Remarks With Chatham House Director Robin Niblett at the Chatham House Prize Ceremony

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Chatham House
London, United Kingdom
October 31, 2016

MR NIBLETT: Welcome to Chatham House, excellencies, lords, ladies, and gentlemen, and welcome also to this 2016 Chatham House Prize ceremony. We’re delighted that so many of our members are here with us today; also supporters, guests, thank you very much for making the time. Our Chatham House Council members, our Panel of Senior Advisors, our Second Century Committee, representative of U.K. Government, opposition in civil society – the usual mix at a Chatham House meeting. So it’s wonderful to welcome you here.

In particular, I’d like to thank our lead sponsor, Shell, who’s enabled us to do justice to this event since it was first conceived in 2005. And also to our longstanding supporter and neighbor here on the Square, BP, who’ve also helped us with this year’s event.

The Chatham House Prize is actually now in its 12th year, having been launched in 2005. And it is presented to the person, persons, or organizations deemed by members of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.

I should note that the selection process is independent, democratic, and draws on the deep knowledge of Chatham House research teams, making this prize, we believe, a unique award in the field of international affairs. The institute’s three presidents – who were, at the start of this year, Sir John Major, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Butler, and Baroness Patricia Scotland – select a short list of nominees from a longer list submitted by the Chatham House research teams based upon their areas of expertise. The recipient is then determined by Chatham House members on a one member, one vote basis. And the prize is presented to the winner on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen who is the patron of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

I’m delighted, therefore, that in this our 12th year, anniversary year of this prize, our members have voted to award the Chatham House Prize 2016 jointly to the honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States of America, and Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Today we’re pleased to present the award to Secretary Kerry, taking advantage of his travel to the U.K. and Ireland at this time. And Chatham House will present the prize to Dr. Zarif at another time in the near future, having already had the pleasure of welcoming him to the Institute in February of this year, when he addressed members actually about the negotiation.

I’d also like to recognize the fact we’ve already engaged in conversations with the new Iranian ambassador, Hamid Baeidinejad, who I’ll note, having been appointed here, was involved in the negotiations deeply as part of the team.

Now, Secretary Kerry and also Zarif have been awarded the Chatham House Prize in recognition of their crucial years – their crucial roles in the successfully – in the successful completion in July 2015 of this historic nuclear deal between Iran the P5 – the Permanent 5+1 and the EU bringing to a close one of the most intractable diplomatic standoffs in international affairs of the 21st Century. The deal was one that many people thought impossible. Overcoming enormous technical complexity, deeply held suspicion, as well as entrenched domestic opposition and decades of tension between their two countries, Secretary Kerry and Dr. Zarif’s leadership and commitment, in particular, were imperative to sustaining and driving the negotiations to their successful conclusion.

With the vital participation of senior officials from their governments and other permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and the EU, they secured the deal endorsed by the UN Security Council which was a victory for diplomacy as well as against nuclear proliferation.

Excellencies, Lords, ladies, and gentlemen, it’s my great pleasure now to introduce the Right Honorable Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer. As Secretary of States for the Foreign Commonwealth Office from 2014 to July 2016, Philip Hammond was the U.K. representative responsible for negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action together with Secretary Kerry and the other representatives I mentioned just now, and he presented the deal in the House of Commons at this time. So we’re delighted, therefore, that he’s taken the time from his busy schedule at this time to join us in honoring Secretary Kerry. After the chancellor’s remarks and presentation of this scroll, which has been signed by Her Majesty the Queen, I will have the opportunity to moderate a brief discussion with Secretary Kerry on some of the lessons learned from this historic agreement.

So, again, welcome all here. Secretary Kerry, it’s a pleasure to have you; and Chancellor, over to you. (Applause.)

MR HAMMOND: I have my piece of paper, but much more importantly, I have my place card from lunch where I wrote down some perhaps more personate thoughts. I’m delighted to be here today and delighted to be able to honor my great friend John Kerry, and also in absentia my great friend Javad Zarif. We worked together. I was a Johnny-come-lately to this process. I was only involved in it for the last year up to the conclusion of the negotiations in the summer of 2015, but there are other colleagues in the room who were rather longer involved in the process, the origins of which go back almost a decade. And I do believe that the JCPOA will go down as one of the great achievements of modern diplomacy.

It’s not just about ending a nuclear standoff that frankly could have ended in war; it’s about reintegrating Iran into the international community of nations. It’s about starting a process which will allow us after 40 years of separation to get to know each other again and over time, hopefully, to start – to trust each other again. And I do think that the fact that this seemingly impossible task was achieved is due in no small part to the relationship that John Kerry and Javad Zarif built together and to the indefatigable energy and commitment of John Kerry.

Now, I came into this process in June 19 – July 19 – July 2014. July 1914 is another problem. (Laughter.) July 2014 and met this man for the first time. And I have to say what an extraordinary experience, John, it has been getting to know you and your working style. I actually think that if airplanes didn’t need fuel, John’s would never have been allowed to land. And I know that I’m not alone; his crew shared this. If crews didn’t need rest, visits on the ground would have been even shorter in most places, as you compete probably for the global air miles challenge, I suspect. And as we went into the JCPOA process, John was effectively fighting three separate battles. He was clearly fighting a battle at home in Washington to create a consensus to do what needed to be done. And I can’t tell you how many times in Geneva, in Lausanne, in Vienna, when things were getting a little bit fractious, John would remind us that the alternative to making this work may very well be war, and we better remember that when we’re trying to overcome the specific difficulty that we’re dealing with at the time.

