Interview With Joe Scarborough of MSNBC's Morning Joe

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 18, 2016

QUESTION: And with us now we’ve got the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We greatly appreciate it.

SECRETARY KERRY: Glad to be with you, Joe.

QUESTION: We talked earlier to the Washington Post, David Ignatius obviously relieved at the release of his colleague. But he was talking from Tel Aviv about great unease in Israel and across the entire Arab world about the implementation of this deal. What would you say to our allies in Israel and across the Middle East to let them know that this actually is in their best interest as well as Iran’s best interest in the long run?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they are safer today. The world is safer today. Before we had this agreement, Iran had a completely invisible, unaccountable, unverified nuclear program. They had 19,000 centrifuges, they had enough nuclear material to make 10 to 12 bombs, and they were hurtling towards a program that was going to create inevitability of confrontation. Today that is not true. That is entirely reversed. Not only do we now have verification that is unprecedented, but they have rolled back their program, sent their nuclear material out of the country, destroyed their plutonium reactor, ceased any enrichment activities at the hidden Fordow facility, and allowed 130 additional inspectors from the IAEA to come into the country to verify this going forward. So there can be – we have gone from a two-month breakout period, Joe, to over a year’s breakout period now. So they are absolutely safer.

And the question now is, will we be able to work together with our allies to deal with the other issues that – of concern with respect to Iran? And there are other issues, and we have raised those with Iran. It is not sort of a fantasy on the part of the Saudi Arabians or others in the region that Iran’s activities in the region have been disquieting to everybody, including us, which is why the missile sanctions are left in place, the human rights sanctions are left in place. And we will continue now, I hope, to try to work at the resolution of those kinds of issues. I’m going to be in Saudi Arabia on Saturday this week. I met in London two days ago, three days ago with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia. We had a very good conversation about this.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the direction the Saudi Government has been going over the past two months?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think that – our hope is – no, we understand exactly why Saudi Arabia reacted the way it did and every country reacted the way it did. In fact, we joined in the United Nations, in the Security Council, in opposing what Iran had done with respect to the embassy and the attack that took place in Tehran. But I think that what we need to do now is work with all of our friends and allies in the region, which I will do and the President has absolutely commissioned all of us to engage diplomatically as much as possible, to now see if what President Rouhani said the other day is in fact going to be made real, can it be built on. He said he thought this was a moment for change. We now need to explore that.

QUESTION: Let’s bring in Richard Haass with the Council on Foreign Relations. Richard.

QUESTION: Morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, Richard.

QUESTION: Now that the Iranians are going to have access to significant resources that have heretofore been frozen, do you see any signs so far that there is any difference in their policy towards Syria, towards Lebanon, towards Yemen, that what you might call the imperial push of Iranian policy – why is there reason to think it would be muted now that they have access to resources that they didn’t have before?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t think anybody’s been running around beating their chest, saying all these things are going to be muted, Richard. But I want to take advantage of this just – in your question to make something crystal clear. Joe, I’ve heard you, I hear the Wall Street Journal, I hear people saying, “Oh, they’re going to get $100 billion. They’re going to get $150 billion.” No, they are not. That is a fictional number. I don’t know where it comes from. They will get about $55 billion over a period of time, and Iran has well over $500-$7, $800 million of requirements just to build its oil drilling capacity back – just to begin to build its infrastructure back. They have massive needs within their country, and we will be able to track where this money is going and what is happening with it. If, indeed, the IRGC continues activities which have been sanctionable in the past, they will be inviting further sanctions.

So this is a moment of test for everybody. But they are not --

QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary – so I just want – I want to clarify. We’ve heard – originally we heard $150 billion, and certainly not just from the Wall Street Journal or myself. But I mean, it’s been reported 150, it’s been reported – we saw $100 billion across news agencies across the world. You’re saying the number is closer to --

SECRETARY KERRY: The number --

QUESTION: -- $55 billion?

SECRETARY KERRY: That is correct. The number actually released by the lifting of these sanctions – now, what some people may be doing is calculating something that may come from a business deal with Airbus or a business deal with Renault automobile or --

QUESTION: You’re talking about calculating future deals, perhaps?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think that is possible. But the actual money released – the Treasury Department and others have scoped that very carefully.


SECRETARY KERRY: And they calculate it at $55 billion --

QUESTION: Well, that is --

SECRETARY KERRY: – over a period of time.

QUESTION: Over a period of time. Okay, well, that’s very good to know. Mike Barnicle.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how significant are the divisions within the Iranian leadership, and what degree of difficulty did those divisions, if they are significant, lead – present in terms of the prisoner release?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Mike, everybody knows that the IRGC opposed this agreement. And the reason they opposed it is they wanted the nuclear weapon, they wanted a nuclear umbrella, they wanted their program as robust as possible, and they wanted no rollback. And everybody understands, because we’ve seen this play out in the elections in Iran over the last years, that there is a tension. And it is a tension between those who want to play the revolutionary card and the card of 1979 and keep moving in a certain track, and those who believe that Iran will be better off rejoining the world and engaging in commerce and doing better by their people. That is why President Obama spoke directly to the people of Iran yesterday, because Iran has an opportunity here. We all have an opportunity here. Whether it will happen or not, I can’t tell you.

And I want to emphasize: This agreement was not calculated to solve all the problems with Iran. This agreement was calculated to address a threat that the United States of America felt to ourselves and to the world about their production, potentially, of a nuclear weapon. As a result – and so now we’ve addressed that, and I think we saw with the sailors – who, by the way, inadvertently went into Iranian waters. And none of us appreciated what we saw in the video. I raised that directly with Iran. It infuriated me as a former sailor, as a member of the military. But nevertheless, we were able to resolve that potential conflict. There were people in Iran who made the argument that they should’ve been held as hostages, that they should’ve been made into more of a trade. And it is to the enormous credit of the supreme leader, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, that they understood that this was better resolved rapidly in the way that it was. And that could not have happened had we not made the agreement with respect to the nuclear program.

QUESTION: All right. Well, Mr. Secretary, we thank you so much for being on our show, first considering that – well, I’m critical.

QUESTION: Just a slight touch.

QUESTION: I’ve been very critical, first of all. And secondly, you know Barnicle personally, and you still chose to come on our show.

QUESTION: That was big.

QUESTION: Which means Red Sox fans have to stick together. So congratulations.

SECRETARY KERRY: Joe, I think --

QUESTION: I know this has been a tireless effort on your part. Congratulations.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. You have a great show, and there’s a lot of good discussion here and I enjoy being on it.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.


QUESTION: Great talking to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Congratulations. We’ll be right back.