Remarks By Secretary Kerry Before Congress on the Iran Agreement

Opening Remarks Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
July 23, 2015

Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Cardin, members of the committee and friends and former colleagues. We really do the appreciate the chance to discuss with you the comprehensive plan that we and our P5+1 partners have developed with Iran regarding the future of its nuclear program. And let me emphasize to everybody here this isn’t just the United States of America. These are other nuclear powers: France, Britain, Russia, China. They have a pretty good understanding of this field and of the challenges, and I appreciate the way in which they and Germany, which was the plus-one, all came together, all contributed, all were part of this debate. So you’re not just looking at what this table negotiated; you’re looking at what the international community, the P5+1 under the auspices of the United Nations, negotiated, and they’re not dumb. They’re experts, every one of them, in nuclear technology and ratification and verification, are smart people who spent a lifetime at this, and they’ve signed off on this agreement.

Now I’m joined by two cabinet secretaries whose help was absolutely invaluable in reaching this deal, and I thank all of you for the role that Congress played. I was privileged to be the chairman of this committee when we passed the Iran sanctions effort. And we all remember the debate, we passed it unanimously, and it played a very significant role in bringing Iran to the table and in helping to make it clear that we needed to bring about a serious and productive negotiation with Iran.

Now, from the day that those talks began, we were crystal clear that we would not accept anything less than a good deal, and we defined it up front as a deal that closed off the four pathways to a bomb, the two uranium pathways, the one plutonium pathway, and the covert pathway. So we set our standard, and we believe we have achieved that standard. After almost two years of very intensive talks, the facts are all really crystal clear that the plan that was announced last week in Vienna is, in fact, a deal that does shut off those pathways and provides us with guarantees, through the lifetime of the NPT and the participation of Iran, that we will know what they are doing.

Now, the Chairman mentioned in his opening comments some phrase about unless we give Iran what they want. Folks, they already have what they want. They got it 10 years ago or more. They already have conquered the fuel cycle. When we began our negotiations, Iran had enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs. They had 19,000 centrifuges up from the 163 that they had back in 2003 when the prior administration was engaged with them on this very topic.

So this isn’t a question of giving them what they want. I mean it’s a question of how do you hold their program back, how do you dismantle their weapons program, not their whole program. Let’s understand what was really on the table here. We set out to dismantle their ability to be able to build a nuclear weapon, and we’ve achieved that. Nobody has ever talked about actually dismantling their entire program because when that was being talked about, that’s when they went from 163 centrifuges to 19,000. Everybody here at this dais knows what the options are for actually stopping that. It’s called military action, because they’re not going to stop it otherwise. They’ve already proven that. They proved it during all those years.

So under the terms of this agreement, Iran has agreed now to remove 98 percent of its stockpile voluntarily. They’re going to destroy 98 percent of their stockpile of enriched uranium. They’re going to dismantle two-thirds of their installed centrifuges, and they’re going to take out the existing core of an existing heavy water reactor and fill it with concrete. Iran has agreed to refrain from producing or acquiring highly-enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium for at least 15 years, and if they began to do that, Ernie Moniz will tell you, we will know it immediately.

Iran has also agreed to accept the additional protocol, and the additional protocol is an outgrowth of the failure of the North Korea experience, which put in additional access requirements precisely so that we do know what Iran is doing, and they have to ratify it before the UN sanctions are lifted at the end of this process. They have to have ratified – they have to passed it in the Majlis. They’ve agreed to live by it from day one. They’re going to live by the additional protocol. In addition, there are additional transparency measures we can go into in the course of this hearing.

Now, if Iran fails to comply, we will know it, and we will know it quickly, and we will be able to respond accordingly by reinstituting sanctions all the way up to the most draconian options that we have today. None of them are off the table at any point in time. So, many of the measures that are in this agreement are there for – not just for 10 years, not just for 15 years, not just for 20 years, not just for 25 years, of which there are measures for each of those periods of time, but they are for life, forever, as long as Iran is within the NPT. By the way, North Korea pulled out of the NPT; Iran has not pulled of the NPT.

Remember that two years ago when our negotiations began, we faced an Iran that was enriching uranium up to 20 percent at a facility that was secret and buried underground. And they were rapidly stockpiling enriched uranium and had installed nearly 20,000 nuclear centrifuges. They were building a heavy water reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium at the rate of enough to produce one or two bombs a year. And experts assess that the breakout time then, as a result, the interval required to rush to be able to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, was about two to three months. If this deal is rejected, we return immediately to this reality, except that the diplomatic support that we have built with all these other countries, that we have accumulated, would disappear overnight.