Keeping the cats in Washington herded together in Congress, in the White House, in other government departments was no small task. And then John had to come to deal with the rest of the P5, Germany, the European Union, and the different and competing priorities that we all sought as the negotiations were taken forward and persuading us of the route that he wanted to go. And only then, having fought and won those two battles, was he able to go into the room and start talking to the Iranians, who also, of course, faced huge challenges on their side with public opinion and competing factional interests within the governing structure in Iran.

Now I’ve called John’s approach to diplomacy – I hope this isn’t irreverent, but I’ve called John’s approach to diplomacy, “The Airplane Theory,” which is that you have to keep moving, otherwise something very bad happens. Doesn’t matter so much what direction you’re going in at any given time, but you must keep the process moving. I have seen this at close quarters and I fervently believe that it was because of an unwillingness to let the process stop, however difficult it seemed at any given time, however little headway we appeared to be making, John was always the one saying we’ll have another meeting next week, we’ll come back in two weeks’ time, we’ll stay up all night.” And when we were sitting in that airless, windowless room in Lausanne at 5 o’clock in the morning, it was John saying, “No, no. Okay, we’ll get a couple of hours sleep. We’ll convene again at 10 o’clock in the morning, even though very often nobody else saw a way forward on the particular problem, the particular challenge we were facing at the time. So John and Javad, because it was that essential relationship at the center of those discussions that made it move forward, deserve the credit for having delivered the JPCOA.

But we’re not done yet, because we said very clearly during these negotiations that the prize was not just the end of this nuclear arms race or any nuclear ambition by Iran. The prize was a much wider rehabilitation of the relationship between Iran and the West. And we knew throughout this process that the big win for Iran’s politicians was being able to deliver economic benefit to their people. And I know John will agree with me that we are disappointed that it has been difficult to deliver that full benefit. Of course, Iran’s economy is doing much better today than it was before the JCPOA, but we would have liked progress to have been faster. We would have liked more European businesses to be investing in Iran. We would like to see more trade between Iran and the West.

But we have struggled, frankly, to overcome the inertia in the banking system and the legal and institutional challenges that we face in normalizing relations with Iran. And I know John has constantly assured Iranian counterparts and I’ve done the same that this is not for want of trying; we are genuinely committed to making this deal work in all its aspects and making sure that the Iranian people see the benefits of the JCPOA and a reopening of relations between Iran and the West.

And we will carry on working with the banks in my new role. I will have to leave responsibility from the U.K. side in seeking to reopen banking relationships in an effective way, and John has played a crucial role attending meetings here in London, bringing people from OFAC, meeting— I’ve met with people from the Iranian Central Bank. But we have to make this work—we will make it work. But the declaration was made in Vienna last summer, but I’m afraid the hard miles are still going as we turn this from an agreement on paper to an agreement which is fully implemented and working in practice. And John, I know you will go on with your commitment to making that happen.

So John, it is my very great pleasure to – is it this (inaudible?)

PARTICIPANT: This is the scroll. (Laughter.)

MR NIBLETT: Present you with (inaudible) just a scroll – is to present you with this scroll on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen for your achievement in delivering the JPCOA with Javad Zarif. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Robin, thank you very much. Philip, thank you very much. I have forgiven you for deserting the cadre of diplomats to crunch numbers in (inaudible) words, but I know you’re happy where you are. (Laughter.)

Philip has become honestly a great friend, and we had an opportunity to share some really good times together, some wonderful meals, a lot of discussions about where to go and how to go. And I admire his extraordinary commitment to public service. He was constantly telling me I have to go back to my constituency for 24 hours and we would have this battle back and forth, but he loyally went back to represent his constituency and contributed hugely. And I thank him for the gift of his partnership and his friendship during the two years we served together as counterparts and colleagues.

Distinguished guests, Lords and Ladies, Excellencies, guests of Chatham House and members of the Chatham House, thank you very, very much for this extraordinary honor. I’m very, very grateful, humbled to receive this award, The Chatham House Prize, and to be able to share a few thoughts with you here today. And I say that I am really gratified to receive this award for several reasons, a number of reasons.

First, Chatham House is so much more than just a think-tank. It has very well-earned reputation for serious and mostly civil conversation, debate about consequential issues; so when Chatham House speaks, people listen even if the one rule that rules them all prevents anybody from revealing who spoke up and what they said. (Laughter.) Now personally, I happen to applaud that; just because transparency is a virtue doesn’t mean that discretion is a sin.

Second, this occasion is a welcome chance to renew my own personal thanks to the partners, the many partners in this negotiation, who – without whom, there simply would not have been an agreement; we would never have reached the end road. Philip Hammond and our colleagues from Germany, from France, Russia, and China, and in a non-negotiating coordinating role First Lady Cathy Ashton, and then, of course, Federica Mogherini representing the EU – all were absolutely instrumental in an orchestral, not a solo, multilateral effort.

