Kerry Exit Memo on Iran Policy

On January 5, Secretary of State John Kerry released an exit memo with an overview of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy over the last eight years. The following is an excerpt on Iran from the memo with other remarks from January 2017.


Verifiably Preventing Iran from Obtaining a Nuclear Weapon

Secretary of State John KerryIn 2009, Iran was marching forward on the path toward being able to acquire enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, and the world was divided over how to confront this growing threat to international security. While the United States had a full range of options available to us, we knew that a diplomatic solution was the most durable and verifiable way to ensure we met President Obama’s pledge to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Leading with diplomacy, the United States painstakingly brought the world together – including countries like Russia and China – in an unprecedented coalition to establish an international sanctions regime intended to change Iran’s calculus. At the United Nations Security Council, we led the effort to impose the toughest multilateral sanctions in history on Iran. And working closely with Congress, we expanded our unilateral sanctions as well, all with the goal of bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

Sanctions alone could not have ended the threat from Iran’s nuclear program, nor were they intended to do so. Even as its program continued to advance, installing 19,000 centrifuges and stockpiling enough enriched uranium to make several bombs, the objective was always to test whether the increased pressure had made a negotiated solution possible and to ultimately avoid the need for war.

Given the history of mistrust and the serious issues at stake, we knew this would be a tough challenge. After reaching out to Iran through bilateral channels and more than two and a half years of intense multilateral negotiations, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran agreed on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement that has verifiably cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.

Before the JCPOA, Iran was under 90 days away from having the material necessary to produce one nuclear weapon. Today, because of the JCPOA, they are at least a year away – and the unprecedented transparency measures allow us to know almost immediately if Iran fails to comply, giving us plenty of time to act. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has been reduced by 98 percent – not anywhere close to what’s needed to make a single nuclear weapon. Iran has removed two-thirds of its installed centrifuges from its nuclear facilities, along with the infrastructure that supported them, and those materials are sealed under continuous monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has halted all uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow facility, and removed all fissile material from the site. Iran has removed the Arak reactor’s core and filled it with cement, ensuring that it can never be used again. All of this is subject to the most extensive transparency and verification regime ever negotiated. The IAEA now also has visibility and accountability of the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program, from start to finish.

Pursuant to the JCPOA, the United States and our partners have, in turn, lifted nuclear-related sanctions on Iran – the sanctions we put in place precisely to reach this kind of diplomatic solution. This has created opportunities and the prospect of a better future for the Iranian people. As for the Iranian government, while we have made clear we are open to a different future should its many objectionable policies change, it has yet to demonstrate a willingness to do so. Our relationship remains highly contentious – and we must maintain our pressure and continue to push back on Iran’s missile program, its support for U.S. Department of State 6 terrorism, its disregard for human rights, and its destabilizing interference in the affairs of its neighbors as long as these threats persist.

In reaching and implementing this deal, we took a major security threat off the table without firing a single shot. The United States, our partners and allies in the Middle East (including Israel), and the entire international community are safer today because of the JCPOA.

Click here for the full text.


Jan. 5, 2017 Press Briefing

The second area that I want to highlight is the Iran nuclear agreement, which is a demonstration, quite simply, of the power of diplomacy to be able to address major international problems short of war.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has made the world and our allies safer, including Israel and the Gulf states. 

Let me be very explicit about that.  When we sat down to begin that negotiation, there were more than 19,000 centrifuges spinning and enriching fuel.  There were 12,000 kilograms of enriched radioactive fuel material, which with one more enrichment could move to bomb-level development capacity.  There was enough nuclear material to be able to produce somewhere between 10 to 12 bombs, if that were the direction that Iran decided to continue to move.  And a unilateral approach or refusing to negotiate at all, which some advocated, would have left us with two very bad choices: the short-term risk of a nuclear-armed Iran, and yet another conflict in the Middle East. 

And to be clear – to be crystal clear – terminating that agreement now would leave us with those same bad choices.  You cannot make a bomb with 300 kilograms of enriched material – that’s all they have today – from 12,000.  You cannot make a bomb when you are limited to 3.67 percent of enrichment, and that is being tracked on a daily basis.  The number of centrifuges today is down to about 5,000, which is permitted under the agreement.

So what we’ve seen is the joint plan has in fact blocked each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, and I might add, by the choice of Iran to submit to this – not because it does it in and of itself, but because this is an agreement and Iran agreed to these terms of the agreement.  We have eliminated 98 percent of the stockpile that existed of enriched uranium, and we’ve shut down two-thirds of the centrifuges, and we have made the overall – I think a better way to phrase that is that the agreement, because it takes two to create an agreement, or more – in this case the P5+1 – the agreement itself creates the most rigorous inspection regime that has ever been negotiated. 

We simply could not have accomplished any of that by going it alone, which is why we engaged in a joint diplomatic effort, and the result is that we now have the world on our side.  The world is supporting this agreement and supporting the fact that a potential nuclear weapon has been eliminated in a particularly volatile region of the world.

The result is that if we maintain our leverage and meet our obligations, then we will be able to ensure that Iran has a reason to and a requirement to do the same.

Click here for the full briefing.


Jan. 10, 2017 Remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s
Passing the Baton 2017: America’s Role in the World

MS WOODRUFF:  What are you absolutely confident most endures that this Administration has done globally on the world stage?  And what are you most worried about?

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, I’m – I really believe common sense is going to win out.  I mean, it doesn’t make sense to – let me give you an example: the Iran nuclear agreement.  There were in 19,000 centrifuges spinning, producing enriched material.  Now there are 5,000, which is what is allowed.  There was a 12,000 kilogram stockpile from which you could have made 10 to 12 bombs if you enriched it.  Now there is a 300 kilogram stockpile, limited to 300 for the next 15 years, and it is physically impossible to build a bomb with 300 kilograms of material.  Iran is limited to 3.67 percent enrichment.  You cannot build a bomb at 3.67 percent enrichment.  So with the 130 additional inspectors who are in Iran, watching what’s happening, I’m absolutely confident about the route to a weapon being blocked.

Now, if that were just arbitrarily undone, we’re going back to a place of conflict almost immediately.  We’ll also reduce our credibility in the world, because I suspect the Russians and the Chinese and the French and the Germans and the British will just continue the deal.  And we’ll be sitting there outside with our credibility grossly damaged, and with Iran saying, “Well, we lived by the agreement, but now the United States isn’t willing to, so we’re going to do what we’re permitted to do.”  And then you’re right back where you were, where we had pressures on us to go bomb Iran.  Believe me, there were pressures.

So it doesn’t make sense, and I believe reason will win out.  ...