Interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
September 2, 2015

QUESTION: Joining us now, Secretary of State John Kerry, whose name, Mr. Secretary, keeps coming up --

QUESTION: It does. It keeps coming up.

QUESTION: -- in dinner conversations across the country, saying he should run for President.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, he already did. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Good sense of humor. Again, again.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. And you came very close, and I think that’s why people are saying he needs – no wait, seriously.

QUESTION: That’s cute.

QUESTION: Everywhere Mika and I go, everybody --

QUESTION: I’ve heard it. It comes up.

QUESTION: -- your name keeps coming up.

QUESTION: Just saying.

QUESTION: But that will be another conversation.


QUESTION: We’ve got some big business for you. We – you heard the Vice President – Vice President Cheney speak before. I want to bring up one of the issues that he brought up that we hear an awful lot about. And I know you’ve heard an awful lot about this also from worried lawmakers. Does this deal not encourage Sunni Arab states, especially the Saudis and the UAE, possibly Egypt, Turkey, to join the arms race?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t believe so. In fact, Joe, I really believe the fastest way to a genuine arms race in the Middle East is not to have this agreement, because if you don’t have this agreement Iran has already made clear what its direction is. And that is a direction that is only slowed down or stopped by this agreement.

In other words, if there are no inspections, if there’s no regime by which they have to roll back their current program, if there is no insight to their program day to day, if we don’t have the additional 150 inspectors going into Iran, if we don’t have requirements under international law that they have to allow us access to be able to inspect a suspicious site, that is what will provoke each of those nations to say uh-oh, these guys are free and moving in a direction we know, therefore we have to rush to do it. It is precisely the opposite of what the former Vice President said. It is because we have this agreement fully implemented – and I emphasize fully implemented – if this agreement is in place, we will know to a certainty what Iran is doing. And that precludes any necessity for any of those countries to proceed forward to chase a weapon on their own.


SECRETARY KERRY: That’s why more than a hundred nations that have come out and taken a position on this say this is a good agreement and they support it, and only one nation is opposed.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s why so many people around the world believe this is the good agreement that we’ve talked about.

QUESTION: Which leads to the second concern that the Vice President brought up, and not just the Vice President but a lot of people brought up, and that is yes, if the Iranians stick to the terms of this agreement it does push off the day at least a decade. But what have you seen during these negotiations that would lead you to believe they aren’t going to see the sanctions lifted, take the money, and then walk away from the deal three years from now?

SECRETARY KERRY: They’re in very serious trouble if they do that. I mean, first of all --

QUESTION: What are the ramifications --

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me explain.

QUESTION: -- of that action?

SECRETARY KERRY: I will tell you that, Joe, but let me just explain first of all where we are. Before we began negotiations, Iran had already mastered the fuel cycle. Iran had 19,000 centrifuges. Iran had 12,000 kilograms of a stockpile of fissile material, which is enough for 10 to 12 bombs. That’s before we began. Iran is already a threshold nation. This fear that is being expressed by opponents – oh my gosh, this agreement is going to allow them to become a threshold nation in 15 years – is completely misplaced because they already are that threshold nation. And the question is: What are we going to do about it today?

I was really interested to hear Liz Cheney say two things. One, she invoked Mika’s father, Zbig Brzezinski, as an example of how to do things. Well, Zbig Brzezinski, I’m proud to say, is a strong supporter of this agreement.

She secondly said that this sunsets and even President Obama has admitted it. No, it never sunsets. There’s no sunset in this agreement. There is a 10-year extra-strong restraint on what they can do. There’s a 15-year restraint on what they can do. There’s a 20-year restraint. There’s a 25-year restraint which requires all their uranium to be tracked from the mine to the grave. But the Additional Protocol and the requirement to live under access and inspection is for the lifetime of this agreement. So Iran is never free to go move towards a weapon. That is just a misstatement that is repeated again and again and again by the opponents. They are never free to do this. And if we do the right job of inspecting, and Israel and the Gulf states and we and our friends – France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia – all are doing the right level of intelligence gathering, believe me, we will know what Iran is doing.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about a world potentially without an agreement, Mr. Secretary. How long would it be in your estimation, Secretary Moniz’s estimation who was in on the talks, Ambassador Sherman’s estimation who was in on the talks, and your allies in on the talks, how quickly would the Iranians get a nuclear weapon, get to a nuclear weapon without an agreement, and how quickly would money flow into Iran without an agreement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, without an agreement, Mike, money will flow immediately. There are countries chomping at the bit, obviously, to do business. By the way, that’s another misstatement by the opponents. I heard Liz Cheney say that hundreds of billions of dollars would flow. That is not accurate. There is a maximum of about 55 billion, and it’s not our money, it’s their money, and we don’t hold it in American banks. That is why the money will begin to flow. And countries will begin to do business and the sanctions will fall apart because people will look at this agreement and say, “Wait a minute. The United States has been enforcing the sanctions but they’re the ones who walked away from the agreement, so why should we live by the sanctions?”