And I want to acknowledge particularly my co-recipient that Philip spoke of so warmly, our Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. I’m sorry that he isn’t able to be here. We tried to coordinate schedules and coordinate this event. But I want to make it clear that Javad is a very tough, very capable negotiator and a patriot all the time who fought hard for his nation’s interests while always trying to find a constructive way to solve the problems that we both understood were gigantic hurdles for both of our countries and both of our peoples, for our politics, and the divisions that exist at home for each of us.

And I want to also recognize two colleagues whose technical knowledge and whose professional creativity and engagement also on a personal level, I might add, were instrumental in reaching an agreement, and that’s U.S. Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz and Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, who was the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Both MIT grads, they had a technical expertise that filled the gap for those of us less well-educated. (Laughter.) And literally hundreds of experts – I kid you not – hundreds of experts worked night and day over many years.

And at the end, you may recall, it was this more than 19 consecutive days and nights in Vienna. It took a lot of brain power, took a lot of sweat, and of course, a few hundred pounds of schnitzel, to turn ideas and ideals into documents, and documents into an agreement that is today ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, thereby making the world safer and also expanding opportunities for the people of Iran.

Now, it goes without saying but I say it that, of course, Presidents Obama and Rouhani had to make fundamental decisions, and both of them had to take on a political risk, both of them had a to share a vision here and have the courage to seek the diplomatic path which so many were, almost throughout it, ready to predict could only be resolved probably by bombing, by war, or wouldn’t be resolved certainly in the near term. It is a reminder and I think this is the significance and this is the way I accept this award; a reminder that despite decades of distrust and disagreements that continue to divide us to this day, when leaders are willing to at least talk and try, it turns out that not all fates are predetermined.

The third reason that I’m grateful to be here is because as we face multiple conflicts in a world that is changing at a pace that is difficult for anybody to keep up with, which is presenting a clash not of civilizations but of uncivilized people who attack civilization itself, a clash of modernity with culture and history and religion and ethnicity and sectarianism and a hundred different other emotions and motivations, we see particularly a time of sectarian, religious, and terrorist characteristics appearing in non-state actors, which is a very different phenomenon from that which characterized the last century.

So I am delighted to accept this award for improving international relations as an important statement about the urgency of effective diplomacy. It doesn’t receive the focus that it ought to. But every day in ways that are large and small – and I mean every day – diplomacy makes this planet safer. I thank Christiana Figueres – is here somewhere, who was a nominee – for the incredible work that she did and others did to help us be able to come together 186 nations strong to make a difference through diplomacy on climate change.

In our lifetimes, it has been diplomacy, good diplomacy, and a vision and ideals and values that drive it that has established foundational global institutions which matter to us and which we need to nurture more. It has forged landmark principles of human rights and law, produced consensus goals for human development. I might mark that for the first time in human history we are now below 10 percent in terms of severe poverty on a global basis. And it is also that diplomacy that has provided a detente to prevail over the prospect of nuclear conflict and allowed us to avoid the devastation of a third world war.

So often in the world today, if you listen to the naysayers and the critics who second-guess the cost of every single action, you can easily overlook something greater – the cost of inaction, the price we pay when countries don’t talk, the debt that is compounded with interest that piles up over conflicts that just remain frozen, the expense that mounts when wounds aren’t healed, the danger that grows when threats aren’t addressed through cooperation and when later they can only be addressed through conflict. Those of us engaged in the practice of diplomacy are engaged in a constant competition with time. Every minute that we stand still – and this goes to what Philip may have been saying about my sense of urgency that drives this – every minute that stands still, breaches widen and wounds fester and another generation of young people are not put in school but their minds are subject to the minds of the exploiters, the extremists, the nihilists. We see that particularly true in a world that with massive new platforms of information and the raging impact of technology coupled with yet another wave coming at us in terms of artificial intelligence tells us we better find some ways to put these people to work and give them opportunity.

So new inventions and technologies can quickly become new sources of danger. Non-state actors, as I mentioned earlier, have a much greater influence on events than ever before, and the world is less hierarchical, and there are far more competitors for power and influence. Meanwhile, age-old plagues of extreme nationalism and sectarian conflict, which should have been relegated to history, and we all hoped had been, actually remain a force in our time. So we live in a world of instant communication across virtually every single border, and yet, too often our ability to understand each other remains suspended in amber. And that matters.

My father was a diplomat for a number of years and I learned from him that diplomacy begins with the ability to see another country through the eyes of the people who live in it. He taught me that lesson while our family was stationed in Europe, stuck in the shadows of World War II. Our first foreign post, Berlin, a divided city in the early 50s; London still rebuilding from 57 consecutive days and nights of bombing during the Blitz; France, where my mother saw her childhood home occupied by the Nazis, razed to rubble, bombed out and booby-trapped as they retreated. And as a child, I even played in the bunkers and tunnels that remained as the detritus of war. For me, these were real-time reminders at a very young age of the grim reality of even just and necessary wars. And it offered a powerful lesson that while some wars are unavoidable, those that could be prevented through persuasion and through perspective should be.

