Interview With Joe Scarborough From MSNBC's Morning Joe

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
July 17, 2015

QUESTION: Welcome back to Morning Joe. It’s now – we’re honored to bring in the Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us. Congratulations on bringing all of your hard work in for a successful landing, certainly, in the opinion of many Americans.

Let me start by just asking you a personal question. You’ve done so much in your life as it pertains to public service. Is this your proudest moment?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I haven’t even stopped to measure something like that, Joe. Obviously, I’m delighted that we were able to take four years plus of work from a tremendous team of people and our colleague nations – I mean, this was a multilateral negotiation. We had tremendous input from China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain. And I think it was really rewarding to see diplomacy be able to deliver something. Now we need to complete the job, so there’s not a lot of time to think about where we are. We’ve got to get the job done.

QUESTION: There were so many times that you were behind closed doors and all we could do is take reports from The New York Times, Washington Post, other papers across the globe. Could you just give us just a little flavor of what moment during the negotiations were you most fearful that it might go off track and this just might not happen?

SECRETARY KERRY: On the Sunday before we got the deal, Joe, I’d say about a week out, I had a very sober and almost depressing conversation with my counterpart. We began the day with a very serious evaluation of whether or not it was doable. And I made it crystal clear that if things did not change, we were going to go home, we were going to have to wrap it up. Things did change, and we managed to, obviously, move forward and make progress. But there were some down moments. There were some moments of great pessimism.

What I’m proud of is that while all the tweets were going on about concessions and about what we were doing, we never moved away from core principles. We accomplished the fundamental goal the President set, which is to shut off each of the pathways to a nuclear weapon. And so I believe without any doubt whatsoever – and I spent 29 years in the Senate, I was on the Arms Control Observer Group, I dealt with all the debates of the START agreement, the SALT agreement, the MX missile and so forth – this agreement makes the region safer, makes Israel safer, makes the United States safer, makes the world safer.


SECRETARY KERRY: And I think when people really analyze it, they will see that.

QUESTION: One more question from me, then I want to pass it around the table. Over this past week – and I know you watch the show --


QUESTION: -- there’s been a concern from liberals, from conservatives, from people who support the deal, from people who haven’t read the deal and don’t support the deal – the main concern – and I would love for you to assuage any concerns of people watching right now – seems to be this 24-day lead period that the Iranians get notice of inspectors actually going onsite. Can you tell us why it is 24 days and why you’re not concerned, that that doesn’t give the Iranians 24 days to hide any incriminating information?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Joe, let me begin by just pointing out that the Iranians, as you know, have been deathly afraid of the IAEA having access to Parchin years later – 10, 15 years later. Why? Because traces of uranium, traces of any kind of fissile material are traceable and are very, very hard to get rid of. If they are afraid of us having entry because we might find something years later, I can assure you our intelligence community is completely comfortable that 24 days is not enough time for them to be able to evade our technical means, our capacity to observe, our ability to be able to know what is happening.

And what people need to focus on in that time period – by the way, that’s an outside period. It could happen in two days, three days, immediately. And the Iranians have every reason to do it faster, because the longer it takes and the more they drag, the more suspicion there would be. What I think people need to understand about this agreement, nothing in this agreement is based on trust. Every step of the way it is based on intrusive inspections, on verification, on tracking and monitoring. An example – and nobody has paid enough attention to this – we will have television cameras and live tracking of their centrifuge production for 20 years. We will have tracking of their mining of any uranium whatsoever in Iran for 25 years, from the mine to the mill to the yellowcake to the gas to the centrifuge and to the waste. We have unprecedented ability to see what they are doing. And our intelligence community tells us that for them to have a covert path they would have to have an entire fuel cycle that is covert and that it’s impossible to do so with the regime that we have put together.

Moreover, everybody focuses on 10 years. The fact is that we have a R&D declared path that they have to file with the Additional Protocol that takes you beyond the 10 years, which they will be held to. There is a restraint on the size of their stockpile at 300 kilograms for 15 years. They are only allowed to enrich up to 3.67 percent for three years – excuse me, for 15 years. You cannot make a nuclear weapon with those restraints.

So the most important thing here – and I think I heard it earlier in the show – if the United States Congress says no to this, the sanctions are gone, our inspections are gone, our knowledge of what they’re doing will be gone, our support from the international community will be gone, and Iran will be free to go out and do what they want, and we will have no recourse; and if we wanted to take action, we will have lost the global community. There is no question to me --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- that no one is offering a viable alternative to what we have put forward.

QUESTION: All right, let’s go to NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell. Andrea.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there were so many ups and downs, emotional rollercoaster, the 18, 19 days were.


