June 8, 2015
In a series of speeches and interviews, President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials are actively courting Israel and American Jews to win support for a nuclear deal with Iran. In a speech marking Jewish American Heritage Month, Obama reiterated that a deal that “blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon” would make the entire region, including Israel, more secure. “I understand your concerns and I understand your fears,” he told the Israeli public in an interview with Israeli Channel 2 a week later. The following are excerpted remarks by President Obama, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Secretary of State John Kerry and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.
President Barack Obama
The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution. I will not accept a bad deal. As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise. I want a good deal.
I'm interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon -- every single path. A deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on. A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term. In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region -- including Israel -- more secure. That’s how I define a good deal.
I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table.
Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel. And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.
—May 22, 2015 in a speech marking Jewish American Heritage Month
QUESTION (Israel's Channel 2): There’s a remarkably sincere observation you made once -- you said, “Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable.” And you said, “Any given decision I make, I wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work.” I’m afraid Israelis cannot afford even three to four percent chance you’re wrong, Mr. President, because if you are, the bomb will hit Tel Aviv first.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let’s back up on this. We know that Iran, prior to me coming into office, had gone from a few hundred centrifuges to thousands. We know that the potential breakout time for Iran, if it chose to build a bomb, is a matter potentially of months today instead of years.
And seeing that, I came in and organized an international coalition -- including countries like Russia and China that tend not to be very sympathetic to sanctions regimes -- and we have imposed the most effective sanctions on Iran over the course of the last five years that has led them to essentially lose a decade, perhaps, of economic growth.
At the time, people were skeptical. They said, oh, sanctions aren’t going to work. Then we were able to force Iran to the negotiating table because of the effectiveness of the sanctions. And I said that in exchange for some modest relief in sanctions, Iran is going to have to freeze its nuclear program, roll back on its stockpiles of very highly enriched uranium -- the very stockpiles that Prime Minister Netanyahu had gone before the United Nations with his picture of the bomb and said that was proof of how dangerous this was -- all that stockpile is gone.
And in fact, at that time, everybody said, this isn’t going to work. They’re going to cheat. They’re not going to abide by it. And yet, over a year and a half later, we know that they have abided by the letter of it.
So we have I think shown that we are able to construct a mechanism, if, in fact, we get an agreement, to verify that all four pathways to a nuclear weapon are shut off.
QUESTION: But what if they take the $100 million showered at them after sanctions are lifted and not take them to build movie theaters and hospitals in Tehran, but rather divert it to military use?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, so that’s a different question, though. So I just want to separate out the questions. There’s one critique of a potential nuclear deal which is it won’t hold, and Iran will cheat, and they will get a bomb. And I have confidence that if, in fact, we arrive at the kind of agreement that I’m looking for, and that was described in Geneva but now has to be memorialized, then we will have cut off their path to a nuclear weapon and we will be able to verify it with unprecedented mechanisms.
Now, it may be that Iran is not able to make the necessary concessions for us to know we can verify it --
QUESTION: Then there’s no deal.
THE PRESIDENT: Then there’s going to be no deal. But let’s assume there’s a deal. There is now a second set of arguments, which is you bring down sanctions --
QUESTION: Now, that’s wishful thinking --
THE PRESIDENT: -- and they’ve got $100-$150 billion, and now they can do even more mischief around the region. I would make three points on that.
Number one is that we will be putting in place a snapback provision so that if they cheat on the nuclear deal, the sanctions automatically go back into place; we don’t have to ask Mr. Putin’s permission, for example, to put sanctions back.
Number two, we shouldn’t assume that we can perpetuate the sanctions forever anyway. There’s a shelf life on the sanctions, because the reason the international community agreed was to get to the table to deal with the nuclear issue, not to deal with all of these other issues. So we will get a diminishing return just on maintaining sanctions.
Number three, Mr. Rouhani was elected specifically in order to strengthen the Iranian economy. There’s enormous political pressure on them -- as I said, they’ve lost a decade of economic growth. Their economy has been contracting each year. And it is true that out of $100 billion or $150 billion, of course the IRGC, the Quds Force, they’re going to want to get their piece. But the fact is, is that the great danger that the region has faced from Iran is not because they have so much money. Their budget -- their military budget is $15 billion compared to $150 billion for the Gulf States -- I just met with them.
They have a low-tech but very effective mechanism of financing proxies, of creating chaos in regions. And they’ve also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions.
So the question then becomes are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters? Probably not.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you noticed, Mr. President, but our Prime Minister gave a speech to Congress a few months ago.
THE PRESIDENT: Really? I didn’t notice.
QUESTION: Yes, really. I was wondering if you noticed that. But I asked your good friend, David Axelrod, your chief strategist, about it later and he said this was a highly political exercise. Would you agree on that?
THE PRESIDENT: As I said before, I think the Prime Minister cares very much about the security of the Israeli people, and I think that in his mind, he is doing what’s right.
I care very much about the people of Israel as well, and in my mind, it is very much in Israel’s interest to make sure that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. And I can, I think, demonstrate -- not based on any hope, but on facts and evidence and analysis -- that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement. A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States participates. It would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it.
QUESTION: Can you even imagine a scenario where Prime Minister Netanyahu, after this deal -- which he says it’s a bad deal, that’s why he came to Congress -- launches a military strike and doesn’t even call you ahead of time?