Decades later, I fought in a war that could have been avoided through the kind of diplomacy and through the ability to understand perspectives besides our own and to see other people in countries through their eyes – something we never did in Vietnam. It was a war that went on far too long while politicians were afraid to negotiate without preconditions and instead debated the size and the shape of the negotiating table. And needless to say, I learned many things in Vietnam. But above all, I learned that you should not go to war because you want to; you should go to war because you have to.

I also learned an enduring truth that may seem simplistic, but it’s a constant: Peace is better than war. And believe it or not, there is nothing inevitable about the conflicts that are raging in places like Syria, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan. If war is a choice, then peace is also a choice. And believe me, what we have the power to choose, we have the power to change. I believe that. And certainly, we in positions of significant power and responsibility have an important duty to try. I’d rather be caught trying.

Trying to understand adversaries is not a favor that we do for them; it’s in our interests. And talking to each other isn’t a favor that big countries do for small countries; it’s a strategic imperative for everybody. And trying to avoid conflict isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength. And I say that reminded that the British prime minister who said, “To jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” was named Winston Churchill, not Neville Chamberlain.

Now, that doesn’t mean that war is never an answer. I’m not a pacifist. But it does mean that, first, we have an obligation to explore every other avenue, use every tool, transparently summon every bit of reason, and deploy every moral, political, and economic argument at our command to avoid it, since, after all, it was no less a conservative than Sir Edmund Burke who argued, “A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.”

So this afternoon, I ask that we, all of us, rededicate ourselves to a world in which peace is nurtured with greater fervor and resources than those that we devote to war, a world in which no nation is ever afraid to try to improve relations with every other, and for the very basic reason that life is better than death and peace is better than war. Thank you, very, very much. (Applause.)

MR NIBLETT: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much for those powerful words and for taking this opportunity as well of the receipt of the Chatham House Prize to, as you put it, to really talk about the urgency of active diplomacy. I thought it was a particularly powerful call. And as you said, the heritage of thinking about jaw-jaw rather than war-war seems to have been pushed to one side, and there are a proliferation of conflicts taking place internationally.

We have a little bit of time here. We have a very hard finish at two o’clock, so we will finish a couple of minutes before. But you’ve been kind enough to agree to let me kind of raise a few points with you and take a – and we may have time for just a couple of questions from the floor before we close. And I would remind you, this is on the record, as you well know. (Laughter.)

But as you mentioned, the Chatham House rule, which I think was devised, as you noted, in an effort to try to draw the best from diplomacy but get the best ideas shared and understood and then giving opportunity for those outside to contribute to it as well. You said this was an orchestral multilateralism. I thought that was a great phrase. You talked about the importance of seeing the world through other countries’ eyes. There are some people, including a colleague who’s worked with us here, who has talked about – Matt Waldman – the idea of empathy – the way to bring empathy in international relations. And yet these phrases, the phrase he used, calling your co-recipient of this prize, Dr. Zarif, a patriot for his country’s effort. That willingness to understand seems to be in such short supply at the moment.

Can I just start with one very broad question? To what extent will the pressures of communications back home, to what extent do you think diplomats, who in the days of (inaudible) really could shut themselves off to a significantly large extent – not completely but to a larger extent – and be able to develop negotiations in secrecy – to what extent do you think that has been lost? Of course, the United States did start this negotiation a little earlier than many of its European allies had realized, so secrecy did play a role at a particular moment. How do you balance this aspect of secrecy, being able to sustain public support at home even before you get to the negotiation on the other side?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s critical. I mean, let me give you an example of how this was effective and why it complicates all diplomacy (inaudible). Secrecy is a valuable element at times, and I know people – as long as your final result and your process is ultimately subject to some kind of scrutiny, some sort of test of legitimacy, I think it’s something you have to have. Why do you have to have it? Because you may not get off the ground. You may never get started. There were powerful forces – and all of you saw that part of our debate – powerful forces that were deeply opposed to this. I mean, it’s not often that a prime minister of another country comes to the Congress and in the middle of the Congress, speaks against the sitting president’s policy. That happened, and you can imagine the forces that were unleashed as a result, and the tension that existed.

I give you a sense of how this weighed on us. Because Congress was impatient for whether or not something real was happening, and because tweets were going out from various parties suggesting they’re giving away the score, they’re going to expose us to nuclear blackmail, or – they’re built up in impatience with the process, that required that we actually do something which was extraordinarily detrimental to the process, which was to be – I think it was in Lausanne – where we had to put out an interim agreement.

Now, I didn’t put out an interim agreement because I thought it was going to help the negotiations, or I thought it was going to make things easier. In fact, I knew it was going to make them harder. And it exactly did. Because once people who were taking for granted that this would ever go anywhere saw that there was a reality to what we were achieving, the opposition kicked into super gear and the politics became that much harder. And the only reason we had to go out publicly with that particular – at that particular moment was that had we not, we didn’t have any excuse for arguing to Congress why they shouldn’t pass another round of sanctions. And if they had passed another round of sanctions, that would have been a message to our colleagues with whom we were negotiating that we weren’t serious and that it was the same old, same old with the Satan of the West who paid no respect to the process, and was willing to sanction the hell out of people while they’re negotiating. You can imagine the impact.

