When I met with Secretary of State John Kerry in his office this past Friday, it was apparent that he was in an exceedingly feisty mood, and it’s not easy to display feistiness when you’re trapped, as he was, in a recliner. Kerry, who broke his leg two months ago, will be rid of his crutches soon, which for him is not soon enough, because he’d prefer to do battle in Congress for the Iran nuclear agreement—quite obviously the crowning achievement, in his mind, of his long and distinguished career in public life—with two good legs.
Congress is the target of Kerry’s feistiness, as is his close friend and staunch adversary, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is leading the charge against congressional ratification of the deal. In the course of a lengthy and freewheeling interview—which you will find published in full, below—Kerry warned that if Congress rejects the Iran deal, it will confirm the anti-U.S. suspicions harbored by the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eliminate any chance of a peaceful solution to the nuclear conundrum.
“The ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy, that you can’t negotiate with us, that we will screw them,” Kerry said. “This”—a congressional rejection—“will be the ultimate screwing.” He went on to argue that “the United States Congress will prove the ayatollah’s suspicion, and there’s no way he’s ever coming back. He will not come back to negotiate. Out of dignity, out of a suspicion that you can’t trust America. America is not going to negotiate in good faith. It didn’t negotiate in good faith now, would be his point.”
Kerry also said that his chief Iranian interlocutor, the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and Zarif’s boss, the (relatively) reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, would be in “serious trouble” at home if the deal falls through. Zarif, Kerry told me, explicitly promised him that Iran will engage with the United States and its Arab allies on a range of regional issues, should Congress approve the deal. “Zarif specifically said to me in the last two weeks, ‘If we get this finished, I am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues.’” Kerry went on, “This is in Congress’s hands. If Congress says no, Congress will shut that down, shut off that conversation, set this back, and set in motion a series of inevitables about what would happen with respect to Iranian behavior, and, by the way, the sanctions will be over.”
Kerry rejected criticism from Israel, and from many in the American Jewish community, that by publicly warning Israel that it will be further isolated internationally if the deal should be rejected, he has encouraged scapegoating of the Jewish state: “If you’ve ever played golf, you know that you yell ‘fore’ off the tee,” he explained. “You’re not threatening somebody, you’re warning them: ‘Look, don’t get hit by the ball, it’s coming.’”
Kerry believes that a congressional rejection of the deal will lead to war—he explains his theory of his case in detail below—and he finds the “visceral” and “emotional” criticism of the deal in Israel, and among many of Israel’s supporters, flummoxing. “I’ve gone through this backwards and forwards a hundred times and I’m telling you, this deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets,” Kerry said. “And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.” When I asked him how he interprets Israeli criticism of the deal, he said there is a “a huge level of fear and mistrust and, frankly, there’s an inherent sense that, given Iran’s gains and avoidance in the past, that somehow they’re going to avoid something again. It’s a visceral feeling, it’s very emotional and visceral and I’m very in tune with that and very sensitive to that.”
Though he says he is in tune with this set of Israeli fears, he does not endorse a view widely shared by Israelis—and by many Americans—that Iran’s leaders, who have often said that they seek the destruction of Israel, mean what they say. “I think they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps to, quote, ‘Wipe it,’ you know ...” Here I interjected: “Wipe it off the map.” Kerry continued: “I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t seen anything that says to me—they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.”
“I’ve gone through this backwards and forwards a hundred times and I’m telling you, this deal is as pro-Israel ... as it gets.”
On a related matter—whether or not the nuclear agreement represents a bad deal for the people of Syria, who suffer under the Iran-supported Assad regime, which will presumably benefit financially from the lifting of sanctions on its primary sponsor—Kerry was somewhat dismissive. In response to my question, “Does it bother you that money will be going to Assad and Hezbollah?,” Kerry responded, “Yes, but it’s not dispositive. It’s not money that’s going to make a difference ultimately in what is happening.”
Kerry and I also spoke about the possibility that we might see a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process once the matter of the Iran deal is settled. I’ve gotten the sense over the past year that Kerry, unlike President Obama, is not quite ready to give up on the idea of U.S. mediation, despite their serious disagreements with Netanyahu and with the Palestinians as well. At one point in our meeting, Kerry, from his recliner, asked his senior communications advisor, Marie Harf, to bring him an Iran briefing book from his private study. I called after Harf to bring Kerry’s West Bank maps—maps that presumably outline the U.S. vision for a two-state solution—while she was at it. Kerry considered saying nothing, but then couldn’t help himself: “Doable,” he said of the peace process. “But not unless somebody wants to do it.”
