Interview With Matt Lauer of NBC Today Show

John Kerry
Secretary of State
New York City
July 24, 2015

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, it’s great to have you here. Good morning.

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

QUESTION: “Bamboozled.” “Out-maneuvered.” “Out-negotiated.” Were you fleeced?

SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) There’s a lot of politics going on, Matt. The more people learn about this agreement, the more people actually are learning that this is the only viable alternative to be able to control Iran’s already existing nuclear program. People forget when President Obama came into office and when I became Secretary of State, Iran already had in the tens of thousands of centrifuges. They already had fissile material, enough for 10 to 12 bombs.

What we’ve done is roll that program back and provide a capacity to have inspectors going forward so we will know what Iran is doing.

QUESTION: Something else --

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s the only way to control it.

QUESTION: Something else people don’t forget is that Iran has cheated in the past.


QUESTION: They’ve violated international law. And I don’t know anybody who trusts them.

SECRETARY KERRY: There is no trust. No, no, no, this is not based on trust. That’s what’s important to understand. Everything in this agreement is verifiable. It is a process by which we will know what they’re doing. And if we don’t know what they’re doing, we have all the options available to us that we have today.

QUESTION: Except one of the most controversial aspects of this deal, Secretary Kerry, is if we suspect the Iranians are cheating and not abiding by the rules of this deal, and we think it’s happening at a certain site, they can wait 24 days before allowing international inspectors into that site. Why would we allow that to happen?

SECRETARY KERRY: Because nuclear material – the Department of Energy has done tests. They’ve had people sandblast, paint over, concrete, do everything to any kind of nuclear material; you can’t get rid of it. Years later, we have discovered nuclear material in places where people were trying to hide it. Twenty-four days is nothing compared to that ability.

QUESTION: But some experts with the IAEA say no, smaller portions of this program can be concealed and cleaned up in 24 days.

SECRETARY KERRY: But not fissile material. Not what you need to make a bomb. With respect to a bomb, you have to have fissile material. You have to have uranium that’s been enriched. You have to have it. And the only way to do that, Matt, is to go through the enrichment process – which by the way, we have a limitation on their enrichment process. Once they begin to enrich at a higher level, all the bells and whistles are going to go off, and that we will know because we have 24/7 inspection of that.

QUESTION: I’d just try to bring it down into some way that we can understand it. If the police in this city suspected some guys down the block were running a meth lab --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, but this is not drugs. This is nuclear material.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t – I know. But wouldn’t it be amazing if they called those people, say we think you’re doing that, and then wait 24 days to go in and look at it?

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s so different from that, Matt, and that is what people need to focus on. This is nuclear material. It is – it irradiates. It’s – you have the ability for, literally, a thousand years to be able to – I mean, this is not something that you can flush down the toilet. It’s not possible.

QUESTION: Israel hates this deal. They’ve made no bones about that.

SECRETARY KERRY: Some people do. No, the former head of Shin Bet believes this is a good deal. The former head of the Mossad believes it’s a good deal. The former head of the --

QUESTION: But the prime minister does not like this deal.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the prime minister doesn’t. I understand that. But there are lots of people in Israel who understand this is the best way to proceed in order to roll back Iran’s program and make Israel safer.

QUESTION: Do you think because many in Israel, including the prime minister, are very uncomfortable with this deal that it’s now making it more likely than two years ago, for example, that Israel might attempt some unilateral action, military or cyber attack, against Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that would be an enormous mistake, a huge mistake with grave consequences for Israel and for the region. And I don’t think it’s necessary. The fact is that we will have for 15 years a restraint on Iran that absolutely prevents it from developing a weapon. They can’t enrich beyond 3.67 percent. You can’t make a bomb at 3.67 percent. They will only have 300 kilograms of stockpile of enriched uranium. You can’t make a bomb with that. They will have inspections on a daily basis in their enrichment facilities. So we are --

QUESTION: If the Israelis are not convinced --

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re confident about this.

QUESTION: -- and they take that action, where would it leave us? Would we support Israel? Would this treaty go up in smoke?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if they bombed them, sure, I presume Iran would then have a reason to say, “Well, this is why we need a bomb.” And what Iran will decide to do is dig deeper because Israel does not have the ability, nor do we, to stop – unless we went to all-out war and literally annihilated Iran, which I don’t hear people talking about.

So if you proceed along a normal, reasonable military operation, you’re talking about rolling their program back for two to three years. Then what do you do? And if you did that, what will Iran’s response be? Mostly likely to decide, “Now you’ve proven why we need a bomb,” and they will dig deeper and go out and get it.

What people forget is, this is not something that may happen in the future, Matt. Iran already has enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs. They haven’t decided to make it; they haven’t done it yet. We’re rolling that back. That’s what makes the world safer. We have a one-year breakout for 10 years, which is eight months more than you have today. So we will have more time to respond. I mean, I think as people look at this they will see the alternative is to have no inspectors, not know what Iran is doing, go back to where they are today with the ability to make a bomb.


SECRETARY KERRY: And then you’re going to hear everybody say, “Uh-oh, we’ve got to go bomb them now.”

QUESTION: Since I have the current Secretary of State sitting across from me, let me ask you a question about Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State. As you’ve heard, two inspectors general have called for a criminal investigation into her use of that private email server for sensitive information. As someone who occupies the job and knows what information is handled by someone in your position, is this politics or is she in real trouble?

SECRETARY KERRY: I have – all I know is what I’ve read today and learned today, actually this morning. Inspector generals operate completely independently. That’s why they were put there. I don’t know what the gravamen in this is at all. What I do know is that in the State Department we have a whole team working extremely hard to get all of the required emails out, public, as fast as possible, and I can’t wait until that happens. I’m sure Hillary can’t either. And I’m sure it’ll be cleared up with the final release as we get that done. But we’re working very hard to get that done as fast as humanly possible.

QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, it’s always a pleasure to have you here.

SECRETARY KERRY: Glad to be with you.