Interview with Matt O'Donnell of ABC/WPVI-TV 6 Philadelphia

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Philadelphia, PA
September 2, 2015

QUESTION: So we’ll just get right into it. First of all, everything about politics is strategy, and we were trying to figure out, why are you coming to Philadelphia to give this speech? And yesterday we thought maybe it was Senator Casey. He’s falling in line with you now. So I’ll ask you, why did you choose Philadelphia to give this speech?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we thought Philadelphia would be a terrific place, right in between Washington, New York, its history with the Constitution and the formation of our country. It’s a good place to talk about really serious issues. And I thought that also we had a group of senators and congressmen in the region, if you look both north, New York and south, Virginia, that we want to talk to. So I think it’s a great place to come to.

QUESTION: We have, in terms of our Jewish population, almost a quarter of a million people in our Philadelphia area. And I’m sure some of them would like for me to ask you a question this way, so I will. If we were where Israel is, less than a thousand miles away from Iran, would we feel as strongly or – as strongly as you feel about this deal?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a very appropriate question, and I will speak today very directly to the fears of Israel and Israelis, which I understand very, very well. I speak regularly to Prime Minister Netanyahu – in fact, I think we may be talking in the next hours or days – and I understand his concern about Iran. But this agreement is not based on trust. It is not based on hope. It is based on a very specific set of requirements that Iran must live up to. And it is our belief deeply that this will make Israel safer.

It already has made Israel safer because Iran was rushing towards a nuclear program which had no controls, no visibility, no restraints and where the amount of time to be able to produce enough fissile material for one bomb was down to two months. We will now stretch that out. We’ve already stretched it out.

We’ve reduced their stockpile. We have limited their centrifuges. We have blocked the road to the Iraq plutonium reactor. And when people ask us, okay, once all those early restraints are gone, what is there? What is there is an enormous inspection team – 150 additional people will be going into Iran, a set of requirements that Iran must live up to, the Additional Protocol under the IAEA which allows inspections, allows access forever, forever. At no time is Iran allowed to engage in weaponization activities or in moving towards a bomb. And if they do start, we will know it. And we will know it because of the level of intrusive inspection and visibility on their program. We’re confident of that.

So what we believe is this is the best way to try to rein in a program that had no restraints, no limitations, no inspections, and it is going to keep the international community focused, in unity, on what Iran is doing. If we unilaterally were to say no to this agreement now, we lose all the international support, we have none of the visibility, and we have all of the risks.

QUESTION: I understand what you’re saying about trust, Mr. Secretary. But as a country, Iran has called us the great Satan. It fought with its neighbors. Its leaders have called for the destruction of Israel. So beyond trust, why should we be dealing with a country like this in the first place?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we dealt with the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan sat down with the Soviet Union, the evil empire, and Ronald Reagan negotiated an arms control agreement that made America safer. That’s exactly what we’re doing here.

There’s no illusion about Iran’s bad activities in the region. In fact, we included in the agreement a continuation of the restraints on their ballistic missiles, on their missile activity, continuation of the arms restrictions, but we also have other UN resolutions that apply to those activities which are outside of this agreement which allow us to continue to prevent them from moving weapons to Hizballah, from engaging with the militia in Iraq, from sending weapons to the Houthi in Yemen.

So we have a lot of tools at our disposal, Matt, and I believe without any question this agreement will actually heighten the visibility on Iran, it will galvanize international support to hold them accountable, and it will provide much greater insight as to what they’re doing. That makes Israel and the region safer.

QUESTION: Can you say it would be impossible for Iran to still build a bomb behind our back?

SECRETARY KERRY: Under the agreement, we believe all the pathways to a bomb are shut off. Now it’s not impossible for them to go build it, but we will know that they are, and that will --

QUESTION: There’s no way they could do it --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, and I’ll tell you what --

QUESTION: -- sneakily underneath a mountain in a facility that we’re not watching?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you see the key is in order to build a bomb you have to have fissionable material, uranium enriched to a high level – 90 percent or so. Under this agreement, they are restricted in the level of enrichment they’re allowed to engage in. And any movement towards a higher level of enrichment will send off all alarm bells. And no, it’s not possible for them to do that without our knowing it.

It’s also not possible for them to have a completely secret – and I will talk about this today in my speech – impossible for them to have a completely secret separate mining facility, separate centrifuge production facility, separate secret weaponization facility. It’s just not possible for them to do that.

So I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they will live by this. I don’t know that. I know that we will know if they’re not. That’s the key. And I know that it is better to put them to the test of whether or not they live by this than to move immediately to a situation where we go right back to where we were, where we have no controls, no insight, no visibility, no restraint, no demands, and we lose the international support for what we’re trying to do. That’s why I believe it is overwhelmingly, powerfully clear that we are better by putting this agreement to the test than by unilaterally refusing it and walking away.

QUESTION: Iran’s president supports a deal. Iran’s supreme leader supports a deal. And us looking at their view, some would say, well, that agreement must not be so great because Iran likes it.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they don’t like it, actually. And our intel community will tell any senator who wants to listen that there is a huge fight in Iran itself. The hardliners in Iran do not like this agreement. They are against it. President Rouhani, who had ran on a very different platform to try to change Iran and have it move and rejoin the world, is for this agreement. But the hardest liners of all in Iran are the IRGC, the forces of their military, their special Republican Guard. And that group is very much opposed to this agreement, and they are the people who engage in most of these nefarious activities in the region.

QUESTION: Last question and I’ll let you go. I guess I shouldn’t ask you if people have been asking you to run for president because you wouldn’t tell me anyway, but some say that there is talk in Washington that perhaps a John Kerry candidacy should happen next year.

SECRETARY KERRY: Not happening. I have no plans to do that. We have great candidates running already, and been there, done that.

QUESTION: People have asked you, though?

SECRETARY KERRY: People have asked, yes, and there’s interest. But that’s not on my dance card.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks. Appreciate it. Good to be with you.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Good luck with your speech.