Here is my full conversation with Secretary Kerry. It is lightly edited for clarity, and some of my questions are edited for concision. We began by talking briefly about the current state of his right femur:
Marie Harf: You’re off crutches soon.
John Kerry: I’m transitioning in the course of this trip I’m taking. So I can leave on crutches and come back on a cane.
Jeffrey Goldberg: You’re going to the Middle East and you’re coming back healed?
Kerry: Without visiting Jerusalem!
Goldberg: You’ll be close enough. And speaking of Jerusalem, let me start with something you’ve just said, something that you believe is analytical: If this deal goes down in Congress, if Congress doesn’t let this through, you’ve said that Israel will be blamed, Israel will be isolated. Many Israelis took this as a threat, not a piece of analysis. Why did you say this publicly?
Kerry: I’m very sensitive to the huge sensitivity in Israel of the challenges they face. Israel is legitimately besieged, and it has been for years. I happen to disagree with some of the choices their leadership has made as to why they are besieged.
Goldberg: Why they’re besieged?
Kerry: I think there are things they could do that would alleviate it, but they haven’t done them. But Israel is our friend. Israel is our ally. Israel is—we have a connection to Israel that makes that sensitivity even more important.
Goldberg: Go to this Heisenberg question. By analyzing this publicly, you’re affecting this, giving permission to Israel’s enemies to isolate it—
Kerry: If you’ve ever played golf, you know that you yell “fore” off the tee. You’re not threatening somebody, you’re warning them: “Look, don’t get hit by the ball, it’s coming.” There are any number of analogies. What I’m saying is, I don’t want Israel to be isolated—obviously not. I don’t want Israel to see further tension and problems. I don’t want to see that. I really don’t want to get bogged down in this because then I look like the analyst. I was really sort of saying that there are consequences to the choices that everybody is making. What I really want to do, Jeff—look, I understand Israel’s concerns. Israel feels that it is trying to protect itself. I’m sensitive to this.
Goldberg: When it comes to Israel and Netanyahu—if the deal is as good as you say it is, and the president says it is, why do you think Bibi objects to it so strenuously?
Kerry: I think Bibi, for years, has had an article of faith in his political makeup and his perception of Iran and the challenges that Israel faces. He has come to a conclusion about Iran that they will find any means, and do anything necessary, to follow through on their threats. We are not discounting the threats. We’re simply saying we believe we have built a structure into this agreement that doesn’t ask to discount his perception of Iran—but begs an analysis of whether or not it’s built in sufficient fail-safes against whatever they do. We believe it has. Our difference with Bibi is not whether or not Iran is bad, or has done bad things, or threatens Israel. It is over whether or not this step actually advantages Israel and puts Israel in a better place to defend itself.
Goldberg: So why do you think Bibi doesn’t get this, in your view?
Kerry: You have to ask Bibi. I can’t go there.
Goldberg: But you’ve asked him.
Kerry: No, but I’ve debated him on this. I just don’t agree. I think he’s seeing this the wrong way.
“Our difference with Bibi is not whether or not Iran is bad, or has done bad things, or threatens Israel. It is over whether or not this step actually advantages Israel.”
Goldberg: Do you believe that Iranian leaders sincerely seek the elimination of the Jewish state?
Kerry: I think they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps to, quote, “Wipe it,” you know...
Goldberg: Wipe it off the map.
Kerry: I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t seen anything that says to me—they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.
I operate on the presumption that Iran is a fundamental danger, that they are engaged in negative activities throughout the region, that they’re destabilizing places, and that they consider Israel a fundamental enemy at this moment in time. Everything we have done here, Jeff, is not to overlook anything or to diminish any of that; it is to build a bulwark, build an antidote. If what Bibi says is true, that they are really plotting this destruction, then having the mechanism to get rid of nuclear weapons is a prima facie first place to start, and you’re better off eliminating the nuclear weapon if that’s their plan. Then we can deal with the other things.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria. (State Department / Reuters)
Goldberg: Let me posit this analysis: that the deal is actually good, but then it becomes bad 10 years down the road. As a confidence-building measure, you’ve curtailed their ability to get to a bomb, but 10 or 15 years down the road, their breakout time shrinks back down to a month or two.
