their rotors and bellows on their centrifuges will be actively tracked for 20 years. Their entire uranium production system, from very beginning in the mines all the way through the centrifuges all the way to waste, is a 25-year component. And for the lifetime – forever – they have to live by the highest levels of scrutiny, of access and accountability and verification, that exist anywhere in the world.

So I believe that this is a very strong program which will bring – it either brings Iran into compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty and people gain confidence they’re living up to it, or they don’t, in which case we have an enormous number of options. But nobody who is opposing this offers a truly realistic way in which you stop their program, gain access to their program, create accountability, and have an ability to be able to have the international community support you if you needed to do something about it.

QUESTION: But there is no automatic guarantee that inspectors will have access to all military sites. How are you going to explain that to Congress?

SECRETARY KERRY: There is an absolute guarantee under the IAEA process that – and we have a dispute resolution mechanism in here which no – has never – has not occurred previously.

QUESTION: But the fear is Iran could slow roll that.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, they can’t, because we have a number of days. It’s by a specific declaration of days, and any member of the P5+1 can bring it to the Security Council and we can take action. We also, Margaret, always have the ability to bring action ourselves. The United States of America has plenty of ability to put sanctions in place by ourselves, to take action by ourselves. So there’s all kinds of ways to press accountability here.

But what people need to remember, which a lot of the critics never talk about, is you have to hopefully bring the global community with you that there’s a rationale for what you’re doing. We have the support of Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Germany. If we suddenly went off by ourselves and said no to this, we’re not only going to lose the support of the international community, we’re going to lose the access, lose the accountability. We have no mechanism, and Iran goes off and does what it wants. Nobody can tell me how we are better off with that.

QUESTION: Well, one of the toughest points that you were arguing well into the early morning hours was about the arms embargo.


QUESTION: Now, Iran will have the ability to buy conventional weapons in as little as five years. How are you okay with walking away knowing Iran will be having more access to weapons and equipment?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not okay. The United States of American can always do other – I mean, we can – people can decide that there’s a rationale for re-upping after five years. But here’s the bottom line: Seven nations were negotiating. Three of the seven nations were in favor of no embargo whatsoever – let them do what they’re doing now. Four wanted to keep it. And so we kept it for the period of time that we could negotiate, understanding also that the Security Council resolution on which all of this is based actually contemplated that if Iran came to the table and negotiated, all the sanctions would be lifted.

QUESTION: But now Iran can buy missiles and import and export them in eight years.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, they have a missiles embargo for eight years, and no matter what happens, the length of time of this deal is 10 years. So you have a differential of two years. But look, here’s the bottom line, Margaret: Either you get Iran to come into an agreement where you limit their nuclear weapons, or they will go do everything they’re going to do with missiles and have a nuclear weapon at the same time. Again, the critics do not answer the question of, “So what do you do about their nuclear capacity?” They already developed their nuclear capacity. When President Obama became President, they already had enrichment. They already had centrifuges. They already had the ability – they already had fissile material for a number of bombs.

The President has rolled that program back, and what he has succeeded in doing is giving the United States and the global community the opportunity over X number of years to hold Iran accountable and to watch Iran change. If they don’t, then we’ve lost nothing. In fact, we’ve gained, because we’ll have greater insight to their program. We’ll know more about it, we’ll know where things are, we’ll have an ability to hold them accountable no matter when.

QUESTION: How do you expect Iran’s behavior to change?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know. I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is --

QUESTION: We have to game that out.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- they say that they will. They say there are things they’re going to do. They say they’re going to live up to it. But we put in place in this agreement very clear and firm mechanisms by which if Iran doesn’t change, they’ve got problems. All of our options are available to us all the time, Margaret. We haven’t lost any ability to do anything. But we are in fact gaining the ability to restrict the program, have insight to it, and hopefully give them an opportunity to prove to the world it is indeed a peaceful program.

QUESTION: But with more money and potentially more access to weapons in a short period of time, doesn’t this empower Iran to destabilize the region rather than make it more secure?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, because – well, they’ve certainly – if they made that choice, it would be an enormous mistake. But the United States and our allies have made it clear that we will not stand by idly if Iran decides to be involved in destabilization. Just recently, our ships helped turn away a convoy of weapons that were going into Yemen. We are committed to continuing to interdict arms, to stop things from moving. We can do that well into the future. And the United States has enormous ability here to be able to undertake with the international community a pushback against Iranian activity if that’s what they choose to do. We’ve made it clear – that’s why we held the Camp David summit with our friends and allies from the region, and we’re going to be working with those friends in the region on exactly what steps we will be taking to push back against any destabilization or illicit activities by Iran. So in fact, we’ll have more pushback now than we ever had, I think, beforehand, and I think people are much more alerted to it.

With respect to the money, Iran – if we didn’t get this deal, China, Russia, plenty of countries would be doing business with Iran because the sanctions would fall apart. And then Iran would be doing what it wants anyway without any of these restraints on its nuclear program. So you really have a choice between having an ordered process of restraints, of beginning to roll their program back, of giving them an opportunity to be able to change their direction, or you let them go do what they’re doing now and then have a conflict or some other kind of confrontation over what they’re choosing to do immediately.

QUESTION: Do you think there’s more opportunity to work with Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s way too early to predict. This is a nuclear deal. What we did here is an effort to stop them from having a nuclear weapon, and President Obama is the only president who has actually rolled back their program for whatever period of time. I believe Israel and the region are safer with an Iran that does not have a nuclear weapon, and we believe we have long-term insight to their program and accountability and will way into the future, as long as it’s an issue, prevent Iran from being able to have a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I’m told we are out of time, sir. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Appreciate it.