Interview with Dave Davies of WHYY Philadelphia Radio

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

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, welcome to Philadelphia. Thanks for being with us. I want to begin by playing an excerpt of an ad that viewers in this area and around the country have been hearing about this agreement.

RECORDING: The Iran nuclear deal – good deal or bad deal? Restrictions end after 10 years, then Iran could build a nuclear weapon in two months.

QUESTION: And that’s an ad, of course, sponsored by a group associated with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. Tell me, what – which of the criticisms of this agreement do you find most bothersome?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the ad itself is completely incorrect. It’s completely nonfactual; it’s fiction. The answer is they can’t build a bomb in two months. They’re not even close to being able to do that. They could have enough fissile material to be available, but they’d still have to do the building and the design and they’re quite far away from that. So that’s just not correct, number one.

Number two, there is not a 10-year cutoff. That is just absolutely false and incorrect. There is no sunset in this. There is a 10-year period during which they have to keep a one-year breakout time, and at the end of that 10 years that begins to change, but they’re still subject to all kinds of inspections and restraints. For 15 years they have to have a 300-kilogram limit on their stockpile. They are not allowed to enrich beyond 3.67 percent, and you can’t make a bomb at that level. That’s a restraint for 15 years. For 20 years there will be televised tracking of all of their centrifuge production, and while that’s happening, for 25 years there will be tracking of all of their uranium production from the mill to the grave.

So there are huge additional restraints. And then those additional restraints, they still will be subject to what’s called the Additional Protocol and all the requirements of inspection under the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty – Non-Proliferation Treaty forever. Forever. There is no sunset to this agreement.

QUESTION: But your answer bespeaks the technicalities and complexities of this agreement. There’s a lot to it, which means people can spin it a lot of ways.

SECRETARY KERRY: Right, right.

QUESTION: Why do you – I mean, there were some recent polls that show very strong disapproval among voters nationally. Why do you think that --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s very simple – because millions of dollars have been spent in the kind of ad that you just described. And we, the government, don’t spend money, can’t spend money. There’s not a commensurate amount of energy being put into support for it. So it’s just a disparity in who’s hearing what. But when people are – this is why I’m coming to Philadelphia today. It’s why I will be speaking at 11 o’clock at the Constitution Center to lay out this agreement so people really have a chance to hear the facts and learn more about it.

QUESTION: A lot of people pay attention to Israel’s opinion. My understanding is that both Labor and Likud oppose the agreement. Why do you think they’re misreading their own interests, if you think they are?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there are – I have great respect and I have great friendships in Israel, and the prime minister and I are friends and we talk frequently, and I respect their concern and I respect their distrust – deep distrust of Iran. But I think they’re just interpreting certain things incorrectly, and I have had that discussion with them. We disagree about some of the impacts of certain choices here.

But it’s a disagreement not just between us; there are over a hundred nations that support this agreement and only one nation that opposes it. There are countless nuclear physicists, experts, nonproliferation entities that support this agreement. There’s bipartisan support for this agreement. Former National Security Advisor to George Bush Brent Scowcroft supports it. Former Senators John Warner, who was chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Dick Lugar, who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republicans both, support this agreement.

So I think as people learn more about it and they hear about it, a lot of the frankly straightforward distortions and mischaracterizations get cleared up.

QUESTION: We’ve had two senators in our region – Chris Coons and Bob Casey – come out to say they will support it in congressional votes. One Democrat who opposes it is New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. He says his problem is that the agreement is based on hope, a part of human nature, but not on national security strategy. What do you say to the senator?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I respectfully disagree with him. It is not based on hope. It is based – there isn’t one element of this agreement that is based on hope or on trust. It is based on a process of verification of specific requirements that have to be lived up to.

Let me give you an example: We’re starting at a place where Iran could have enough fissile material for one bomb in a matter of months. They already do have enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs. They’re required by this agreement to undo that, to destroy that stockpile for the most part, down to 300 kilograms. They have today 19,000 centrifuges; by this agreement, they’re required to actually dismantle and take out of operation two-thirds of those centrifuges that do the enriching. So, I mean, they have a plutonium heavy-water reactor. They have to take the core of the reactor out and put cement in it and destroy it.

These are the things that will happen with this agreement. And so it’s not a question of trust and hope. There are specific steps that Iran has to take, and if they don’t take them, we will measure that because we’re putting an additional 150 inspectors into Iran who will determine what is and what isn’t happening. So we will know what is happening, and if Iran breaks this agreement then we will have earned the respect and the support of the rest of the world to do whatever it is we need to do to hold Iran accountable.

QUESTION: You spent so many years in the Senate. When you talk to members of Congress and hear their objections, are they substantive or is this about politics?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think – I’m very proud of the Democrats who have taken the time to really review this and who have looked at it with great, in-depth briefings and a huge concern to find out what it does, and they’ve been coming out slowly, one at a time, making their judgments. I regret that many senators, unfortunately, on the other side of the aisle, before the ink was dry, before they had even read the agreement, were saying the worst things about it without even knowing what the agreement did or didn’t do.

So I think there obviously have been some politics in this, but I think by and large, the members are looking at it hard on its merits, they are trying to make a substantive decision, and I respect that it’s a difficult one, and nobody is trying to allege that the process certainly in these last weeks of briefings and of in-depth discussions is anything but serious.

QUESTION: Finally, as I understand it, there’s a September 17th deadline for Congress to act to disapprove this deal. If they are unable to get a veto-proof measure enacted by then, is it done? Will this not continue into the heart of the election season?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, this is going to be resolved, I believe, in the next days. I mean, I think you’re right about the date of the 17th. There’ll be a healthy debate, people will be able to dig into this, the country will hear more about the facts, and then there’ll be a vote of one kind or another. I think there’s a procedural vote about going forward. Our hope is simply to keep winning votes. I can’t tell you what the numbers will be. That’s why I’m going to Philadelphia today to talk about the facts behind this speech, and we’re going to do everything we can to try to persuade as many people as possible.

QUESTION: And who is your audience in your speech today at the Constitution Center? Who are you trying to persuade?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m trying to talk to all Americans as well as to the members of Congress who are undecided, I mean, and to other people in the world. I mean, people need to know what this agreement does, what it doesn’t do, what our judgments are based on, and they need to have a sense of how this makes Israel, how it makes the Gulf states, how it makes the region, and how it makes the world safer.

Our goal, the President’s goal, is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, ever. We believe this agreement does the best job you can do to guarantee that goal. It is not a certainty that Iran will live by every part of this. I can’t tell you that. What I can tell you is we will know if they aren’t and we will have every option available to us then to take action as we do today. And we owe it to the world to try to give the diplomatic process and an agreement an opportunity to be able to work before rushing into a conflict situation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it. Thanks so much.

QUESTION: Okay. Take care.