QUESTION: There are reports that at that final meeting on Tuesday of all the ministers – they went around the table, and when they came to you, you talked about being a 22-year-old going to Vietnam and that you never wanted to go to war without having exhausted the diplomacy. Could you speak to that, to what that moment meant to you?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Andrea, I believe that the alternative to what we are trying to do here is conflict. If we are not able to hold onto this, then the Iranians will say, well, the United States can’t be trusted, you can’t negotiate with the United States, and they will feel free to go forward with their program. I can hear everybody clamoring. So what are you going to do now if they start to enrich? You know that every presidential candidate appearing on your show will say, well, now it’s time for President Obama to show how tough he is and bomb them. There will be no alternative. And the President said it the other day: This is a choice between a diplomatic solution and war and military action. And so yes, I did talk about the lesson I learned that before you send people off to put their lives on the line, you need to exhaust all of the remedies available to you. George Bush promised that there would be a last resort of war in Iraq, and it obviously didn’t turn out that way.


SECRETARY KERRY: People are very bitter about that. So I really believe that that’s an imperative of diplomacy, it’s an imperative of public life. And I vowed when I came back and opposed the war that if I ever had an opportunity to be in a position of responsibility I would fight for that principle.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --

QUESTION: Mike Barnicle.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, during these weeks and months of exhausting negotiations and discussions with the Iranians, was there ever an opportunity to raise the issue of the four Americans being held by the Iranians? And if so, if there was, did you get any indication of their status or their prospects perhaps for release?

SECRETARY KERRY: Mike, there was not a meeting that took place – not one meeting that took place – believe me, that’s not an exaggeration – where we did not raise the issue of our American citizens being held. And in fact, it was the last conversation that I had with the foreign minister at the Vienna Center. Right before we went out publicly, I talked to him the last time about that. We remain very, very hopeful that Iran will make a decision to do the right thing and to return those citizens to the United States. And we are consistently, constantly, even now, continuing to work on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Gene Robinson here. I wrote today’s column in praise of the deal, but there are – there’s one question that has been asked by the Israeli Government, by other critics, that I don’t think has been adequately answered, and that is: How can – what does happen in year 13, 14,15? Yes, there’ll be more monitoring, but at the same time the Iranians will be inarguably less constrained than they are during the 10 and 15 year periods of the deal. So what do we expect to happen?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that is accurate, Gene. As you come out – first of all, it is really quite remarkable that we have achieved the level of reduction of their current program. Their current stockpile is about 12,000 kilograms, enough for 10 to 12 bombs. That will be reduced fully to 300 kilograms for 15 years. It is remarkable that their centrifuges will be rolled back and they will be limited in the amount of research and so forth that they can do for those years.

But the deal always was – I mean, the heart of this deal is they want relief from sanctions and we want to know they don’t have a nuclear weapon. So the tradeoff was always relief from some of the sanctions on a scale that took you to a period where you could have confidence the program is peaceful, with long-term restraints on the program. At year 15, year 20 restraints don’t stop. They have to live by the Additional Protocol.

And most importantly, we achieved a means for the first time ever in any arms negotiation, we have a means of an individual nation taking to the Security Council the issue of their compliance and being able to snap back all of the sanctions if they are in material breach of this agreement. We also have the ability, always, to bring back our own sanctions and we have multiple other ways of addressing their behavior.

For instance, even without the arms – and the arms is staying – but if the arms embargo didn’t stay, they are still not allowed to send arms to the Houthi under a separate resolution of the UN. We can enforce it. They’re not allowed to send weapons to the Iraqi Shia. We can enforce it. They’re not allowed to send weapons to Hizballah. That’s a separate resolution. Nothing happens to that. We can enforce it. And we have worked with all of the Gulf states, and I will be meeting with them in about two weeks in Doha, where we have at Camp David laid out a program for better coordination and work together on special forces capacity, on counterterrorism, cyber and interdiction, and so forth.

So we are going to up our game in terms of pushing back against current behavior, even as we look for a new and a different relationship here going forward. But there are restraints. They will be filed with the Additional Protocol at the IAEA. They will be shared with Congress in a classified forum, and we will let everybody know exactly how the breakout time does not fall off a cliff, but tails down at a reasonable rate and it never reaches zero. The United States will always have an ability to know what Iran is doing, and we don’t lose one option that we have today to be able to be applied in the future. Not one option.

QUESTION: All right, Mr. Secretary. Secretary of State John Kerry, thank you so much for being with us.

SECRETARY KERRY: Great to be with you. Thank you.

QUESTION: And please, try to get some sleep sometime over the next six months. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m going to.

QUESTION: You deserve it.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Joe.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. We greatly appreciate it.