THE PRESIDENT: I won’t speculate on that. What I can say is -- to the Israeli people -- I understand your concerns and I understand your fears. But what is the worst scenario is the path that we’re currently on in which there’s no nuclear resolution, and ultimately, we have no way to verify whether Iran has a weapon or not.
Sanctions won’t do it. A military solution is temporary. The deal that we’re negotiating potentially takes a nuclear weapon off the table for 20 years. And so when the Prime Minister comes here, I understand he is speaking because he believes that it’s the right thing to do. But I respectfully disagree with him. And I think that I can show if, in fact, Iran abides by the deal that we’re outlining now -- and they may not. They could still walk away and miss this opportunity.
—May 29, 2015 in an interview with Channel 2
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The United States and Israel share an absolute conviction that Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. When it comes to that core strategic goal, there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and Israel.
Now, we continue to believe that the very best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is through a verified, negotiated agreement that resolves the international community’s legitimate concerns and, as a practical matter, makes it impossible for Iran to develop the fissile material for a weapon without giving us the means and the time to see it and to stop it.
The June 30th deadline is fast approaching. And we do not yet have a comprehensive agreement, and there remains a chance that we won’t get one. If we don’t get where – what we need on a few key issues, we won’t get there.
But, as Secretary Kerry announced in Lausanne in April, the deal we are working toward will close each of Iran’s four pathways to obtaining enough fissile material for a weapon – the uranium pathways at Natanz and Fordow, the plutonium pathway through Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak, and a potential covert pathway.
To cut off these pathways, any comprehensive arrangement must include exceptional constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and extraordinary monitoring and intrusive transparency measures that maximize the international community’s ability to detect any attempt by Iran to break out, overtly or covertly.
Let me take this opportunity here today to address some of the concerns that are floating around about the deal that we’re working toward. And I have to tell you that many of these concerns are simply misplaced and are more myth than fact.
First, the deal that we are working to achieve will not expire. There will not be a so-called “sunset.” Different requirements of the deal would have different durations, but some – including Iran’s commitment to all of the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the obligation not to build a nuclear weapon, as well as the tough access and monitoring provisions of the Additional Protocol – those would continue in perpetuity.
By contrast, in the absence of an agreement, Iran’s obligations under the interim arrangement that we reached – the so-called Joint Plan of Action – those would sunset immediately. Then, Iran likely would speed to an industrial-scale program with tens of thousands of centrifuges.
Second, this deal would provide such extensive levels of transparency that if Iran fails to comply with the international community’s obligations, we’ll know about it – and we will know it virtually right away, giving us plenty of time to respond diplomatically, or, if necessary, by other means. Most of the sanctions would be suspended – not ended – for a long period of time, with provisions to snap back automatically if Iran reneges on its commitments.
Third, we would not agree to a deal unless the IAEA is granted access to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful – period.
Fourth, there is simply no better option to prevent Iran from obtaining the material for a nuclear weapon than a comprehensive agreement that meets the parameters that we set and announced in Lausanne.
I have to tell you that, unfortunately, it is a fantasy to believe that Iran will simply capitulate to every demand if we ratchet up the pressure even more through sanctions. After all, Iran suffered even more through the great depravations of the war with Iraq. And despite intensifying pressure over the last decade, Iran went from just 150 centrifuges in 2002 to 19,000 before we reached the interim agreement.
Nor is it likely that our international partners – without whom our sanctions are not effective – would go along with such a plan. They signed on to sanctions in order to get Iran to the negotiating table and to conclude an agreement that meets our core security interests, not to force Iran to abandon a peaceful nuclear program.
Up until now, we’ve kept other countries on board – despite the economic loss that it presents for some of them – in large part because they’re convinced we are serious about diplomacy and about reaching a diplomatic solution. If they lose that belief, it’s the United States, not Iran, that risks being isolated, and the sanctions regime we’ve worked so hard to build will crumble away.
And to those who would prefer that we simply take military action now against Iran without going the last diplomatic mile, you need to consider that such a response would first destroy the international sanctions coalition, and second, only set Iran’s nuclear program back by a few years at best, at which point Iran likely would bury a new program deep underground and speed toward an actual nuclear weapon. With the comprehensive agreement that we’re working to conclude, we have a chance to achieve much, much more than that.
All of that said, the United States continues to believe – as we have from day one – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal. We’ve had plenty of opportunities throughout this negotiating process to take a bad deal; we did not, and we will not.
And we know that just like the interim agreement we reached, any comprehensive agreement will be subject to the legitimate scrutiny of our citizens, our Congress, and our closest partners. We welcome that scrutiny, and will not agree to any deal that cannot withstand it. At the same time, I would say to any opponents of the agreement, if we reach it: You’ll have an obligation, too. Here in the United States, you’ll have an obligation to tell the American people exactly what you would do differently, and exactly how you would get it done.
Many of you will recall how, after we signed the interim Joint Plan of Action that enabled us to begin these comprehensive negotiations, there were those who told us we’d made a tragic mistake. That Iran wouldn’t comply and the sanctions regime that we’d painstakingly built over so many years would crumble. That we had jeopardized the safety and security of our nation and our partners.
But President Obama and Secretary Kerry maintained that the United States, our partners – including Israel – and the entire world would become safer the day after the Joint Plan of Action was implemented. That is exactly what happened. A year and a half ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full speed ahead toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, and the production of weapons-grade plutonium and even shorter breakout timelines.
