Kerry on Foreign Policy Agenda for 2016

January 13, 2016
On January 13, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted implementation of the Iran nuclear deal as a top foreign policy priority for 2016. “Implementation day, which is the day on which Iran proves that it has sufficiently downsized its nuclear program and can begin to receive sanctions relief, is going to take place very soon – likely within the next coming days somewhere,” he said at the National Defense University. Kerry also noted that Iran has played a positive role in the Syrian peace process, another U.S. priority. The following are Iran-related excerpts from his speech at the National Defense University.
 
   
Nuclear Deal
 
Now, obviously, in some respects, 2015 was a year of turbulence and tragedy. But the fact is we also saw and measured remarkable advances in every single corner of the globe. We witnessed barriers that have long divided nations begin to break down. We reached historic agreements on climate change, the Iran nuclear program, trade. We made progress on issues that have seemed intractable for years, and in some cases decades. We hadn’t talked to the Iranians in 35 years. We are working, making progress in various sectors of economic diplomacy as well as straightforward security diplomacy. …
 
Now, in addition to our efforts in Syria and Iraq, another major priority for the coming year involves Iran and the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that we agreed on last summer in Vienna.
 
The JCPOA, as it is called, is a blueprint for blocking all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon. As agreed, Iran is now well on its way to dismantling – dismantling – critical elements of its nuclear facilities. Just yesterday the foreign minister reported to me that the calandria of the plutonium nuclear reactor is now out. And in the next hours it will be filled with concrete and destroyed. All of their enriched material has been put on a ship and taken out and gone to Russia for processing. That shipment that was taken out in one day more than tripled our previous timeline of two to three months for Iran to be able to acquire enough weapons-grade uranium for one weapon, and it is an important part of the technical equation that will bring the breakout time to at least one year for the next ten years.
 
In the meantime, the IAEA will build up its capacity to inspect, to know what Iran is doing. And for 25 years we will be tracking every bit of uranium that is processed, from the mine to the mill to the gas to the yellow cake to the centrifuge and into the waste. And for the lifetime of this agreement, Iran is subject to the Additional Protocol, which means that where there is a suspicion of some activity that is contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we will have the right to inspect.
 
I can assure you we will continue to monitor implementation of this agreement closely, because yes, existential challenges are at stake here. And we will ensure that the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is removed as a threat to the Middle East security and global peace, and it is not insignificant that Iran has agreed to submit to this, agreed to undertake these steps, agreed that it will not build this weapon. Implementation day, which is the day on which Iran proves that it has sufficiently downsized its nuclear program and can begin to receive sanctions relief, is going to take place very soon – likely within the next coming days somewhere. And when that happens, we are convinced it will make us and our partners around the world more safe and secure.
 
Syrian Peace Process
 
Last November in Vienna, the United States and other members of the International Syria Support Group finally agreed upon a series of specific steps to stop the bleeding in Syria, to advance the political transition, to isolate the terrorists, and to help the Syrian people begin to rebuild their country.
 
Now, I can’t stand here before you today and tell you this is going to work. I know how it could, but it’s going to require the cooperation of countries in conflict. It was monumental that we were able to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran to the table together in order to join in this, and it is important that both have said they will not allow their current differences to stand in the way of working towards a settlement.
 
In December, we and the other members of the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution endorsing the work of the Vienna support group, the International Syria Support Group, bringing the full weight of the global community behind this process.
 
So for the first time, every one of the major international players has come around a table together with a specific timetable for negotiations between the responsible opposition and Syria’s government. And because of the hard work of all of those parties, those talks are now slated to begin later this month, on January 25th.
 
It will be difficult. It will require good-faith effort by Russia, Iran, by all the players to push for the implementation of the Geneva communique, which calls for a transition unity government. But it is not to be missed by anybody here that even Iran put forward an important contribution to the dialogue in a peace plan that called for a unity government, constitutional reform, a ceasefire, and an election. And that is part of what has been embraced by the Vienna support group.
 
U.S. Sailors
 
I want to underscore how pleased I am that our sailors were safely returned into United States hands this morning.
 
As a former sailor myself, as the general mentioned, I know as well as anybody how important our naval presence is around the world, and certainly in the Gulf region, and I could not be – and I know the President could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform. I also want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which, as everybody here knows, have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control. And I’m appreciative for the quick and appropriate response of the Iranian authorities. All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today. And I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago and, in fact, it is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and efficiently resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.
 

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