Kerry: Jeff, I fundamentally, absolutely disagree with this premise. It’s not true; it’s provable that it’s not true. And close analysis of this agreement completely contradicts the notion that there is a 15-year cutoff, for several different reasons. Reason number one: We have a 20-year televised insight into their centrifuge production. In other words, we are watching their centrifuge production with live television, taping the whole deal, 24-7 for 20 years. But even more important, and much more penetrating, much more conclusive, we have 25 years during which all uranium production—from mine to mill to yellowcake to gas to waste—is tracked and traced. The intelligence community will tell you it is not possible for them to have a complete, covert, separate fuel cycle. You can’t do the whole cycle; you can’t do the mining and milling covertly. So it’s not 15, it’s 25, and it’s not even just 25. I went back and reread the Additional Protocol the other day, just to make sure I was accurate—Marie, could you go get me my white book, it’s on the floor underneath the desk with all the tabs.
[Harf goes to Kerry’s study, off his main office.]
Goldberg: Marie, could you get the maps of the West Bank while you’re there?
Harf: Haha, very funny.
Kerry: [Pauses] Doable. But not unless somebody wants to do it.
Goldberg: Let’s come back to that.
[Harf returns with a large white ringed binder.]
Kerry: This is so important it’s right on top of this book. The Additional Protocol provides the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] with the right and obligation to apply safeguards on all fissionable material in Iran to be sure that it can’t be diverted to a nuclear weapon. To do that, all non-nuclear-weapons-state parties have to bring into force a comprehensive safeguard agreement with the IAEA. The full safeguard agreement.
The safeguard agreement requires them to maintain detailed accounting on all material that is subject to the safeguards and operating records of all the facilities. Now, in a civil nuclear program, all facilities are declared and all facilities are inspectionable. So every facility maintains 24-7 visibility. You can’t crank up—see, the comprehensive safeguards agreement provides for a range of IAEA inspections, including verifying the location, the identity, the quantity, and composition of all nuclear materials subject to the safeguards, and the design of the facility and so forth. So I can go on—there are even requirements about any kind of nuclear research that doesn’t involve nuclear material. There are requirements about undeclared facilities, requirements about inspections. [U.S. Secretary of Energy] Ernie Moniz and our experts tell me that if the Iranians notched up their enrichment half a degree, half a point—and by the way, enrichment for civil purposes is usually about 5 percent—
“They will not be able to get a bomb.”
Goldberg: In your mind, they couldn’t possibly move to 90 percent [enrichment] without every bell—
Kerry: Physically impossible. And therefore, when you add the Additional Protocol with 25 years of uranium tracking, we’re more than confident that this is something unusual that doesn’t exist in any other agreement in the world. They will not be able to get a bomb.
Goldberg: There’s a political component to what you’ve been—
Kerry: There is a big political component in America.
Goldberg: So let me ask you, in your mind, how much of this is about Jewish fear, and how much of this is about the exploitation of Jewish fear?
Kerry: I can’t answer that. That’s getting analytical, and my attitude is that I take the fear seriously. The fear is real, based on history—based on 2,000-plus years. I mean, I am extremely sympathetic to the fear that people feel, and I understand the historical argument. The reason I disagree with it is that we don’t give up any option whatsoever—and I know that a president of the United States, if you tell the president that if you don’t do something in the next three weeks Iran is going to get a bomb, the president is going to do what we have to do, and everybody in Congress will support it.
John Kerry hugs European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton after reaching an interim agreement with Iran in November 2013. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters)
Goldberg: There is an option you’re giving up, in the sense that the money that is going to be released to Iran is irreversibly released.
Kerry: I disagree that we’re giving it up and I’ll tell you why. Sanctions are already fraying, Jeff. We’ve pressed our case hard and the reason people went along with us is that we went to negotiations and we were in negotiations. People agreed to what was happening in negotiations. If we unilaterally walk away from this process and turn our back on their cooperation, they’re gone. I know they’re gone. Russia? China? Russia and China didn’t even want an arms embargo or a ballistic-missile embargo. They’re gone.