So that yin and yang is a constant presence. And in a world of tweets and emails and podcasts and what have you, it became that much more complicated as we went on. But ultimately, I mean, the test is what you have graciously paid tribute to today, which is by staying at it and keeping people focused and by recognizing the stakes. And what I think drove us – and it’s not an exaggeration; I just ask you to imagine, if we didn’t have a protocol by which Iran was willing to live and prove to the IAEA top standards of the world’s best scrutiny, that this is a peaceful program, just imagine where we would be, at a time where I’m telling you there were people who were arguing vociferously we needed to go to war to prevent them from having a program.

So the stakes could not have been higher, and I think ultimately to the credit of the Ayatollah and Iran, they made a fundamental decision they were willing to submit to the scrutiny and give up that program. And we, on the other hand, made a fundamental decision we were willing to fight the fight of lifting sanctions in exchange for a set of standards of behavior that could guarantee us this program was peaceful. And that – and both of us had strong and powerful reasons for wanting to move down this road, which is also an essential ingredient of any negotiation. You can’t just will a negotiation to a conclusion. If the other party – I witnessed Israel-Palestine, which I spent two years working on. The leaders just weren’t prepared. It’s that simple. We had plenty of solutions, plenty of ways to go forward, but if people aren’t willing to assume the risk that President Obama and President Rouhani assumed, there’s nothing the negotiator is going to be able to do to change that. So you need fundamental decisions of vision and creativity and of hope, and sort of an aspiration that is expressed in the negotiation that both sides embrace.

MR NIBLETT: I’m sure Theresa May is going to be quite pleased to hear the back and forth sort of secrecy from the early part of the negotiations – (Laughter) – before things are put, as you said to parliamentary scrutiny, I thought, no one will draw that connection. But just one small point, as you took us so powerfully, again, into the feeling of this negotiation: Do you have a most difficult moment? Is there a most difficult moment, that when you think back on it --

SECRETARY KERRY: There were several of the most difficult moments. I’ve been accused a number of times of not being willing to walk away. But the truth, I’ve walked away several times, quietly. One was right here in London. I was poised to pull out of Geneva to negotiate, but because there had been a step backwards in the interim week, I informed them I wasn’t coming, and I stayed here in London. I actually had one of the most delightful days I’ve had in the country. (Laughter.) That should happen more. No – (laughter).

So, and then we managed to get back on track. But I was serious about it. I mean, there were moments – there were a couple of other moments. In Lausanne, in the last days of – it was a very tense moment where it wasn’t certain that we could get over a couple of hurdles so that people were serious about the effort to get there. And this is where there were – both sides, there were back-home skirmishes going on almost all the time.

MR NIBLETT: And that comment about back home, as we watched this agreement from London, obviously the U.K. being a signatory and key partner in this agreement, we can’t but help wonder, can agreements like this survive? Where does the executive power, the congressional power – let’s just talk about the U.S. side. We can come to the Iranian in a minute. But on the U.S. side, is this agreement designed in such a way that it can survive?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, the answer is yes, providing that people don’t do dangerous things that can be interpreted as bad faith in the process. It is certainly designed on its face to more than survive. I mean, what people don’t realize about this agreement is that this is not a 10-year or a 15-year agreement, or a 20-year or 25 years, even though there are benchmarks in it for each of those things. For instance, 15 years you cannot have enrichment above 3.67 percent. For 15 years, you cannot have a stockpile more than 300 kilograms. So it is physically impossible, as long as you are verifying that— just on those two things— to not make a bomb. You cannot make a bomb with 300 kilograms. You can’t make a bomb at 3.67 percent enrichment.

So what we’ve built in, then, is beyond that 20 years of television cameras looking at the process of centrifuge production, and then 25 years tracking of all the uranium so that you have a cradle-to-grave knowledge of all the uranium they mine, which feeds in it and out of how much is available for production as yellow cake and on into a bomb.

So there are huge build-ins here, but the most important of all is the fact there’s a lifetime for the duration of this agreement, right under what is called the Additional Protocol of the IAEA, to be able to have a challenge, inspection, and test of the good faith of a particular facility, or if we had information leading us to believe something’s happening, we can in fact follow up on it. And then we always have the ability to bring back sanctions, or even – god forbid if you have to, but if you have to, you have to – have a direct confrontation over there with a compliance with it.

Now, Iran has complied with every part of it so far. They’ve dismantled centrifuges, they’ve dropped the stockpile, they’ve transported enriched uranium out of the country, lowered the stockpile. And we’re certain of this. So Iran deserves the credit of having met its part of the bargain, and it’s important for us and the rest of the world to meet ours, to make sure that the lifted sanctions are in fact not still impeding the ability to be able to do business, and to grant that Iran gets the benefit of the bargain that they made. And that is just plain, simple, good faith in international relations.

MR NIBLETT: As Chancellor Hammond said, he noted that he was going to be working on trying to make sure that there was the capacity to meet some of Iran’s expectations of access to financial markets. The sanctions removed under the agreement were those connected to the nuclear program, and the U.S. in particular has, as most people here know, a number of other sanctions.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Robin, let me make clear.


SECRETARY KERRY: Because it’s important for people to understand that we have worked hard to make sure that we have lived up to every component of what is required of us here. And I wish that some of the larger banks were, in fact, ready to make loans and engage in opening accounts, because they can. They’re allowed to, but they’re still remaining somewhat risk averse for various reasons.

