Interview With Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour

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

QUESTION: Secretary John Kerry, thank you for talking with us.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure, really.

QUESTION: So it’s been three days since you’ve made this announcement.

SECRETARY KERRY: Is that all? It feels like it’s an eternity. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: When did you know yourself that this was going to come together?

SECRETARY KERRY: I really only knew in the last couple of days, and even then there were some tough issues to resolve in the final hours which could have snagged the whole thing. But a week before, I think it was Sunday a week out, I had a very direct and very sober discussion with my counterpart questioning whether or not they really had the ability and/or the political space and authority to be able to make a deal. And I made it clear that if we didn’t move in a different direction from where we were, we were ready to go home.

QUESTION: But it turned around.

SECRETARY KERRY: It turned around and we really got down to business. Things began to move. There were always – there was always an inter-relationship of key issues with other issues, and as we began to make progress it sort of unlocked the keys to the puzzle. And it is a puzzle; all the pieces have to come together in the right way.

QUESTION: What do you make of the reaction, especially on Capitol Hill which you know so well?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, I look forward to my discussions on Capitol Hill. I really want to sit down and go into the deal, because I think the deal withstands scrutiny. I mean, we’ve spent four years negotiating this. This was not a rush. If there was a rush, we’d have done it a long time ago. We needed to make certain we were doing the things that closed off the four pathways to a bomb, and we knew it would be scrutinized.

What I regret is that so many members of Congress, without even reading the agreement or knowing what all the components were, were just automatically – out of politics or something – saying no, and then finding the reasons to hang their hat on it. I think that’s regrettable. But I look forward to really engaging on this, and I think it deserves a very responsible and deep analysis, and we’re ready to dig in with everybody and go at that.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about some of the concerns that’ve been raised, take them one by one.


QUESTION: Inspections. The Administration officials were saying back in the spring they were going to be anywhere, anytime access. The President is now using the language “where necessary, when necessary.” That’s different.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’ll tell you, as a negotiator for these last many years, we never had a discussion about anywhere, anytime. Anywhere, anytime is this euphemism that’s out there maybe in the political hemisphere or atmosphere, but it’s not a realistic or existing term of art within arms control. There is no country anywhere in the world that allows anywhere, anytime or has anywhere, anytime. The only example I can think of is Iraq after we invaded once we had a total surrender and a takeover of the country. That’s different.

So what you have under the IAEA is what’s called managed access or an access structure. But we negotiated something that doesn’t exist in any other agreement, and that is a resolution of a standoff. If they are not allowing us the access that we need in order to properly determine whether a suspicious site or some site where we have activities that we have questions about, that that is being accessed – if that doesn’t happen, we have a specific process by which we can go to the United Nations Security Council, we can bring back all the sanctions, and we can literally order inspection; and if they don’t comply, they are in material breach of this agreement. That’s never happened before.

QUESTION: The former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer has told us – he said this is a plan that’s “highly dependent on the attitude and the aggressiveness of the international inspectors.” And he says they are going to be under enormous political pressure not to be too hard on Iran.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I disagree completely. I think it’s the exact opposite. They’re going to be under enormous pressure to hold Iran accountable and to let the world see that we get the answers that we need. There is nothing in this agreement, Judy, that is based on trust. Every aspect of this agreement is, in fact, based on verification, on the ability to be able to know what is happening.

QUESTION: Another aspect of this, Mr. Secretary, are these past military-related nuclear activities. Mr. Duelfer was telling us – he said the ability of inspectors to get access to these dozen or so sites is still highly uncertain, even – and he’s read the agreement, has talked to others about it. He said it’s still not clear if the Administration has --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re not all sites. First of all --

QUESTION: -- that kind of access.

SECRETARY KERRY: First of all, they aren’t all sites that have to be visited. There are some sites and there are some people that need to be talked to and other investigation that needs to take place. There is a plan that has been signed by Iran and the IAEA which Director General Amano has declared he is satisfied that will allow them to resolve the issues of PMD, and under that, there is access to certain sites that has been negotiated as part of the PMD plan.

So we have confidence that the IAEA will be able to get the answers on a very specific schedule that they need, and no relief – no sanctions relief will be given to Iran until that is done, they’ve made a report about that particular phase of what they’re doing, and then there will be ongoing efforts by the IAEA to determine what we call the broad conclusion, which is whether or not Iran is engaged in any activities in undeclared or declared sites with respect to weaponization. That takes a longer period of time, and the IAEA is satisfied they’ll be able to make that determination.

QUESTION: You’ve emphasized that this was just a deal about Iran’s nuclear program. It wasn’t intended to get at anything else. And yet, as you know, there is concern that Iran will take some of that money that they’re going to get from the frozen assets that are now being unfrozen, that they’ll use it on – some of it to create mischief, more mischief in the area: give some of it to Hizballah, some of it to the Shiite militias in Yemen, and so forth.