Goldberg: Iran needs this deal more than we need this deal. They need the money. Therefore if Congress was to say, “Go get a better deal with the Iranians,” why do you think the Iranians would just walk away?
Kerry: I know they would walk away for several different reasons. It’s not a “think”—it’s a “know.” You need to talk to the intel community. You know, we had pretty good insight in the course of this process. Our evaluations out of the intel community informed us about where the reality was, what the market would bear.
The ayatollah approached this entire exercise extremely charily. He gave a kind of dismissive OK to [President Hassan] Rouhani and company to go do this, in the sense that he didn’t want to be blamed if this didn’t work. It was all Rouhani’s risk. He was playing the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps], and this and that. And so it was clear to me from my many conversations with Zarif and from the entire dynamic how fragile that journey was with him. The ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy, that you can’t negotiate with us, that we will screw them. This will be the ultimate screwing. We cut a deal, we stand up, it’s announced, five other countries believe in it—six other countries, because Iran signs off, and we’re the seventh—but you know, China, Russia, France, Germany, Britain, all sign off. Now the United States Congress will prove the ayatollah’s suspicion, and there’s no way he’s ever coming back. He will not come back to negotiate. Out of dignity, out of a suspicion that you can’t trust America. America is not going to negotiate in good faith. It didn’t negotiate in good faith now, would be his point.
Moreover, our friends who kept the sanctions in place because we were negotiating in good faith—here’s the other problem. We don’t control the money in the banks. It’s not in our banks. That $55 billion is in India, China, Abu Dhabi. It’s being held at our request and our insistence. But if we break this … And by the way, if Congress votes the way they vote, the president doesn’t have the ability to waive anything.
“If we unilaterally walk away from this process and turn our back on [our partners’] cooperation, they’re gone. I know they’re gone.”
Goldberg: Let me go to another concern, the moral side of this. This is a bad moment for the people of Syria, in the sense that this money we’re talking about, some of it will be flowing to bad actors in the region. I mean, your own department labels Iran the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism.
Kerry: Here’s the problem. We are totally eyes absolutely wide open. We have every awareness in the world about the ways in which Iran destabilizes the region.
Goldberg: But does it bother you that money will be going to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and Hezbollah?
Kerry: Yes, but it’s not dispositive. It’s not money that’s going to make a difference ultimately in what is happening. We have huge mechanisms by which we can push back and make the counter-difference. And the biggest, most important thing this is doing is that it is galvanizing a stronger, more defined security relationship between us and the Gulf states, and it will with Israel. We have countless ways to push back against those activities. And this will put to test whether or not Rouhani and Zarif are serious when they say they want a different relationship with the region.
Goldberg: Do you believe them?
Kerry: It’s not a question of whether I believe them.
Goldberg: Well, Zarif looked you in the eye and said, “We want a more constructive relationship with the Arab neighbors.”
Kerry: You’ve got to put it to the test. It’s not what you say; it’s what you do. There’s nothing in this deal that is about my believing what they say, or trusting them. Not on this question of how they’re going to behave. We didn’t factor that in. We did a nuclear deal. We exclusively looked at how do you take the most immediate threat away from them in order to protect the region. And if we’re going to push back against an Iran that is behaving in these ways, it is better to push back on an Iran that doesn’t have a nuclear weapons than one that does.
People are forgetting, all these people who are criticizing this—“oh my God, what’s going to happen in year 15?” It’s already happened! They have mastered the fuel cycle; they have enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs. They know how to enrich, they have 19,000 centrifuges, so if you say no to this, you are taking us immediately back to that imminent transitional moment, without an alternative about what you’re going to do about it. What we’ve done, and what no one else has succeeded in doing, is rolling back the program.
John Kerry looks out of his hotel room during nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Ruben Sprich / Reuters)
Goldberg: Why do you assume war in the absence of the deal? For them to rush to the bomb—why would they do that?
Kerry: Are you better off going back to a situation where you don’t know what they’re doing—you don’t have inspectors in; you have no inspections regime; you have no reduction in their stockpile; you have no requirements that they do any of that. You’re simply—quote—“relying on them being people of common sense.” You mean, all of a sudden the people you say want to destroy Israel, they’re going to become a country of common sense? I mean, how contradictory is that?