And what I have also made clear – and it’s in the agreement – is that we are not backing down on the other issues of importance that we had also had sanctions in place on. So we didn’t take our sanctions away for human rights abuse. We didn’t take our sanctions away for state sponsorship of terror. We didn’t take our sanctions away for illegal – for breaking the UN arms embargo and so forth. And we obviously still have real differences with Iran that I’d like to see us work out – namely, support for the Houthi in Yemen, support of Hizballah in Syria, support for Assad against all capacity to have a reasonable political outcome, and so forth. These are things that continue to be challenges for us, and my hope is that over time those too can be worked at in the same way that we were able to work at the fundamentals of the nuclear file.

But had we tackled each of those – some people have said, well, you were crazy; you should have resolved each and every one of those things before you made an agreement. Folks, we’d still be in Vienna eating good schnitzel and having a good time and celebrating another Fourth of July. But I have to tell you, we wouldn’t be any closer to an agreement on any of them, because some of them are deeper rooted to intricacies of the region and history and other things that are going to take longer to try to work through.

MR NIBLETT: And let me just bring Russia in for a second. Here we are – this was a place where Russia was a – to my understanding, a constructive – very much part of this negotiation. What did you take away about what the West, the United States can get and not get from Russia in multilateral negotiations? Is it just a matter of where the interests align, anything is possible, and where they don’t align, it’s not? Or was there some other dimension here? Because this was – you look at the agreement and Russia played a pretty important role, especially in some of the technical areas.

SECRETARY KERRY: Russia did. Russia was constructive in that, and Russia – in fact, right here in London I was asked the question at a press conference: Is there anything Assad can do to prevent himself from being bombed? And I said yes, he could agree to remove all the chemical weapons from Syria. Within an hour and a half, I had Lavrov calling me and saying let’s work on that, let’s see if we can do it. We’d actually already talked about it, so it wasn’t out of a whole sort of cloth that I had proposed this.

And within a week or two – I forget how long it was, but we were able to cut an agreement that got the – all the chemical weapons that were properly declared, as the saying is, were out of Syria, with a much better outcome than would have occurred if you’d spent a day or two bombing, obviously. But Obama – President Obama still gets blamed for not, quote, “enforcing the red line,” but in fact, he achieved the goal. Our goal was to prevent them from using chemical weapons, and by getting them all out we did a better job of that than we would have by sending him a warning militarily that he shouldn’t do it.

Bottom line is there are other things, obviously, where Russia has interests that we just – they don’t come close. Syria – Russia has had a client relationship with Assad for years. It is not new that Russia supports Assad. This is not something that developed in the Obama Administration. It expanded, but it didn’t begin. Russia built what is reputed to be the fourth most effective air defense system in the world. Russia built that and staffed it for Assad for years. Russia has had a port use at Tartus, and Russia has had obvious relationship with Assad. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to people that we are at loggerheads in our support for an opposition because we think Assad abused his people and Russia’s support for Assad for the reasons I’ve described and some others.

I think that it’s very dangerous right now, and there are – we are still engaged on a multilateral basis even now as I sit here, trying to see if there’s a way to forge a ceasefire. We have a proposal that’s been going back and forth, and we will see whether the Russians have a greater desire to bomb Aleppo into smithereens, claiming they’re going after a legitimate – the terrorists when in fact there are oppositionists there who are prepared to live by a ceasefire. And this will determine to some degree sort of where we go with respect to Syria in the long term.

MR NIBLETT: Well, I’m going to turn to the audience in just a second, see if I can – we’ll get a couple questions before you finish. But one last very difficult one for you: I suppose it strikes one listening to your comments here that because you are representing the U.S., you could work towards striking an agreement. When it becomes Syria, you’re trying to get other parties together; if they don’t want to do it, they don’t want to do it. The U.S.-Israel relationship after the nuclear accord and where it’s at – do you think this agreement has changed the Middle East in any way? People always say that in the end, the Arab-Israel conflict is sui generis, it sits in its own box. Just because you fix other parts of the Middle East doesn’t mean you’re going to fix this. And yet, the deal has certainly led to closer relationships between Israel and some of the Gulf states. I mean, how do you think this deal has changed? Has it made the context more difficult for pursuing the Middle East peace process, no impact at all? How would you look at that spillover?

SECRETARY KERRY: I personally still believe that the – that if the parties wanted peace in the Middle East, if both parties were prepared to take risks for peace, there is a very clear peace that is definable and achievable. Unfortunately, it’s moving in an opposite direction. I have said many times publicly, as had President Obama, that we are deeply concerned about choices being made – incitement in the case of some of the Palestinians, the arming in the case of some, acts of terrorism by some. But we’re also concerned on the other side by the continued incursion of settlements in the West Bank, which over a period of time can threaten the capacity for a two-state solution to be achieved. And we’ve tried to be a fair broker in articulating both. We are obviously deeply committed to Israel’s survival. We are its strongest ally in the world. We don’t shy away from that. We embrace that. And we’ve just embraced it in a $38 billion over 10 years memorandum of understanding – 3.8 billion, obviously, per year – in order to help Israel be able to defend itself by itself, and that is a fundamental tenet of our policy.

