Interview With Setareh Derakhshesh of VOA Persian

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
July 20, 2015

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for talking to the Voice of America Persian.

SECRETARY KERRY: Delighted. Thank you.

QUESTION: If I may, I would like to start with the UN Security Council today. There was a vote and they passed a resolution on the Iran nuclear deal. Does this vote mean that Iran has stopped being a pariah state in the eyes of the international community?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, what the vote means is that people are hopeful that the transformation is going to take place over the course of the next months and years. They’re voting for the agreement; they’re voting to support what Iran and six other nations agreed on in Vienna, and I think it’s an expression of confidence in that agreement, and it’s an expression of hope for the future – for Iran, for the rest of the world. Obviously, that agreement is based on the hope that the nuclear problem will be resolved, that Iran will become a nation in good standing with the rest of the international community. But it’s going to be proven not by a vote and not by the words. It’s going to be proven by the actions over the course of the next implementation of the agreement.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that there will be some transformation. When the deal was announced last week, inside Iran people came out to the streets. They poured into the streets. They wanted to show their joy; they were celebrating. Do you think it was too early, considering that the U.S. Congress has to review the deal? And also inside Iran, the Iran’s supreme national security council has to approve it, and also the Majlis.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, I don’t think it’s ever too early for people to express their feelings and to be heard about how they feel about an agreement. Maybe that will have some impact on other people looking at this and they’ll understand how the people of Iran feel about it. So I hope it’s a message that’s a positive one, but I wouldn’t say it’s too early. I hope that Congress will see the possibilities of this and that the Supreme Council will see the possibilities.

QUESTION: You negotiated the deal as an exclusively nuclear issue. You did not get into other issues. Yet Iranians have high expectations from this deal, and they are hoping and they’re expecting that their economy will change, their lifestyle will change, their everyday life will change. Are you concerned that those people with such high expectations would be disappointed?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think that if the deal goes through and is fully implemented, the people of Iran are going to see an improved standard of living; they’ll see sanctions lifted off of them that have prevented commerce, trade, travel, investment, all these other things. So a lot of good things can happen if this deal is fully implemented.

QUESTION: And what would you say to those who are hoping and who are expecting that this deal would help support the people who are for democratic reforms? It doesn’t seem that the gates of the Evin prison are going to be opening anytime soon.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, this deal – as we said before, if we had chosen any number of issues between Iran and the world community or between the United States and Iran, we’d have been negotiating for 10 years and never gotten anywhere. And we didn’t have that kind of time because of the nuclear issue and where the progress was. We needed to negotiate exclusively on nuclear. And as it is, that took four years. So it was a very complicated, very difficult issue. And I think that obviously the United States of America will never stop believing in democracy and in people’s rights, human rights, and always stand for that. But this deal needed to get the nuclear issue off the table because we were threatened with the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the entire region, and nobody benefits from that.

So we took a priority and we focused on the priority. We eliminated the potential of conflict over the nuclear weapons providing it is accepted by Congress, accepted by the Majlis, and implemented. If that happens, I think the world will be a safer place.

QUESTION: You mentioned, sir, that it was complicated, and there are many complex steps that need to be implemented. Now, the process is going to be long, and some people inside Iran are concerned that because of this process, the United States is not going to be too hard on Iran as far as human rights issues are concerned, or the issue of the four Americans who are wrongfully imprisoned.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we’re – we will never, ever stop, first of all, raising the issue of the Americans who are held, but also standing up for people’s rights. That’s who we are in our country. But we also have to deal with other issues simultaneously. I mean, unfortunately, in the world of diplomacy and foreign affairs, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one issue and saying, “This is the most important thing; we’re not going to do anything else.” You can’t ignore what’s happening in Syria. You can’t ignore what’s happening in Iraq or what’s happening in Yemen or what’s happening in Egypt or in the Sinai or – all of these issues compound themselves.

And so we, involved in public life and in diplomacy in today’s world, have a very complicated mosaic that we’re trying to put together, bring the pieces together. It’s not easy. And in the end, it will be – those issues will be resolved through agreements like the one that we reached with Iran. But we have to fight for it.