Goldberg: The argument is that if you actually throw a serious brushback pitch at them, they will—
Kerry: What’s a serious brushback pitch?
Goldberg: I don’t know. Interdiction of Hezbollah rocket shipments?
Kerry: Well, we do that anyway. We’re doing that. We already do that.
Goldberg: You’re doing interdictions of Hezbollah rockets?
Kerry: Oh. We are if we see them. Israel’s knocking them out. If Israel sees them, Israel is bombing them. And we’re going to become far more engaged. The president said we’re going to double down on that. But let me come back to this. So Congress rejects the deal—tells six other countries that signed on to it, “We don’t like it, but let’s go back and renegotiate.” And the ayatollah says, “We’re not renegotiating. We’re going to do what we are doing.” So will they enrich to 90 percent the next day? I don’t expect that. But what’s going to happen, Jeff, when a month and a half from now we get an intel message from Israel saying, “We see this facility that’s growing over there and we think there’s enrichment,” and we challenged the IAEA and the IAEA says we got to go in and Iran says, “We’re not letting you in.” We’re back to square one. What do you think 16 Republican presidential candidates are going to say about this uninspected facility that Bibi is starting to scream about? What do you think is going to happen? Where do you think the pressure is going to be? There are no inspectors. Supposing they start to dig deeper, a new hole, under a new mountain, and they do it more carefully, and they go deeper and you don’t have a MOP ability [a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a large bomb in the American arsenal capable of penetrating concrete bunkers] to take it out. They have an ability to get a bomb.
Goldberg: A hole so deep even a MOP couldn’t do it?
Kerry: Yes, absolutely correct.
“There’s nothing in this deal that is about my believing what [the Iranians] say, or trusting them.”
Goldberg; Are you saying that this would inevitably cycle toward confrontation no matter what?
Kerry: I said this at the [Senate] Armed Services Committee. President Obama is not asking for war. He’s not saying we’re going to war. He’s saying that the unfolding of events in the absence of inspections, in the absence of a regime that requires [the Iranians] to do things, in the absence of a reduction of their stockpile, while they’re spinning centrifuges—what do you think is going to happen when you have uninspected centrifuges spinning and enrichment taking place in Iran?
Kerry: Politically! The hue and cry will be, “Iran is going to go to a bomb, you better drop the thing on them now to stop them.” It’s inevitable. Then you have tit-for-tat. Iran—even the CIA and General Dempsey said, [U.S. Defense Secretary] Ash Carter said at the hearing, Iran will respond. So how many of those rockets that are going to come crashing into the straits? Will the Strait of Hormuz be closed? Will our troops in Afghanistan be attacked? Will other bases that are static in the region start—what happens?
Goldberg: You’re describing, in the absence of a deal, an Iran with a lot of advantages in terms of confrontation across the Middle East. It sounds like—
Kerry: We have the ultimate advantage. As Lindsey Graham said, “Who wins?” Well, we all understand that. But that’s all-out—you know—that’s precisely what we’re trying to avoid, if you can set up a means of doing it. What you don’t want, and, by the way, if we then have to do something militarily, Jeff, we will not have the UN, will not have international law supporting it, we will not have our allies supporting it, we will have turned our backs—
Goldberg: France will be there.
Kerry: I’m not so sure. France thinks this is a good deal.
Kerry: Let me put this in very precise terms. Look, I’ve gone through this backwards and forwards a hundred times and I’m telling you, this deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets. And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.
Goldberg: So why do you think you can’t convince the majority of Israelis, or the majority of the organized Jewish community, of this?
Kerry: Because there’s a huge level of fear and mistrust and, frankly, there’s an inherent sense that, given Iran’s gains and avoidance in the past, that somehow they’re going to avoid something again. It’s a visceral feeling, it’s very emotional and visceral and I’m very in tune with that and very sensitive to that. I’ve sat with a number of Israeli friends and gone through in great detail this deal and they will acknowledge, they will admit, “Yes, you know, you’re right, you can’t erase material in 24 days—”
John Kerry confers with his staff, including U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, in Lausanne. (Brendan Smialowski / Reuters)
Goldberg: What if you transferred the MOP to Israel?
