On April 30, Secretary of State John Kerry told Israel’s Channel 10 News that the United States will not “disappoint Israel” and will only sign a nuclear deal if it closes off all of Iran’s potential pathways to a bomb. “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,” he said in an interview with Tamar Ish-Shalom in Washington. The following are excerpts.
QUESTION: 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 Roosevelt into 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.