I can’t tell you exactly how many months it would be before Iran – it depends on how many centrifuges they spin, on whether they decide to dig deeper into a mountain, hide their program more, try to avoid consequences. It could take them a little longer under those circumstances.

What I can tell you is if we walk away from this agreement, given the suspicions that the supreme leader had about even entering into negotiations with us, we will have proven their worst fears, that you can’t deal with the West, you can’t trust the West, therefore they have to go do what they have to do to protect themselves. And they will get a weapon one way or the other as a result of not accepting this agreement.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Harold Ford. Good morning.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning.

QUESTION: Two quick questions and some of the concerns that some have expressed. One, the anytime, anywhere inspections. It appears that the agreement calls for some 21 to 24-day notice that the Iranians will have before inspectors can come in. How do you answer that? And two, the idea that $100 to $200 billion will flow to the Iranians, and some of that money may find its way to Hamas, Hizballah, and other terrorist organizations.


QUESTION: What safeguards may be in the agreement to guard or protect against that, sir?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Harold, first of all, we have a number of restraints in the agreement itself and outside of the agreement that prevent the Iranians or allegedly prevent the Iranians. It hasn’t been enforced adequately, and that’s something the President is going to double-down on is making certain that the UN resolutions that prohibit the flow of weapons to Hizballah, for instance. That’s outside of this agreement, and we will enforce that. The flow of weapons to the Iraqi Shia militia, that is a UN resolution separate from this agreement. The flow of weapons to the Houthi in Yemen, that is separate from this agreement. And if those are properly enforced, Iran can be held accountable for its choices in the future.

But with respect to the 24 days, I’ve heard so many kind of off-the-wall comments about, well, they could flush it down the toilet or it can disappear in that period of time. We are talking about fissile material, nuclear material, enriched material. You cannot make a bomb without enriched material.

QUESTION: Correct.

SECRETARY KERRY: And fissile material cannot be hidden in a span of 24 days, 24 months, 24 years. This is something that can’t be eradicated. And our Energy Department and intel community has done experiments checking on ways to get rid of it. It’s impossible to do.


SECRETARY KERRY: We are confident that those 24 days are really a process; they’re not an end-time. I mean, they’re not a – it’s not a requirement that it be 24 days.


SECRETARY KERRY: There’s a 24-hour notification, and technically we could get access within 24 hours after that.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY KERRY: But the key here is that our technical people, our experts, are absolutely convinced that nothing can be hidden in that span of time that presents a threat.

QUESTION: All right. Mr. Secretary, we have to let you go, but before we do I’ve got a really quick and easy question for you. It shouldn’t take any longer than five seconds. The Israeli and Palestinian peace process. No, it’s not going to be about the Red Sox – that is an easy one to answer. (Laughter.) Not doing well.

SECRETARY KERRY: Not doing well.

QUESTION: But really quickly because Dr. Brzezinski, obviously, will be asking, “Why did you not ask him the question?” The Israeli – the Palestinian talks. Any – I know you’re in the middle of this, but any chance of future talks, any future progress in that important area?

SECRETARY KERRY: I believe – I believe there is a chance and I think it is imperative. We have not lost sight of that issue in one iota. It hasn’t been ripe during the last months for a number of different reasons. When this is finished, it’s our hope that there will be a way to try to proceed forward. I just read today that Prime Minister Netanyahu said he’s ready to have open negotiations with no strings attached, no preconditions. Let’s wait and see what happens.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY KERRY: But I think we have to get through the next weeks before we start talking about the rest of the agenda.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry. You know, that John Kerry, whenever he takes a job he goes for the small stuff.

QUESTION: The small stuff.

QUESTION: He likes to be around the edges.

QUESTION: Exactly.

QUESTION: Just getting by. Thank you.

QUESTION: I’m sure the talks are going to continue. Thank you, John.

QUESTION: Thank you for everything.

QUESTION: We appreciate it, Mr. Secretary.

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