Today, Iran has lived up to its commitments under that Joint Plan of Action. It’s halted progress on its nuclear program; it’s rolled it back in some key respects for the first time in a decade. How do we know that? Because today, as a result of the interim agreement, the international inspectors, the IAEA, have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities, and a far deeper understanding of Iran’s nuclear program. They’ve been able to learn new things about Iran’s centrifuge production, uranium mines, and other facilities. And they’ve been able to verify that Iran is indeed honoring its commitments.
If we do reach a comprehensive deal, it will not end nor will it alter our commitment to supporting those in Iran demanding greater respect for universal rights and the rule of law. And we continue to insist that Iran release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, and help us find Robert Levinson.
And reaching a comprehensive deal will not alter our commitment to fighting Iran’s efforts to spread instability and support terrorism. This will not change – with or without a deal.
But Iran with a nuclear weapon – without a nuclear weapon, excuse me – will be far less emboldened to take destabilizing actions in the region. It will reduce the pressure for a regional nuclear arms race and strengthen the international nonproliferation regime. In short, it is a critical step to greater global security – for the United States, for Israel, and for all of our partners in the region.
—June 8, 2015 in remarks at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum 2015
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew
Of course, keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is not a new or recent national security priority for the Obama Administration—it has been a core priority since the very beginning. And our commitment to stopping Iran was not just rhetoric—our commitment was backed up with action.
For us at the Treasury Department, that meant working with Congress, agencies across the federal government, and our counterparts around the globe to build an international sanctions regime without precedent. Let us not forget that when this sanctions regime was being put together, it was criticized—called “idiot diplomacy,” “merely a political statement,” and “an idea whose time has come and gone.” After all, the United States had already had a near-total embargo on Iran for more than a decade. Many doubted whether the international community would remain united to stop Iran, whether countries with great energy needs like China and India would join us and agree to dramatically rein in their oil purchases, and whether the United States government could put together a sanctions program that would be effective enough to pressure the leadership in Tehran to alter its plans.
Those doubts were proven wrong. Thanks to our sanctions, Iran finds itself isolated from the international financial system, its oil exports are slashed by more than half, and much of its oil revenue and foreign reserves are out of reach. In other words, today, when we look at Iran, we see an economy struggling under the weight of the most effective and most innovative sanctions regime in history. At the same time, inside Iran, sanctions helped shape the country’s political discourse. Iran elected a president who campaigned on the importance of ending Iran’s international isolation.
To be clear, sanctions were always a means to an end. They were designed to help bring Iran’s leaders to the table to negotiate a serious agreement on its nuclear program. And while we will not know until the process is completed whether there will be an agreement, there is no doubt that our sanctions worked to bring Iran to the table, prepared to make serious concessions.
Following months of hard bargaining and tough negotiations, we struck an interim understanding with Iran in November 2013. In accordance with that arrangement, Tehran froze and rolled back parts of its nuclear program while we continued to negotiate on a longer term deal. At that time, some denounced the interim understanding, known as the Joint Plan of Action. They said Iran would cheat, that our sanctions would fall apart, and that this temporary deal would allow Iran to move closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon. But none of that came to pass. Iran remains under enormous economic pressure. It has halted and scaled back key elements of its nuclear program. And we have gained unprecedented insight into Iran’s nuclear activities.
Still, we take nothing for granted certainly not that we can simply trust Iran. We know that Iran has historically told the international community one thing, while doing something very different. And since the outset of our negotiations, we have abided by a critical principle: distrust and verify. So through painstaking verification, we have made sure that the Iranians are keeping their commitments—allowing us to continue the talks knowing that Iran was not simply using negotiations as a form of smoke and mirrors. And while Iran has received limited, reversible relief in exchange for its compliance, at the same time, we have continued to aggressively implement and enforce our core sanctions on Iran, ensuring that the pressure remains strong and that Iran has a real incentive to make concessions at the negotiating table.
Over the last week, there have been news reports, based on information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran’s stockpile of uranium has grown over the past 18 months. Some took this to mean that Tehran failed to meet its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action. But the IAEA did not reach that conclusion. Quite to the contrary, the IAEA verified that Iran has met the terms of its agreements, that the progress on its nuclear program has been frozen, and that fluctuations in Iran’s stockpile of uranium were an entirely expected part of the chemical conversion process. To put it another way, even though Iran’s stockpile of uranium has gone up and down at various times over the past 18 months, this was something we anticipated and at each of the deadlines that have been set, Iran’s uranium stockpile levels have been within the levels that were agreed to.
That brings us to the framework for a final agreement—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—which we reached in Switzerland in early April, a framework that is the basis of a good, comprehensive deal. It meets our core objective: blocking each of Iran’s pathways to a bomb. This includes break-out attempts at the known nuclear facilities at Natanz, Fordow, and Arak as well as any potential secret path to developing a nuclear weapon. At the same time, as the framework lays out, the final deal will be built around an incredibly robust and intrusive inspections regime on Iran’s nuclear program. We will have more insight into Iran’s program that we have ever had. We will be inspecting and monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites and, importantly, supply chains. Uranium mines, uranium mills, centrifuge production sites, assembly and storage facilities, the purchase of sensitive equipment—all will be under penetrating surveillance.
