Interview With Rev. Al Sharpton of "Keeping it Real" on MSNBC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Via Teleconference
September 3, 2015

QUESTION: Hello? Will, let me hold you one minute. I want to break in and I have my call-in from the State Department. I believe we’re being joined by the Secretary of State, John Kerry, who has come on the line. Secretary Kerry?

SECRETARY KERRY: Reverend Al, how are you? Good to hear your voice.

QUESTION: Good, good. Thank you, you called right on time. We’ll be taking some calls. Thank you for taking time and --

SECRETARY KERRY: Of course, I’m happy to talk to you. Happy to catch up to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, happy to – we go back a little while (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, sir, we do.

QUESTION: Let me ask you to explain to our listeners around the country the importance of this agreement, because we’ve been urging people to tell their pastors, announce in their churches, their gatherings, to call members of Congress and the Senate to tell them to vote yes with the President and you and the Administration on this agreement. Explain the significance, particularly in areas where we have an inordinate or disproportionate amount of people that are in the armed services.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, absolutely. I’m delighted to do so. Look, I heard the last bit of the – Will’s comment about wasn’t sure this would help Iran get rid of a nuclear weapon. We are sure that this program, this agreement, actually rolls back the Iranian program from where it is today, and it puts additional inspectors into Iran. It creates a system of accountability to know what Iran is doing with respect to its so-called peaceful nuclear program, and it makes sure that it is peaceful because there’ll be additional inspectors going into Iran, because they have a right to 24/7 access to their facilities to be able to track what is happening. We have a reduction in the Iranian stockpile that they’re allowed to keep of 300 kilograms and a limit on their enrichment for 15 years at 3.67 percent. It’s physically impossible to make a bomb at that level of a stockpile or at that level of enrichment. And then for 25 years, Al, we have tracking of the uranium production from their mines into their mills, into their nuclear materials – the yellowcake, the gas – into the centrifuge and then out in the waste. So we track it from cradle to grave.

And the result will be we’ll have a level of accountability that has not existed. The choice of voting no is to have none of those things: no inspections, no limitations, no inspectors, no requirements on the size of their stockpile. Iran will be free to go enrich, do what it wants, and that’s how you begin to have a conflict. And I don’t want to see, the President doesn’t want to see more young Americans being sent over to fight because we made the wrong decision about how we could diplomatically put in place a program that could account for what they’re doing.

QUESTION: Now, you know, Secretary Kerry, it is political season and you’ve been in the Senate, both of us ran for president in ’04 – you became the nominee and we campaigned for you. So we know about campaign rhetoric. Some of the Republican candidates are saying Iran has gotten all it wants here. One said that the ayatollah and others would be dancing in the street if they believed in dancing. Is there any measure of truth to these – the two – that we gave up too much to Iran in your judgment here?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, in Iran, the – they are fighting, suggesting that their negotiators gave up too much to us. They’re arguing that they shouldn’t have had to destroy some of their stockpile or they shouldn’t have to dismantle their centrifuges. I mean, Iran has to do major steps to take the breakout time – there’s a thing called breakout time, which is the amount of time that Iran would need to have enough fissile material for one bomb – not the bomb itself, but enough fissile material for the bomb. That’s been around two months during these last years. Under our program, under our agreement, that’s going to stretch out to a year for 10 years or more, and we will have an extraordinary set of limits on their ability to go break out at all thereafter because we will have this level of inspection – the intrusive inspections that take place.

So we didn’t give up any fundamental principle whatsoever here. The President said we have to shut off their pathway to an enrichment track for a bomb; we have. We have to shut off their plutonium track; we’ve done that with a reactor that’s going to be destroyed. And we have to shut off the covert approach, and we’ve done that through the access agreement that we have, which allows us to require inspection wherever we have a suspicion of a nuclear facility. And if they don’t let us in, then we have every option available to us that we have today. We haven’t lost a thing.

QUESTION: How did you react to those that have said – namely former Vice President Cheney – that this makes Iran the stronger power in the Middle East, and that somewhere he has accused the Administration of making it their goal to strengthen Iran in the region?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s very ironic coming from a guy who invaded Iraq and basically took the Sunni leadership of Iraq, threw them out, and gave Iraq to the Shia majority, which has huge, close ties to Iran. So if you want to talk about strengthening Iran, go back and look at what happened in the Iraq War and the decision Cheney made, and particularly how wrong he was about what he said about them possessing weapons of mass destruction.

So I really don’t listen very carefully to that particular judgment, if you want to know the truth. The fact is that Iran will have to live up to these agreements, and we have an inspection mechanism put in place that is so intrusive and complete that we will know what Iran is doing. And if Iran decides they want to try to break this – I’m not telling you they might not, but if they do, we will know it and we will have all the options available to us that we have today. I think to say vote no and willfully turn your backs on the international community that supports what we’re doing, to take the five countries that negotiated with us – Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia – and tell them, “Sorry, guys, we’re going to go do something else” and think that you’re going to put sanctions in place or have their support in the future if you needed to take military action just doesn’t make sense.

So I think that it is very clear that we got an agreement – there are 29 or 30 major nuclear scientists and physicists in America, nuclear experts, who’ve all congratulated the President for this agreement. We have admirals and generals who are retired who agree this is the best way to prevent them from getting a weapon. We have a former national security advisor to President Bush, Brent Scowcroft, who has supported this agreement. We have Republican Senator Dick Lugar; Republican Senator John Warner, who was chairman of the Armed Services Committee, supports the agreement. I think we got a good agreement, and we wouldn’t earn the support of all those people if it wasn’t a good agreement.

QUESTION: Well, I thank you for taking time to come on, Secretary Kerry, and always good to speak with you. We’re going to continue our drive because we think it’s in the interests of all of us, not only in the United States but around the world, to try and deal with the question of the potential of nuclear weapons in Iran. Thank you, Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you so much, Reverend Al. Take care. Thanks.

QUESTION: All right.