QUESTION: What is the U.S. prepared to do about that? How do you see that playing out?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re going to clamp down. They’re not allowed to do that. They’re not allowed to do that outside even of this agreement. There is a UN resolution that specifically applies to them not being allowed to transfer it to Hizballah. They are specifically not allowed under another UN resolution to transfer to the Shia militia in Iraq. They are specifically not allowed to transfer to the Houthis.

And I will be meeting with all of the Gulf states in about two weeks in Doha, and we are laying down – and Secretary Carter is meeting with them in Riyadh next week – we are laying down the steps we will take to work with our friends and allies in the region to push back against this behavior.

Now, with respect to the money, I can’t tell you that some amount of money might not find its way to some – but I’ll tell you something. None of what they’re doing today, around which they have been pretty successful, is a reflection of money. Iran’s total budget for the military is about $15 billion a year. The Gulf states are spending $130 billion a year. So there’s something else going on. This is about organization, about capacity, and what we’re going to do is build the capacity of other states in the region to be able to push back.

In addition to that, and this is very important, our intelligence community has done a full analysis of Iran’s fiscal needs, monetary needs. President Rouhani needs to deliver to the Iranian people. They have high expectations from this deal for a change in their lifestyle. Iran needs to spend $300 billion just to bring their oil industry capacity back to where it was five years ago. They have a $900 billion need of expenditure for their banks, for arrearages, for infrastructure. So $100 billion – which is their money, by the way, which we’ve frozen and they then get --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- is the price you pay for achieving no nuclear weapon. You have a choice: Are you prepared to do what the UN resolution says, which is lift the sanctions over a period of time in return for their negotiating, where, by the way, they didn’t just come to the negotiations, they have cut a deal? Or do you want to go to war?

Because the alternative to this deal is they will do whatever they want. We will lose the sanctions. We will lose the support of the global community. If the Congress of the United States turns this down, there will be conflict in the region because that’s the only alternative. The ayatollah, if the United States says no, will not come back to the table and negotiate, and who could blame him under those circumstances?

QUESTION: Two other quick points. Number one: What do you see the U.S. doing in this new relationship with Iran? Do you see the U.S. working not only in parallel with Iran, but working for the same purpose to try to bring stability to the region?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the truth is we just don’t know. This was a nuclear agreement because we believe that getting to a place where Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon was essential priority number one, because in the pushback against these other activities, you are clearly better off pushing back against an Iran that doesn’t have a nuclear weapon rather than one that has one.

So we haven’t negotiated these other issues. We don’t know yet whether or not what President Rouhani said – which is welcomed, by the way; I thought the president – President Rouhani made important statements about their willingness to work on regional stability. And my counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif, made very important comments to me about the willingness to do that. But we won’t know until we go down this road, implement this agreement, and work on the possibilities of some of those other issues.

QUESTION: A related question: Even friends of the Administration are saying that the – that this president, you, have to work now to re-establish normal relations with Israel again, that those have been badly frayed by this Iran agreement.

SECRETARY KERRY: I talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. I’ve talked to him regularly throughout this process. And we are absolutely, by far more linked day to day in the security relationship with Israel than in any time in history. President Obama is prepared to upgrade that, to work to do more to be able to address specific concerns. But we still believe that Israel will be safer with a one-year breakout for the 10 years than two months.

Now, there’s no alternative being provided by all these other people. They all say, “Oh, why didn’t you crush them with the sanctions?” I’ll tell you why: because they won’t be crushed by sanctions. That’s been proven. And because we’ll lose the other people who are helping to provide those sanctions. They’re not going to do that if Iran is willing to make a reasonable agreement.

So there’s a lot of fantasy out there about this “better deal.” The fact is that we spent four years putting together an agreement that had the consent of Russia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Iran. That is not easy, and I believe the agreement we got withstands scrutiny and will deliver an Iran that cannot get a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Finally, are you – any doubt in your mind the supreme leader will endorse this? And any chance the Administration will delay that vote in the UN Security Council?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we can’t. We can’t delay the vote in the Security Council, but it was structured in a way to completely respect the prerogatives of Congress.

QUESTION: The supreme leader? Any doubt that he will endorse this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can’t – I don’t – if he decides not to do this, then that solves a lot of problems for people on the Hill. And it solves a lot of problems for those who think this doesn’t meet their standard. And I think it creates serious problems for Iran. I doubt that will happen, but I’m not going to vouch for any choices that Iran may or may not make.

QUESTION: Secretary John Kerry, we thank you for talking with us.

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