But at the same time, I would absolutely embrace the notion that there is a greater readiness of the Arab world to be part of this peace and to help to change the region that at any time previously. And I believe that if leaders in Israel are prepared to try to move forward in a genuine way, there is a new discussion that could be had and new opportunities to try to have a breakthrough that was unachievable a couple of years ago. And we will see. I may speak out on this in the next weeks, months, or over the year – hard to say. But people need to recognize that there is something different in the Middle East that is available to people now and we should not lose that opportunity.

MR NIBLETT: (Inaudible) you’ll speak about it here. Let me just see if there’s a couple – I only see a couple questions. I’m sorry that I can’t too many – take too many. There first, please.

PARTICIPANT: So Peter Westmacott --

MR NIBLETT: Oh, right. Okay, there we are. Microphone.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. Secretary of State, wonderful to have you here. As the last ambassador to the United States and one who began his career in Iran, I just want to say how much I echo and the whole Foreign Office echo our admiration for the resilience, the optimism – never-say-give-up approach that you took to getting this negotiation done. I watched it when we weren’t supposed to be watching it, when you were active privately – but with Hillary Clinton’s full support; let’s never forget that – and I watched it when it was in public and when the rest of us all came together.

You said that this helped to avoid a war. There was a lot of insidious stuff about let’s just add more sanctions, let’s get a tougher deal. Actually, there were also a lot of people who would have happily got us into a fighting war to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. You stopped that, and if you had not stopped that, somebody else might have begun it, dragging in America, dragging in Britain. There was a real risk of military conflict, and I think we all admire the efforts that you did to stop that. (Applause.)

Second thing I just wanted to say in the presence of some diplomatic colleagues is how rare it was for the rest of the P5+1 – the Russian, the Chinese, the French, the German, and the British ambassadors – to be able to help deliver an Administration objective on Capitol Hill at a time when, as you yourself pointed out, other governments were busy trying to kill this deal despite the fact that all of our governments had supported it and despite the fact that it was by a long way the least bad way of stopping Iran’s nuclear program. I think that was rare. I think it was unusual, and I’m glad we were able to do that.

My little question is just to say to you that I do think that the difficulty we’ve now got in getting business going with Iran is a real one. I do think that the European banks do have a problem. We are frightened because of our experience of the way in which bilateral U.S. sanctions are still in place. This frightens people. Is there any more, Mr. Secretary, that you can do, that the Administration can do to signal to us it’s safe to go back in the water? Because we all have an interest in making sure that the deal you negotiated succeeds.

MR NIBLETT: Can I just – we’ve got very little time, so I knew there was a hand up there. If you just could --

SECRETARY KERRY: I can take an extra minute, I think. Can I, Tom? I can take a couple minutes.

MR NIBLETT: First – no, sorry, (inaudible) we’ll do two ladies then then.


MR NIBLETT: You’ll stay for one more?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’ll let you know if our hard stop-- but I think --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Kings College London. A quick question. You mentioned and a previous speaker mentioned the sanctions relief is an issue. What are the other challenges that you foresee in the next year given the election instability both in the U.S. but also in Iran? And you mentioned regional security. Do you think that’s going to impact the implementation of the agreement?

MR NIBLETT: (Inaudible) very careful terms. You say, “I’ve got more time,” and then your colleagues at State Department will never come back here again. (Laughter.) So the lady next to you, she was – did have her hand up as well.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Anna Marie Trudeau (ph) from Kings College London.

MR NIBLETT: (Inaudible) Kings College (inaudible).

QUESTION: I also took part in (inaudible) vote and I voted for you because I thank you for doing this. My question is: What is the heart for you now having this experience in dealing with Syria? What do you think is missing in that orchestra of multilateral efforts for the international community to somehow deal with problems in Syria? Thank you.

MR NIBLETT: We’ll take a question – last question from the back, from the far side. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Could you contrast the relationship you have with Lavrov with that you have with Mohammad Zarif? (Laughter.)

MR NIBLETT: I think there were four questions there.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s --

MR NIBLETT: (Inaudible) it was double (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, but that’s going to be the easiest. No. (Laughter.)

First of all, let me thank Peter for – he was a superb ambassador. Peter and Susie, his wife, just did a superb job in growing our relationship, which was already enormous. So I want to thank him for his terrific diplomacy in Washington.

With respect to the deal, I think you asked what – whether or not --

MR NIBLETT: (Inaudible) business (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: The business piece. I want to say something about that. It’s very important. We met here in London with some of the key banks earlier while Philip was still foreign secretary, and we had the major banks there from Europe. It was a difficult session because clearly the banks were in a kind of – and not – I’m not blaming them; they’re a business and they have to bank this way, a sort of risk-reward analysis. And risk aversion was such that you could understand people making the decision, well, we have to take a little time and see how this shakes out, we’re not sure if there’s some designated entity out there that may be swept into the web of whatever this lending is, and therefore we don’t want to be exposed. So I understand the challenge.