Make no mistake, we are not operating on an assumption that Iran will act in good faith. This deal will only be finalized if the connective tissue of the agreement meets a tough standard of intense verification and scrutiny. A final agreement will have to specifically address concerns about a potential covert nuclear weapon program. If we reach an agreement and Iran ends up flouting its obligations, we will know, and we will have preserved all our options—including economic and military measures—to make sure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.
In return for meeting the demands that have been put on it by the international community, Iran would obtain phased-in relief from nuclear-related sanctions. But, in the same way that we have structured inspections around the notion that Iran might try to cheat, we have approached winding down sanctions so we can police against the same risk.
Should we come to a final agreement, sanctions relief will be granted under two conditions.
First, sanctions would be lifted in phases, only after Iran meets agreed-upon benchmarks. Our phasing will be designed to ensure that Iran meets and maintains its commitments.
And second, we will make sure that if Iran violates its commitments, we will have the full capability to snap sanctions back into place and reverse the relief.
The framework meets our requirements in both respects, and if we can get a comprehensive deal, here is how it will work.
Iran will receive relief from certain UN, EU, and U.S. sanctions only after it verifiably completes major nuclear-related steps.
Right now, Iran is two to three months away from acquiring a bomb’s worth of nuclear material. Under the agreement we are pursuing, for at least 10 years, Iran will be kept at least one year away from having enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon and will have no path to developing a bomb using plutonium.
That is because we will have blocked all four of Iran’s pathways to develop a nuclear weapon. The core of the reactor at its only plutonium facility—Arak—will be dismantled and replaced. As far as uranium, Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility, and it will reduce its centrifuges at Natanz by two-thirds. The remaining centrifuges at Natanz will enrich uranium to below 5 percent for the next 15 years, only enough for energy purposes. In addition, Iran will have to reduce and maintain its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from approximately 12,000kg to 300kg — a reduction of 98 percent. But in addition to safeguarding these declared nuclear sites, a potential deal must prevent Iran from using a covert site to break out. And that is why any deal must ensure comprehensive and robust monitoring and inspection anywhere and everywhere the IAEA has reason to go.
In return for taking these steps, and only if these steps are taken, we are prepared to provide significant sanctions relief, including suspending secondary oil, trade, and banking sanctions. And while we would suspend these sanctions using a combination of Executive authorities, the President’s authority to re-impose sanctions would remain in place. In the meantime, our legislative sanctions authorities, which only Congress can end, will remain in place. And we will only ask Congress to vote to end those sanctions after Iran has complied with the agreement for many years.
This aspect of the framework is very important. By maintaining our sanctions architecture and providing relief through waivers, we will be able to quickly reinstate sanctions if Iran violates the agreement. This snapback mechanism will give us crucial leverage to ensure that Iran remains in compliance for years after any agreement is reached.
And, snapback provisions are not limited to U.S. sanctions alone. The international coalition that put together the current multilateral sanctions regime remains united in the view that Iran must face the full force of international sanctions if it fails to meet its obligations under the agreement. We are still developing the exact mechanisms by which sanctions stemming from UN Security Council Resolutions would be re-imposed. But we will not allow such a snapback to be subject to a veto by an individual P5 member, including China or Russia.
Before closing, I want to explain a little about what sanctions relief will actually mean and what it will not mean for Iran should an agreement be reached and should Iran verifiably meet its commitments under that agreement.
We share the concern that Iran may use the money it gets from sanctions relief to support terrorism and the activities of its dangerous proxies throughout the Middle East. But it is important to note that our sanctions on Iran’s terrorist networks will remain in place, even after Iran takes the steps necessary to get relief from nuclear-related sanctions. In addition, we are deepening our cooperation with Israel and our other regional partners who want to stand up to Iran’s influence and interference.
On top of that, the idea that Iran’s economy will instantly recover if a deal is reached is a myth. Iran’s economy has to climb out of an incredibly deep hole. Iran’s domestic investment needs are estimated to be at least half a trillion dollars, which far exceeds the benefit of sanctions relief. Iran’s priority—as expressed with the election of President Rouhani—is to address those domestic needs first: fixing its budget, paying for infrastructure upgrades, increasing imports, and shoring up the rial. Reserves that would be released are far less than what Iran requires to address all of these needs.
The truth is, it will take Iran quite a while to recover from the effect of the unprecedented international sanctions effort led by the United States. Consider these facts.
• Our sanctions have cost Iran more than $160 billion in oil revenues since 2012 — revenues Iran can never recoup. And even if Iran were able to quickly double its current oil exports — a big if given how low oil prices are today and how much investment Iran’s infrastructure needs to produce at this level — it would take more than three years for Iran to earn that much money.
• Iran’s GDP shrank by 9 percent in the two years ending in March 2014, and it is today 15 to 20 percent smaller than it would have been had it remained on its pre-2012 growth trajectory. It will take years for Iran to reach the level of economic activity it would be at now had sanctions never been put in place.
Given the state of Iran’s economy and the long road ahead, Tehran will need to channel substantial resources to address its urgent domestic needs. But that does not mean that Iran will stop supporting dangerous actors like Hizballah and the Assad regime. That support has gone on for years now, even as Iran’s economy has suffered tremendously, and we have every reason to believe it will continue. And the unfortunate truth remains that the cost of this support is sufficiently small, that we will need to remain vigilant with or without a nuclear deal to use our other tools to deter the funding of terror and regional destabilization.
