Kerry: Iran Deal Was Right Thing to Do

December 7, 2015
On December 5, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the nuclear deal with Iran at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, an annual U.S.-Israel dialogue. “It was the right thing to do whether it leads to cooperation or not in other areas, because any effort to roll back Iran’s behavior, my friends, is a heck of a lot easier if they don’t have a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said. He also assured that the United States would know if Iran tries to break out to build a nuclear weapon. The following are Iran-related excerpts from his keynote address.
Now, I know some of you here and some of you throughout the community and the United States elsewhere, I know you still have concerns [about the nuclear deal]. I understand those concerns. No one is blind to that. But we are convinced based on information and judgment and years of expertise provided to us by our entire Intelligence Community and our Energy Department which manages our own nuclear weapons program that we have the ability to know what Iran is doing. And we have to remain committed to the policy and will remain committed to the policy that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.
Now, two years ago when our formal negotiations began, Iran’s nuclear activities had already grown from a few hundred centrifuges to more than 19,000. That’s where we began. They had 19,000. They were spinning. They were enriching. They had a stockpile. They were already building a heavy water reactor able to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for a bomb for two a year. That’s what they were already doing. And Iran already had a large stockpile of enriched uranium – enough for a dozen bombs. That’s where we were when we began.
Experts told us that Iran could, if it chose to, obtain all of the fissile material that it would need for a nuclear weapon in as little as two months. That’s where we began. Compare that to where we are now. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, every single one of Iran’s pathways to a bomb is blocked – its uranium pathway, its plutonium pathway, its covert pathway. And due to massive cuts in its uranium stockpile and reductions in its enrichment capacity, all of which the Iranians agreed to – people forget we already have two and a half years of compliance under our belt because we had the interim agreement which rolled back their program. And under this, the breakout time, the two months that we were living with, will now stretch to 12 months for at least a decade.
And because of the unprecedented monitoring and verification requirements that we negotiated which are an integral part of this plan, we now have 25 years of day-to-day complete visibility on every ounce of uranium that is mined, milled, put into yellowcake, into centrifuge, into gas, gas to centrifuge, out waste – we track it day-to-day, 24 hours, 24/7 we have that tracking. We will know if Iran tries to break out. I’m not telling you they might not, but I’m telling you we’ll know, and we have the same option then we had now.
Now, the reason is that we will know is that if Iran did decide to get around this, its technicians would have to do more than bury a reprocessing facility deep beneath the ground. They would have to come up with a complete and completely secret nuclear supply chain from start to finish. And our experts and the experts of France, Germany, Britain, and China and Russia, four of whom are nuclear weapons countries, agree that they would never get away with such a deception, of such a complete supply chain.
And although some of the specific limitations in the plan apply for 10 years, my friends, some apply for 15, some for 20, some for 25. But here’s the most important thing: The basic monitoring and verification provisions are in effect for the lifetime of Iran’s nuclear program, and under the agreement Iran will be prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon forever. So it if ever steps out it is in contravention of this agreement and of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Now – and of the UN resolution, I might add.
So signing a deal and implementing one are obviously two different things. We understand that too. So we have given one of our most capable Foreign Service officers, Ambassador Steve Mull, the day-to-day, 24/7 job of leading an interagency effort to ensure that Iran lives up to every single one of the commitments it has made. And we will continue to consult closely with Congress and with our allies including Israel as that process goes forward.
Now, I want to be clear, the Iran agreement was considered on its own terms. It wasn’t part of some opening the door, (inaudible) shift or hope or some speculation about behavior. It was the right thing to do whether it leads to cooperation or not in other areas, because any effort to roll back Iran’s behavior, my friends, is a heck of a lot easier if they don’t have a nuclear weapon.
Now, we aren’t making any assumptions about Iran’s future policies because we base our policy on observable facts, on actions that we can see and verify. And the fact is that Tehran’s policies are a major reason why we work so closely and supportively with our partners in the region. And nowhere, nowhere, nowhere, is that more evident than with our friend and ally Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli defense and intelligence officials will agree we have engaged in an unprecedented level of military, intelligence, and security cooperation. Defense Minister Ya’alon told this gathering yesterday that those relations were superb, and they are. And we are determined to help Israel to address new and complex security threats because it is changing, and we understand that. We know how this region in turmoil poses a challenge to Israel. And we are absolutely determined, Mr. Minister, Tzipi, to guarantee that there is a qualitative military edge.
Now, we work with Israel every day to enforce sanctions, to prevent terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah from obtaining the financing and the weapons that they seek, whether from Iran or from any other source. And we will stand with Israel to stop its adversaries from once again launching deadly and unprovoked attacks against civilians. Since 2009, we have provided $20 billion in foreign military financing to Israel, more than half of all the military assistance we have given worldwide. Over and above that we have invested some $3 billion in the production and deployment of Iron Dome and other missile defense programs and systems. And we saw how in Israel’s last conflicts with Hamas lives were saved in Israel because of that assistance. We have given privileged access to advanced military equipment such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Israel is the only nation in the Middle East to which the United States sold this fifth-generation aircraft. And earlier this year the President authorized a massive arms resupply package featuring air-to-air missiles and other advanced munitions.

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