The problem is that we agreed to lift certain sanctions. So OFAC, the Office of Financial Accountability[1], has come out and made it very, very clear that if you do due diligence in the normal fashion, no extra due diligence, just normal due diligence for whoever it is you’re opening an account or for ever – whatever lending you’re about to do, and later it turns out it was some unforeseeable entity that pops up, you will not be held accountable for that. And so what we’ve done is we’ve been trying to reduce the level of risk so that people will begin to engage in a broader range of lending. Why are we doing that? Because the deal we made was that sanctions would not continue to interfere with their ability to do a normal course of business, and regrettably because of some of the uncertainties about OFAC or some of the uncertainties about who’s doing what, it hasn’t been. And we’re trying to change that.

I must say though that we’ve made good-faith efforts way beyond what we agreed to do, I mean, like this meeting. I mean, I never anticipated I’d be sitting in the banks to try to get them to do this. But we have reached out way beyond what anything within the four corners of the agreement in order to try to make sure that it delivers in full.

So we would encourage the banks to take a hard look at this, and I am glad to say that both sides have lived up to, I think, their part of the bargain, but we will would like to see more transactions taking place because I think that’s in the interests of us to see an Iran that begins to – begins to become more a part of the international community with the belief that that can also affect long-term behavior and choices that Iran makes.

Now on the first King’s College question that was on --

MR NIBLETT: That was spreading instability in the region. That’s a big question.

SECRETARY KERRY: I think, to answer your question – you asked about sort of the other relationships through the region. I think there is a growing stability, to be honest with you. There’s obviously the challenge of Syria, which is part of the last – the third question also. And Syria – I’ll sort of answer them both together, but you asked what’s missing in Syria and what are the problems there.

Syria is a whole bunch of wars taking place in the same place. People don’t think of it that way, but you’ve got Kurd versus Kurd, you’ve got Kurd versus Turkey, you’ve got Iran and Saudi Arabia with its tensions and vice versa, you’ve got Turkey-Qatar which have a certain attitude about some groups, you have Persian Shia versus Arab Sunni, you have Sunni versus Shia, you have a lot of people against Assad, you have the challenges of Shia Iraqi militia coming in to Syria, and then of course you have Hizballah, a designated terrorist organization that’s supporting Assad.

So this mix is about as toxic as any diplomatic cocktail I can think of, and the result is that there are complications. Let me be precise. We make an agreement with Russia that because there is so little trust we need to see that they’re serious about a ceasefire. So you have a seven-day period during which Russia has to show that the Assad regime is living by its agreement not to fly and so on. Except that you have Nusrah there – al-Nusrah, which is a designated foreign terrorist entity, and you have ISIL, and you’re not going to have a ceasefire without either of them.

So if they choose to attack the regime, as they do, what happens is the regular opposition gets swept up with them – oh boy, a chance to attack Assad – and the other guy started it, so they get involved. All of a sudden, your ceasefire starts to shred. Likewise, Assad is a spoiler because Assad can say, well, I don’t have any restraint on my going after Nusrah or going after ISIL, and so he’ll just claim he’s going after them even as he just overtly bombs the opposition that has signed up to the ceasefire. So they then get angry and say he’s not keeping good faith, which he’s not, and it spirals downwards.

So you’ve got this incredible sort of – how do you begin? Do you begin on day one without any good faith? Well, the Russians want to get something for it. They want to know that we’re serious about going after Nusrah. Right now they’re blaming us, saying no, you’re not really serious, Nusrah is there because you’ve been using Nusrah in conjunction with your opposition to fight Assad.

So unraveling this very contorted web of interactions is as complicated as any challenge I’ve seen in the course of 30 years of involvement in these issues directly as a senator and now as Secretary, 30 plus, and – 34 or 33, 32, excuse me. (Laughter.) And – but 50 years, I hate to say it, of public service since I raised my hand and went into the military. That’s too long to contemplate. (Laughter.)

Just very quickly, I would say to you that there is a way to try to resolve this. If Russia were to test the stated willingness of Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia and the United States to try to separate Nusrah from the opposition, and if they would test it by standing back and not bombing for a period of time and give the legitimate opposition the opportunity to adhere to the ceasefire and separate from the true terrorists, then we could begin to get some, perhaps, cooperative breathing space where we might have an opportunity to be able to really put in place a ceasefire and, importantly, get to the negotiating table in Geneva, which, despite five years of warfare, has never really happened. People have stood at a distance in the hotel rooms arguing with each other but never really beginning the negotiation.

I remain the eternal optimist and hopeful that we can still try to push to that somewhere in these next couple of months. We have two and a half months left in this Administration and we’re going to work till the last moment to try to do that. And we are engaged even now in some discussions to see whether or not that is possible.

So I think, though, the overall region, because have seen this chaos and people have felt this spiral into a darkness that is unparalleled in terms of our ability to have a direct impact immediately, they fear it. And that fear is driving people together. There are shared interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and Egypt, and you’re seeing that play out a little bit in the Sinai in the fight against Daesh in the Sinai. You’re seeing it play out in Iraq. And my hope is that maybe we can create a critical mass to see it play out yet in Syria.

MR NIBLETT: Secretary, with that, I think that counts as an optimistic note on the Middle East – about as optimistic as is possible. Thank you for taking this extra time. I think those closing remarks are reminders that all the hard work that you, Dr. Zarif, others have done (inaudible).


[1] Office of Foreign Assets Control