Press Availability by Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Excerpts)

October 22, 2014

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

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QUESTION: Good morning. Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about Iran, the nuclear talks which you just referenced, and then I have a very brief other question. On Iran, is it the Administration’s intention to go for a deal that – to avoid Congress, to cut Congress out of the loop on this? There seems to be a lot of concern on the Hill that this is what’s going to happen, and I’m just wondering if that’s the way the Administration intends to go.

And then I’d like to ask briefly, both of you, about the foreign fighter and ISIL question. You saw there was some American teenagers picked up here in Germany, and I’m just wondering if you think that this – that enough is being done to stop the flow of the fighters coming in, and if not, what more needs to be done? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you want me to go?

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Matt, let me – I really want to make this very, very clear, because I read a story the other day that suggested exactly what you said. And let me just begin by saying, as you know, as everybody in the United States knows, or most people, I spent 29 years in the United States Senate. And I have too much respect for the process of the Congress, the rights of the Congress, and the importance of the relationship between the Executive and the Congress, the Legislative Branch, to ever suggest that there would be any credibility to this notion there’s some thought of going around it; on the contrary. We are completely engaged in a regular series of briefings. I’ve been talking even during the break to senators about our thoughts with respect to the Iran negotiations, and I personally believe, as does the President, that Congress has an extremely important role to play in this, and Congress will play a role in this.

So on sanctions, what we’ve merely said to people is that – and we’ve said this in public testimony as well as in private conversations – that in the first instance, we would look to suspend sanctions, which the President can do, simply because that’s the necessary way to proceed with respect to the negotiations themselves. But that does not in any way write Congress out of the process or suggest that, in the end, Congress isn’t going to have a vote or do something with respect to this. We anticipate hearings, we anticipate a significant amount of back-and-forth, we certainly will be briefing as we go forward in the next weeks, and we look forward to serious and deep congressional engagement in this effort.

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FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Allow me to give you my perspective on both questions. On the topic of Iran, well, I have been dealing with the Iran talks for 10 years now in various capacities. Between 2005 and 2009, I intensively participated in each phase of discussions. In my second term in office as foreign minister, I am also involved in this.

We could have had this deal much earlier, but we’re not talking about just any deal, no. What we’re talking about is a political agreement that gives us the guarantee that Iran is not capable of gaining access to nuclear arms, and this is the only criterion that is important here. And according to this responsibility, our responsibility – and also are responsibility with regard to the Middle East, Israel, ourselves, our peaceful order in the world – and according to this responsibility, we are going to act and analyze together when the conditions are met.

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QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I have a question to both of you. Mr. Kerry, you talked a lot about the Middle East. Israel is also part of the Middle East. In Israel and around Israel, there are many people who voice the concern that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing, and closing quickly. How do you assess this? How big is your concern?

And my second question: You talked a lot about November 24th, the opportunity for a conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran. What’s your assessment? If there is a solution in this field, does this actually make peace negotiations more difficult in Jerusalem if negotiations with Iran are successful? So far, Prime Minister Netanyahu voices concern because he doesn’t believe that Iran is serious.

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SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, the talks. Let me – I’m not going to get into predicting possibilities or rank where we are. I will express hope, not optimism – hope that we can bridge the gaps that still exist. Both sides have negotiated in intensive and serious and respectful ways. They, I think, understand what is needed here, and let me be clear about what is needed. There is a fundamental reason why we are having these negotiations. It is because the United Nations Security Council voted a set of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program based on the unanswered questions about where that program was going. So Iran has a very simple task, really. All it has to do is prove to the world through its transparency and accountability that its program is indeed peaceful. There are four major tracks to the potential of an Iranian bomb, and each of those four tracks needs to be clearly unattainable – and that’s what we are working to achieve – with a breakout time that is sufficient for the world to be able to respond, should that occur.

And I’m not going to get into the details because we’re not going to negotiate publicly. I think that’s a mistake. But I will tell you that we’re hopeful. We’re working very hard. And the Iranian team is tough, they’re knowledgeable, they negotiate hard, but they’ve also been negotiating seriously. And we will continue over the course of the next weeks with hopes that we can achieve what I think the world would like to see, which is a reduction in the possibility of further conflict and the clear path to a non-nuclear Iran, which everybody is seeking.

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) When I elaborated on the criterions that are necessary for successful talks with Iran, I also talked about Israel. Aside from regular needs for security, aside from peace in the world, we also know that, of course, Israel has a vital interest in making sure that there is no threat posed to Israel’s security in any way. We all know that. And once again, let me reiterate there will not be a negotiated result that – a result to the negotiation that leads to Iran gaining access to nuclear weapons. At the same time, let me endorse what John Kerry just said. The illusion that some people in Israel have that the status quo is the best possible option is deemed by myself, and I think John agrees, is an illusion. After the third war in Gaza, I said the most dangerous thing is for us to actually get back to the status quo ante between – go back to the time between the second and the third war in Gaza.

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