But a nuclear deal was never meant to resolve all the conflicts between the United States and Iran. That is not what this deal is about. The framework we have established paves the way for an international agreement between Iran and America, Britain, France, Germany, the EU, Russia, and China to stop Iran from obtaining the most dangerous type of weapon the world has ever known. The region and the world will be a more dangerous place if we fail, and a nuclear armed Iran would be more a more menacing supporter of terrorist groups and destabilizing regional forces.
We are resolved to hold Iran accountable and continue to use all our available tools, including sanctions, to deter Iran’s aggression, its violation of human rights, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its threats against America’s allies—like Israel. Iran knows that our array of sanctions focused on its efforts to support terrorism and destabilize the region will continue after any nuclear agreement. That means Treasury will continue to aggressively target the finances of Iranian-backed terrorist groups and the Iranian entities that support them, including Hizballah and the IRGC-Qods Force. And as we have always done, we will continue to stand with Israel and publicly condemn any hateful speech towards the State of Israel from Iranian officials.
As we meet this afternoon, we are only a few weeks away from the deadline for a final agreement. From now until then, our negotiators will work around the clock to try to iron out the remaining details of a comprehensive deal. Now, as everyone here knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not believe Iran can be trusted. Neither do we. That is why the only way we will agree to a deal is if we get the access to ensure that Iran is keeping its word and we have a procedure in place to re-impose sanctions in the event that Iran violates the terms of the agreement.
A diplomatic solution is the best, most enduring path to achieve our goal of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But we have also been clear, we remain steadfast in our determination to take any steps necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That is not just important to Israel’s security but America’s security.
As history makes clear, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to future generations to give diplomacy a chance. Whether it was Nelson Mandela emerging from prison after 27 years to negotiate the peaceful end to apartheid, Ronald Reagan sitting at a table with a nation he called the “evil empire” to negotiate the end to the Cold War, or Menachem Begin meeting at Camp David to negotiate a peace accord with Egypt, Israel’s sworn enemy—diplomacy is not conducted with our friends but with our adversaries. And when given a chance, smart, tough, hard-fought diplomacy can succeed.
—June 7, 2015 at the annual Jerusalem Post conference
Secretary of State John Kerry
QUESTION (Israel's Channel 10 News): Mr. Secretary, the U.S., Israel’s obviously strongest ally, is advancing towards an agreement with Iran, a country that has publicly sworn to wipe my country off the map and a country that while negotiating with the West is still funding Hizballah and directing its actions. Can you understand why some Israelis feel deep disappointment towards the Administration?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can understand why they feel a set of questions and skepticism. That I understand. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to feel disappointment because we’re not going to disappoint Israel. We will never disappoint Israel. We are not going to sign a deal – I’ll say this again – we will not sign a deal that does not close off Iran’s pathways to a bomb and that doesn’t give us the confidence to all of our experts – in fact, to global experts – that we will be able to know what Iran is doing and prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.
President Obama has absolutely pledged they will not get a nuclear weapon, and I believe that where we are heading will, in fact, protect Israel. Let me give you an example. When we started this negotiation, the breakout time – what we call it to get enough fissile material for one bomb – was about two months to three months. We have pushed that out now, and with this deal, for the first 10 years, we will know that it is one year for that period. Now I ask you a simple question: Is Israel safer with two months or one year? I think the – they started out with a 12,000 kilograms of a stockpile of enriched material. Under our agreement, that will be reduced by 98 percent to 300 kilograms for that 10-year period. Now, there are a lot of the assurances and visibility on their program that aren’t for 10 years. They’re for 15, they’re for 20, they’re for 25, and they’re forever, forever. And the forever alone gives us, we believe, the capacity to know what Iran is doing. We will not disappoint Israel.
QUESTION: What many Israelis are asking themselves is what would happen in 10 to 15 years when the agreement expires and Iran will be a step from obtaining military nuclear capability. I mean, can one really guarantee that that won’t happen?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me tell you exactly what happens here. Countries in the world that are signatories to the Nonproliferation Treaty have the right to peaceful nuclear power. That’s why they signed the Nonproliferation Treaty. Now we are going to put Iran to an extraordinarily rigorous test as to whether or not they are changing their visibility, their accountability, so that we know what they are doing, so that when they become an NPT country full-fledged, we will still know that their program is peaceful.
I say to every Israeli today we have the ability to stop them if they decided to move quickly to a bomb, and I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they’re doing so that we could still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb. We don’t give one option up that we have today. We have various options – sanctions, we have a military option. We don’t lose any of those. And in fact, we gain on the visibility into Iran’s program. We will have inspectors in there every single day. That is not a 10-year deal; that’s forever there have to be inspections.
And so people need – there’s a lot of hysteria about this deal. People really need to look at the facts and they need to look at the science of what is behind those facts. We negotiated with the former Soviet Union. We had 50,000 nuclear warheads facing at each other. They were called the Evil Empire. Even Ronald Reagan was able to negotiate with Gorbachev. We set up systems where we could verify. And we proceed – even today with our bad relations that we have right now with Ukraine, we’re still doing the things necessary to adhere to that agreement.
