Secretary of State John Kerry's Interview at Washington Ideas Forum with Steve Clemmons of The Atlantic (Excerpts)

October 30, 2014

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


QUESTION: We’re at the end of our time. There’s so many topics – your views on Assad and his survivability, and others. But I just want to finish – and we really are out of time – but on Iran. If I was thinking about Walter Isaacson’s book on you, which he no doubt will write. He wrote “Kissinger” – we’ve seen Walter up here. He wrote the book, “Kissinger.” If he was writing the book “Kerry” and the opening chapter – I’m interested in whether that entails a deal you helped put together on Iran or not. Yesterday Susan Rice gave a deal a 50/50 chance, which was somewhat higher than I thought it might have. But I’m interested in what happens if a deal with Iran is not achieved. What does the world look like in your world if we don’t go that way? Because it seems then there isn’t a Nixon-goes-to-China moment out there to sort of recreate the sense that America can re-sculpt the global international system.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we’re living in a very different time. As I said, nations are more developed, they’re more assertive, and it’s not a moment like that. But that doesn’t make diplomacy any less important. It’s in fact more important in many ways, because we don’t have the bipolarity that existed for those 70 years or so. We are working in a very different format. I think the first I’d urge Walter Isaacson if he actually wanted to do that is don’t write the first chapter right now. (Laughter.)

But my – look, I – I’m directly involved, obviously. I’m negotiating face to face with Minister Zarif.

QUESTION: But what odds do you give it?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t. I’m not going to give it odds. As I said to the President recently, I’m not going to express optimism; I’m going to express hope --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- and I think achieving it is critical. But I will say this to everybody: We’ve set a very clear standard. There are four present pathways to a bomb for Iran – the hidden so-called secret facility in a mountain called Fordow, the open Natanz enrichment facility, the plutonium heavy-water reactor called Arak, and then, of course, covert activities. We’ve pledged that our goal is to shut off each pathway sufficient that we know we have a breakout time of a minimum of a year that gives us the opportunity to respond if they were to try to do that.

We’re – we believe there are ways to achieve that. Whether Iran can make the tough decisions that it needs to make will be determined in the next weeks, but I have said consistently that no deal is better than a bad deal. And we’re going to be very careful, very much based on expert advice, fact, science as to the choices we make. This must not be a common ideological or a political decision. And if we can do what we’ve said, what the President set out in his policy – the President said they will not get a bomb. If we could take this moment of history and change this dynamic, the world would be a lot safer and we’d avoid a huge arms race in the region where Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians, others may decide that if they’re moving towards a bomb, they got to move there too, and obviously it’s a much more dangerous world. And that is not a part of the world where you want massive uninspected, unverified, nontransparent nuclear activities. So that’s what we’re trying to do.


QUESTION: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of State John Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Thanks very much.