QUESTION: Sir, if I may, I want to turn to Congress. You will be on Capitol Hill this week --


QUESTION: -- and you will be facing bipartisan skeptics from Congress.


QUESTION: They seem to remain unconvinced. What is your battle plan, sir, and are you going to bring anything new – any new arguments – so you can defend the deal?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m going to tell the truth about the deal. There are many people who frankly – some of them had opposed it before they even read it. I mean, many of them admitted they hadn’t read the deal when they started opposing it. Some people just oppose the idea of doing a deal with Iran. But I think when people really look at what is gained here, when they see that this is a possibility of actually doing away with a potential of a nuclear weapon, and that perhaps opening up the possibilities of other good things happening, of a new relationship, I think people will see the benefit of it.

Obviously, there is a very powerful group of voices who are opposed to it, who spend a lot of money in opposition to it, and that’s been heard. But I believe – I’m glad we have the 60 days. I think it will give time for people to really reflect and see that if you don’t let this agreement go forward, you could be choosing conflict and war. That could be the alternative. Because if we don’t have this agreement, then I believe the Ayatollah would say, “Why should I negotiate with these guys? They haven’t delivered. They don’t do it.” Why would our colleagues in the world support the sanctions when they say the sanctions were supposed to be to get an agreement, but they got one and now they’ve walked away? So the whole thing comes apart, with great danger to the region.

QUESTION: Sir, you mentioned the Ayatollah. On Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei stressed that we do not negotiate with the U.S. about different global and regional issues. He said that we do not negotiate about bilateral issues. And he even said that the slogan “Death to America” are still going to be heard in the streets of Tehran. Does this mean that the embassy right here on Massachusetts Avenue will remain closed, that there will not be any U.S.-Iran cultural relations, and that none of the businesses from the United States is going to go to Iran anytime soon? So if I may --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we have to – obviously, we have to explore it. I mean, on its face it would seem that way. I mean, the statement was pretty negative and pretty dramatic, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. But I am an optimist in global affairs, and I am somebody who believes that what you hear today you may not hear in two months or 10 months or whatever. I just don’t know. And for the moment, that’s not our – that’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the nuclear deal, and we will do what we have to do to push back against other activities if we think they interfere with the security of our friends or with our security. We will do what we need to do.

QUESTION: My last question, sir, is that we talked about high expectations from inside Iran. When do you think, realistically, that this deal is going to start working, and when do people – do you think that they will see real changes in their lives? Is it going to --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Congress has 60 days, so September 19th there should – by then sometime there should have been a vote. If that has happened, that becomes the day that the deal begins to kick in, and then after that there are certain things that Iran needs to do and the IAEA needs to do. And those things have to be resolved – all of them – before the sanctions begin to be relieved.

So you’re looking at somewhere about six months or so. It’s hard to say exactly. It depends what happens. But I don’t think there would be much felt before that. But I think September will be the critical moment when people begin to learn whether or not this will be, in fact, implemented.

QUESTION: And does this include medicine? Does it include easier travel for Iranians to the United States?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it includes the potential of travel, but what it includes immediately is the lifting of specific sanctions on finance, on banking, on the movement of goods. Foodstuffs will be allowed to be sold from Iran – pistachios, carpets, other foodstuffs – I mean, those things will be able to be sold. So it’s opening up some things, but not everything yet. The primary embargo still remains in place.

QUESTION: So the long-term trajectory is positive between the United States and Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: The long-term trajectory has the possibility of being positive, providing Congress passes this and providing the Majlis and the national security council accepts this and we implement it. If we implement this, then we are on a path to perhaps opening up a set of opportunities. If it is not implemented, we’re going to have a lot of problems and perhaps even the possibility of conflict. And I find that very tragic, and I hope that we will succeed in persuading people why this agreement actually prevents conflict, provides for security for the region, and will prevent the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for accepting to do this interview with us.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. My pleasure. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it. Thanks a lot.