So this will be no different. If we do not believe that – and if Russia doesn’t believe that and China doesn’t believe that and Germany doesn’t believe that and France doesn’t believe it and England doesn’t believe it – if all of these permanent five plus one members of the United Nations don’t believe they can live up to it, we’re not going to sign the deal. But if we’re satisfied that we have the ability to do this, we ask people to measure carefully what the agreement is, and wait until we have an agreement to make all these judgments.
QUESTION: You mentioned a military option. Prime Minister Netanyahu repeats again and again, even after the Lausanne agreement, that Israel has the right to defend itself by itself and that all options are on the table. Can you imagine a scenario in which you wake up one morning and discover that Israel has launched an offensive in Iran?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s obviously – for the most part, that’s hypothetical until we know what the circumstances are where that choice might or might not be made. I do not believe, frankly, that Israel – we’ll wake up one morning and find that. I believe our relationship with Israel is such that the prime minister would talk to us at considerable length, because we would be deeply involved in what would happen as an aftermath and there are huge implications to that.
But more importantly, we don’t lose that option here. If – let me give you an example of what we have here. We have 25 years of the ability to inspect and track and trace every ounce of uranium that is mined in Iran, every movement of that uranium from the mine to the mill, from the mill to the yellowcake, from the yellowcake to the gas, from the gas to the centrifuge, from the centrifuge out into waste or enriched material. We will follow every trace of that. And we have set up very special processes here where we guarantee that if Iran refuses to allow us to watch one of those things, that will be a material breach of this agreement and all the options that we have today are still at our disposal.
So we believe that what we’ve put in place here so far – and we have to finalize this. We don’t have the final agreement yet. And if there’s a balking at signing that final agreement or they try to move back from the kinds of assurances that we think are necessary to satisfy our friends in Israel, to make sure we can look every Israeli in the eye and say we will know what they are doing and we will stand by you if they break out or try to, and we will not allow them to get a weapon. And I promise you that will remain the policy of the President of the United States with this deal, without this deal, and way into the future with any other president. We will not disappoint Israel.
QUESTION: President Obama said to Israelis, “We have your back.” What does that practically mean? What kind of assurances will Israel receive?”
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me give you an example of what that means. A lot of Israelis don’t see this, but every week we step up to defend Israel in one fora or another in the world, whether it’s the Human Rights Council in Geneva, whether it’s the UN in New York, whether it’s some other entity in The Hague, at the ICC, whatever it is. We constantly are voting, working, pushing in order to push back against unfair bias, bigoted, degrading, inappropriate assaults on Israel’s sovereignty and integrity, and we stand up for it.
QUESTION: And that, of course –
SECRETARY KERRY: In fact, we’re even being kicked out of entities at the UN now because we stand up and we have a law that says if the Palestinians do something, then we would not pay our dues. Well, guess what? Because of that we’re losing our vote in UNESCO. We will – and we will no longer, by the way, be able to defend Israel as a result of losing that vote. So we believe and we’ve asked the prime minister and the Government of Israel, give us a waiver so we can at least continue to be able to defend Israel, because actually this winds up being self-defeating.
QUESTION: Did you receive an answer on this –
SECRETARY KERRY: We haven’t yet gotten the support we’re looking for to try to be able to get that waiver. So really, I think it hurts Israel because we’re no longer able to be there. I mean, we’ve done so many things, including trying to prevent the Palestinians from going to the ICC, trying to argue at the ICC that they’re not a state, and that costs us, believe me, in certain ways. But we do it because it’s the right thing to do and we stand with Israel. So I think people need to have some confidence that the administration that designed and deployed Iron Dome that has saved countless thousands of lives in Israel, the administration that has signed an MOU and put $3.1 billion on the table to continue to provide defense, that supported Israel through Gaza and so forth, the administration that designed and deployed a weapon that has the ability to deal with Iran’s nuclear program is absolutely an administration, a government, and a country that will stand by Israel way into the future.
QUESTION: Both Israel and the Gulf states share their concerns regarding this agreement. But while the GCC leaders were already invited to Camp David in Washington to meet with President Obama and discuss the agreement, Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t received an invitation yet. Why?
SECRETARY KERRY: But no, these are just the Gulf states because we already have a defense arrangement and security guarantees with Israel. What we are doing now is addressing the concerns of many of the neighbors in the region – which we understand, by the way, and they’re legitimate. They sit there as Israel does and say, “Well, now, wait a minute. If the United States is making a deal with Iran on this nuclear deal, are they still going to push back against Iran’s behavior in other ways?” And the answer is profoundly, to a certainty, yes. We are going to push back. We’re not going to take away the embargo on weapons transfer on day one, et cetera. We’re not going to take away – by the way, that was put in by the UN. We’re not going to take away the United States Iran Sanctions Act that actually imposes sanctions on them for what they did in our embassy in 19 – when they took over the embassy. We’re not going to stand by while they play footsie with Hamas or put weapons into one place or another, as we just did where we sent the USS Rooseveltinto the Gulf to push back against this flotilla that was traveling from Iran, we knew, with weapons on it. We’re not going to do – we’re not going to let them do those things.
And we want to reassure not just Israel but all of the countries in the region that the United States will defend them, stand with them, work with them in order to push back against inappropriate, unacceptable, law-breaking behavior anywhere where we see it in that region. And that’s exactly why we’re having the meeting. I will meet with the ministers of the GCC in Paris in a week or so, and then they will come to Camp David and we will make very clear the United States’ determination to continue – in fact to raise the level, increase the level of pushback against behavior that we deem to be inappropriate.