Let me underscore. The alternative to the deal that we have reached is not what I have seen some ads on TV suggesting, disingenuously. It isn’t a “better deal,” some sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran’s complete capitulation. That is a fantasy, plain and simple. And our own intelligence community will tell you that. Every single department of our intelligence community will reinforce that to you. The choice we face is between an agreement that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is limited, rigorously scrutinized, and wholly peaceful, or no deal at all. That’s the choice.

The fact is that there are 189 nations that live by the NPT: 5 of them are, as we know, the main nuclear powers of the UN, and 184 of them are non-nuclear in power. But they live by it. And we have lived by what the IAEA does with respect to ensuring the surety of what all of those 184 nations are doing, including 12 that enrich.

Now, if the U.S. Congress moves to unilaterally reject what was agreed to in Vienna, the result will be the United States of America walking away from every one of the restrictions that we have achieved, and a great big green light for Iran to double the pace of its uranium enrichment, proceed full speed ahead with a heavy water reactor, install new and more efficient centrifuges, and do it all without the unprecedented inspection and transparency measures that we have secured. Everything that we have prevented will then start taking place, and all the voluntary rollbacks of their program will be undone.

Moreover, if the U.S., after laboriously negotiating this multilateral agreement with five other partners, were to walk away from those partners, we’re on our own. Our partners will not walk away with us. Instead, they will walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions regime that they have helped to put in place. And we will have squandered the best chance we have to solve this problem through peaceful means.

Now, make no mistake. President Obama has made it crystal clear that we will never accept a nuclear armed Iran. He is the only president who has developed a weapon capable of guaranteeing that. And he has not only developed it, he has deployed it. But the fact is that Iran now has – we all don’t like it, but whether we like it or not, Iran has developed experience with a nuclear fuel cycle. They have developed the ability to produce the fissile material for a bomb. And we can’t bomb that knowledge away, nor can we sanction the knowledge away.

Remember, sanctions did not stop Iran’s nuclear program from growing steadily to the point that it had accumulated enough fissile material to produce those 10 nuclear weapons. By the way, they didn’t choose to produce them. Unlike North Korea, that created a nuclear weapon, and exploded one, and pulled out of the NPT, Iran has done none of that. The truth is that the Vienna Plan will provide a stronger, more comprehensive, more lasting means of limiting Iran’s nuclear program than any alternative that has been spoken of. And to those who are thinking about opposing the deal because of what might happen in year 15 or 16 or 20, remember: If we walk away, year 15 or 16 or 20 starts tomorrow, and without any of the long-term verification or transparency safeguards that we have put in place.

Now, over the past week, I have spoken at length about what exactly this deal is. I also want to make clear what this deal was never intended to be.

First of all, as the chief negotiator, I can tell you I never uttered the words “Anywhere, anytime,” nor was it ever part of the discussion that we had with the Iranians. This plan was designed to address the nuclear issue, the nuclear issue alone, because we knew that if we got caught up with all the other issues, we’d never get where we needed to to stop the nuclear program. It would be rope-a-dope, staying there forever, negotiating one aspect or another.

And the highest priority of President Obama was to make sure that Iran couldn’t get a nuclear weapon, so we were disciplined in that. We didn’t set out, even though we don’t like it – and I have extensive plans that I will lay out to you, if you want them, about how we’re going to push back against Iran’s other activities, against terrorism, its support, its contributions to sectarian violence in the Middle East and other things. All of those are unacceptable. They are as unacceptable to us as they are to you. But I got news for you. Pushing back against an Iran with a nuclear weapon is very different from pushing back against an Iran without one. And we are guaranteeing they won’t have one.

So, we are working very closely with the Gulf states. Just today, in Saudi Arabia – Ash Carter was there yesterday – the foreign minister said that Iran’s nuclear deal appears to have all the provisions necessary to curtail Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon. That’s Saudi Arabia. The Emiratis are supportive. The foreign minister of Iran is going to be in the Emirates this weekend.

So, I would suggest respectfully that we are going to continue to press Iran for information about the missing American, about the immediate release of Americans who have been unjustly held. And there isn’t a challenge in the entire region that we won’t push back against if Iran is involved in it. But I will tell you, it wouldn’t – none of those challenges will be enhanced if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.

So, the outcome cannot be guaranteed by sanctions alone. I wish it could, but it can’t be. And, by the way, it also can’t be guaranteed by military action alone. Our own military tells us that. The only viable option here is a comprehensive, diplomatic resolution of the type that was reached in Vienna. And that deal we believe – and we believe we will show it to you today and in the days ahead – will make our country and our allies safer. It will ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains under intense scrutiny forever, and we will know what they are doing, and it will ensure that the world community is united in ensuring that Iran’s nuclear activities will remain wholly peaceful, even as we also stay united in pushing back against its other activities in the region which we object to. We believe this is a good deal for the world, a good deal for America, a good deal for our allies and friends in the region, and we think it does deserve your support.