Kerry: I don’t know what steps may or not be taken—
Goldberg: Things are cooking, I have to assume—
Kerry: There are certainly options on how we strengthen Israel’s deterrence and so forth. All of these things are on the table, that’s fine, but I’m getting to this point: You can go through the inspections, you can go through this and that and they’ll say, “Yeah, they can do that, they can’t do that, you’ve answered that, but I just don’t trust these guys.”
Goldberg: Is this a case of being haunted by the Holocaust?
Kerry: I think people have a very legitimate deep, deep reservation here, and I think it is dominant in a lot of people’s view of the deal. And I think Bibi is consistent: Basically, he doesn’t believe you can deal with them, but then he doesn’t come up with an option on how you get rid of the program.
Goldberg: Well, he does have—
Kerry: OK, you’ve got his theory, and there’s the theory that President Obama has, about what should be the last resort, not the first resort. That’s the difference here. We are not taking [the military option] off the table. That is maybe what you have to do in the end if [the Iranians] don’t comply. But everybody believes that keeping those six nations together, keeping international law on your side, keeping that option and giving it the opportunity of playing out, is a far smarter way to go than just leaping into it because you don’t trust them today.
Goldberg: On that final subject, the maps—do you think there will be any forward motion on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during your remaining period in this job?
Kerry: I have no idea, and it’s not possible to measure right now.
Goldberg: Do you think the French will make a move in the UN Security Council?
Kerry: I think it depends on what we and others do. If they think we have a legitimate effort, or something legitimate is happening, I don’t think they would. In the absence of something happening, people would want to fill the vacuum.
Goldberg: You’re not immune to the charms of laying out parameters for both sides?
Kerry: Well, timing is everything. It’s premature right now. I’m not immune to that, nor is the president, at some moment. But I think, Jeff, that there are a lot of steps between now and then. One of the things I hope to do with Bibi is lay out a number of things we believe could be done on the ground to try to build some kind of confidence, and change the current dynamic and maybe lay open the possibility for negotiation. I think that ought to be the first step. We have a bunch of suggestions there, they have some thoughts themselves, the Palestinians would like to see that happen, they have some thoughts. That could be a way to build back towards some possibility. That’s a longer conversation. That’s another conversation. Which is definitively not ripe now.
“This was a dangerous place we were in. We were at two-months [breakout]; we were at 10, 11 bombs-worth of fissile material. ... They were almost there. We stopped that.”
Goldberg: I know you’re hesitant to go down this road, but do you think this deal could lead to a new balance in the Middle East? In other words, maybe a virtuous cycle that is going to be set into motion. If you’re right about the ayatollah and what his reaction to congressional [rejection] would be, if you’re right about that, then Zarif and Rouhani are finished.
Kerry: Yes, that’s true. They’re in trouble; they’re in serious trouble.
Goldberg: If this goes through, do you believe that the moderates will be strengthened, and therefore maybe a new—
Kerry: I have spent zero time basing anything we’ve done here on the notion of doing something other than getting rid of the nuclear weapon. If it happens, we’re obviously open to seeing what they might do or want to do, but there’s not a bet on it. We’re not factoring that into our thinking. Our thinking is you’ve got to prevent them from having a nuclear weapon. They were really nudging into it. This was a dangerous place we were in. We were at two-months [breakout]; we were at 10, 11 bombs-worth of fissile material. Arak was about to be completed and commissioned, which would produce plutonium for two bombs a year. They were almost there. We stopped that. People forget: We have two years of this agreement under our belt and they’ve done everything they said they would. You’ve got to build something into this going forward. We were very disciplined in this, not to get sidetracked, not to tie this to whatever—to change this, change that.
We hadn’t talked to each other since 1979. Actually there was one conversation with Ambassador Crocker, he had one conversation. We fundamentally hadn’t talked at a high level like I’ve been doing since then. We were very disciplined to say this is a nuclear deal, we have to get the nuclear-weapons issue out of the way, let’s build some capacity to see if we could deal with each other.
Zarif specifically said to me in the last two weeks, “If we get this finished, I am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues.” Now, I haven’t done that yet, but that’s open, and he was just in Kuwait, he was in Qatar, he was moving around. They’re engaging.
This is in Congress’s hands. If Congress says no, Congress will shut that down, shut off that conversation, set this back, and set in motion a series of inevitables about what would happen with respect to Iranian behavior, and by the way, the sanctions will be over.
Goldberg: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.