Now let me just ask you something. That will be necessary – I think you would agree – even if you don’t have a deal, because Iran has been doing everything it’s been doing on very little money even with sanctions. And the policy of the prior administration to us and leading into the Obama Administration was there should be no enrichment at all. But they enriched. They went from 164 centrifuges in 2003 to 20,000 centrifuges, and that’s what I found when I came in as Secretary of State. They had enough fissile material to be able to make eight bombs. That’s where we were. We’ve rolled that back. We are the first administration to stop their program, roll it back, and begin to put in place restraints going forward. And we think that’s very significant.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked if he trusts President Obama in an interview to CNN recently, he chose to evade an answer again and again. Isn’t this maybe more than anything evidence to the low point the relationship has come to that leaders on both sides can’t even publicly declare that they trust one another?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t – I didn’t see the interview. I don’t know what he said or didn’t say, so I’m not going to comment on that except to say to you that I don’t think – I was in the United States Senate for 29 years, left in my 29th. I had a 100 percent voting record for Israel. I have great ties to Israel. And I can tell you, no administration in American history has literally done as much, put as much on the line, worked as hard to try to help Israel in so many ways, from trying to work with the Palestinians on peace efforts a year and a half ago to building Iron Dome, deploying it; to providing the MOU; to providing daily work with our intelligence community, with our military that is still going on notwithstanding any tensions or misunderstandings. President Obama wants a strong and normal relationship with the government, with the prime minister, with whatever emerges as a government. We look forward to working with it. I look forward to traveling there and visiting. It was going to happen sooner; it may happen now in the next weeks when they get a government. And I’m confident we’re going to proceed forward with a strong and healthy relationship between the United States and Israel because that’s in our DNA. It’s not going away.
QUESTION: How would you define the crisis between Netanyahu and the Administration following on the speech in Congress?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t think there is a crisis.
QUESTION: There isn’t?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. I’ve said many times – go back to every statement I made. I welcomed the prime minister of Israel to come and speak here at any time. I know there was a flare-up over the notification issue because it came from the speaker’s office, not through the normal process, and that raised a moment of a flurry of speculation. But I guarantee you there’s nothing that stands between the United States and Israel, and I am confident that the relationship between the President and the prime minister will be viewed as we get a government and move forward now as one that is cooperating on all the critical issues with respect to security, the normal relationship challenges that we face, and our cooperation in order to help stand with Israel in fora where people attack it unfairly and do things that run counter to our values and to our policies.
QUESTION: So there isn’t a lack of trust, a lack of chemistry? Some commentators even –
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t get into chemistry. Look, I’m not here to be a psychologist or psycho-babblist. My job as Secretary of State is to work with our allies and our friends. And Israel is a great ally and a great friend, and we will continue to work in the same way I have every day that I’ve been in public life.
QUESTION: A word about the southern – about – excuse me. A word about the northern border of Israel, which is very tense in the past couple of weeks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: How concerned are you by the possibility of a war erupting in the northern border of Israel with Hizballah?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m always concerned about what Hizballah is doing. I mean, I personally traveled to Syria prior to the war, prior to the uprising, in order to challenge Bashar al-Assad with respect to their transfer of SCUD missiles to Hizballah and Lebanon. And that’s something I did as a United States senator on behalf of the Administration as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. So we have no illusions about why Hizballah is there, who supports Hizballah – Iran, about its activities that are dangerous and provocative. And Hizballah has tens of thousands – 70, 80,000 rockets. We’re well aware of that. It’s one of the reasons why the United States built Iron Dome and it’s one of the reasons why we will stand by Israel. We need to rid that country of those rockets. We need to stop that kind of behavior; that is, we need to get the IRGC out of Syria. We need to end Iran’s support for these kinds of terrorist activities. And we will, through the GCC enhanced security arrangement that we’re working on and our continued cooperation with Israel, absolutely stand against that kind of behavior.
But let me ask you: Would you rather stand against an Iran that has a nuclear weapon while you’re trying to do that, or that can’t? We have decided the first priority is take away the ability to have a nuclear weapon. And that will not change any of our commitment and dedication to preventing all these other terrible scenarios from unfolding. But I’d rather do it without their having a nuclear weapon than with their having one, and that’s why we are intent on guaranteeing they don’t get a nuclear weapon. It’s a good starting point, folks.
—April 30, 2015 in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 News
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We will be working nonstop between now and the end of June to see if we can resolve this most pressing national security challenge peacefully, which will make Israel, the region, the United States, and, indeed, the world safer.
I know that in the Jewish community here in America, a community I’m proud to be part of, there’s been a lot of discussion during the past few weeks about our relationship with Israel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, and a lot of interest and concern about our efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Given the importance of these issues, I’m going to spend just a few minutes talking to you about them today, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
Every time I hear President Obama talk about issues that matter to American Jews, and some of you have heard directly, I’m always struck about how personally he feels about those issues and how personally he feels about his connection to the Jewish people and to Israel. This deep-seated feeling is what drives his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and his desire to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state.
It’s also what drives this Administration’s approach to the Iran nuclear threat. We understand that Israel is in a tough neighborhood. That’s why we have given Israel more security assistance than any other Administration in history. And that’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure that that neighborhood doesn’t become even tougher with a nuclear-armed Iran. We believe that the parameters, announced two weeks ago in Lausanne, offer the best chance at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and just as importantly, that the alternatives fall far short of what we’ll have if we’re able to turn the political framework into a comprehensive agreement.
Without such an agreement, Iran’s breakout time to get enough nuclear material for a weapon is two or three months – what it is right now. With this agreement it will be one year, up to six times as long as it is now, for at least 10 years. Without this agreement, Iran would expand its enrichment program to 100,000 centrifuges in the next few years. With this agreement, we will have limited Iran to operating about 5,000 centrifuges for at least the next decade. Without this agreement, Iran could produce two weapons’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium every single year. With this agreement, Iran is going to have zero weapons-grade plutonium, and not just for 10 years, but for the lifetime of the reactor.
Without this agreement, Iran would be able to expand its stockpile of currently 10 tons of enriched uranium. With this agreement, that stockpile will be reduced by 98 percent to only three kilograms of a working stockpile. And without this agreement, the international community through the International Atomic Energy Agency would only have its pre-joint plan of action – the first step – insight and inspection into Iran’s declared nuclear program and no ability to look for undeclared nuclear activities.
But with this agreement, we will have the most extensive system of monitoring and verification we have ever negotiated for any country anywhere in the world. We will have eyes into every part of Iran’s nuclear program from cradle to grave. And if we detect Iran is trying to break its commitments or violating the agreement, we will have every single option on the table to respond to them that we have today. So when you look at the comparison between the agreement we are negotiating and the chance that we would succeed, the better course of action is abundantly clear.
I could go on, but I want to have time to take your questions, and here’s the key point: Our shared values have provided a basis for partnership on critical domestic and foreign policy priorities over the past six-plus years, and they will continue to do so for the remainder of President Obama’s second term. We intend to use every single day of the rest of this Administration to work to make our country and the world a better and safer place, even when it’s hard to do. At the State Department, that means working as hard as we possibly can to achieve a good agreement with Iran that provides us and the world with the assurances that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Thank you. That was a wonderful presentation. Before the first Gulf war, President Bush the elder had sanctions in place, and they were working. And he ended the sanctions shortly after he said they’re working, and we ended up in war. I’m very concerned that we have sanctions working and that we’ll end them too soon and we won’t get the deal and we won’t get the enforcement and we’ll end up in war and in an even more dangerous situation.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. It’s a very good question. The sanctions that we have on Iran – which are U.S. sanctions, EU sanctions, UN Security Council sanctions – are quite vast and quite effective. But they are not effective at preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Sanctions have helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table, but just a few years ago Iran had only 164 centrifuges. As the sanctions came on and as they got more profound, Iran went to the state where they are today, which is to have 19,000 centrifuges, because Iran is in a resistance economy and a resistance culture, and they believed that if the world was going to put sanctions on them, they were going to keep marching forward with their program in the way that they felt they needed to. The only thing that has stopped Iran’s program – and, in fact, rolled it back – is what’s called the JPOA, the Joint Plan of Action, which was the first agreement that we reached, the first step, the interim agreement. That agreement stopped Iran’s program where it is so that we would have time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement, and it got rid of its entire 20 percent stockpile of enriched material. And that’s critical because you go from small enrichment – 3.5 percent, 5 percent – then you go to 20 percent, and then you go to 90 percent and highly enriched uranium, which is fissile material for a nuclear weapon. So the only thing – the only thing – that has stopped Iran’s nuclear program at all has been that first step negotiated agreement to provide time and space to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.
And secondly, it’s very important to understand that the reason we were able to keep sanctions together was because we were committed to trying to find a peaceful, diplomatic solution. So countries around the world, even good allies like Japan and South Korea, were willing to limit the amount of oil they imported from Iran because they believed we were working towards a peaceful solution. If they feel we aren’t working towards a peaceful solution, they are likely to break ranks and we won’t be able to keep the sanctions together anyway.
And then finally, many people say – and I understand the impulse, because you get frustrated and there’s so much going on in the region that is it not good – that people say, “Take military action against Iran.” Actually, our intelligence community has assessed and said publicly that if we took military action against Iran, it would only take away their program for maybe two years. They have mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle, and you can’t bomb away knowledge. So even if we destroyed their facilities, they could recreate it.
So the really durable solution here is getting an agreement with enough transparency, monitoring, and verification to understand what is going on.
QUESTION: Does the Administration have a plan in place to prevent the undermining of the agreement that you’re negotiating by the Congress? Because the Congress seems to be intent to do it. Would you perhaps consider having President Obama oppose the agreement, so that the Republicans could find a way to support it?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We’re working very hard with Congress. Senator Cardin, who is obviously my senator – and I’ve known Ben most of my life – worked very hard with Senator Corker to fashion a piece of legislation that gave the Congress a procedural way to look at this agreement without getting into the substance, per se. We’re very grateful, and grateful that Senator Corker and Senator Cardin were able to reach an agreement. This legislation will be on the floor of the Senate this week. There will be a lot of pretty awful amendments, quite frankly, and we’ll see where we end up.
The President has said that if the Corker-Cardin legislation stays where it is, he will not veto it; if it becomes something else, then he’ll have to consider his options.
—April 27, 2015 in remarks at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Biennial Leadership Policy Conference
 300 kilograms