Remarks at a Solo Press Availability
Secretary of State
November 20, 2014
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. As you know, I've spent the last couple of days in Europe, in London, and now in Paris. And during the course of that time, I've had very worthwhile meetings with Foreign Secretary Hammond of Great Britain, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal here in Paris today, and of course, with Foreign Minister Fabius, and other meetings that I have had during that time.
During these meetings, we've discussed a range of the challenges that we face together as partners – obviously, Syria, ISIL, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, others, but particularly, as you can imagine, the focus has been on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. As all of us know, we are now a little less than a week away from the November 24th deadline for these negotiations. And none of us came to this process, I assure you, with anything except serious purpose and realism. We knew the stakes in getting into this, and we also knew the challenges.
But we've also – I want to make it clear – come a long way in a short period of time. After all, it was only last year when our nations first resumed high-level contact after decades of stalled relations, I think more than 35 years since we had even talked. It was only last year that President Obama spoke with President Rouhani by phone, and it was only last year when I sat down for the first time with Foreign Minister Zarif in New York at the United Nations.
Work also had to be done during that time with our European partners and the P5+1 partners and with the Iranians in order to be able to test seriously what might be possible at the negotiating table. These steps all together created an opening that we hadn't seen or been able to possibly experience since the time or the advent of the Iranian nuclear program. As a result, last November we did conclude a Joint Plan of Action with Iran in which they agreed to freeze – effectively freeze their nuclear program while the P5+1 provided limited sanctions relief. And together, we set a frame for these negotiations on a comprehensive agreement.
And despite the skepticism that many expressed when we first reached the JPOA, as it was known – the Joint Plan of Action – the world is already safer because of it. And all sides have stuck to their commitments made under that agreement. Consequently, we are today closer to resolving the international concerns around Iran's nuclear program through diplomatic means.
Now, we have the chance – and I underscore the word chance – to complete an agreement that would meet our strategic objectives, that would guarantee that Iran's four pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon cannot be used, and thereby to be able to give the world the needed confidence that the Iranian program is exclusively and conclusively peaceful as Iran has said it is. And then at the same time, enable the Iranian people to be able to have the economic opportunities that they seek.
Clearly one can envision an agreement that is fair and possible. But it still will require difficult choices. Now, I've said this before and I'll say it again – Iran has continued to state it has no interest in obtaining a nuclear weapon. Ultimately, if you want to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your program is a peaceful one, that is not, from a technical perspective, very hard to do. We and our European and P5+1 partners are working to secure an agreement that accomplishes that goal. And in the days ahead, we're going to try to work very, very hard to see if we can close the gaps and get to where we need to be.
I would emphasize both sides are taking this process seriously and both sides are trying to find the common ground. That doesn't mean that we agree on everything. Obviously, there are gaps. We don't yet. But it does mean that we have discussed in detail the full range of relevant issues that have to be part of a durable and comprehensive agreement, including infrastructure, stockpiles, research, equipment, timing, and sequencing.
And I would also emphasize that we all know our principles in this process, and our principles as a group are rock solid. As we have said every single step of this process, an agreement like the one we are seeking is not built on trust, as much as anybody might like it to be. It is built on verification. And no member of the P5+1 is prepared to or can accept any arrangements that we cannot verify or make any promises that cannot be kept.
In a few hours, I will head to Vienna. And now more than ever we believe that it's critical that we not negotiate in public and that the ideas discussed among the negotiations remain among the negotiators so that misunderstandings are prevented and the integrity of the discussions is preserved. So you're going to hear, I'm sure, a lot of rumors. There'll be conflicting reports. The bottom line is nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and it's the negotiators who have to speak for these negotiations. We intend to keep working hard to resolve the differences, to define the finish line, and do everything in our power to try to get across that line.
I thank you very much, and I'd be happy to take a couple questions.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Nicolas Revise from AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. You just said at the (inaudible) that the P5+1 is united. But don't you see some divisions, even minor divisions between the United States and France about how to get to an agreement on the nuclear program? And if so, did you manage to solve these disagreements with your French counterpart? Did you agree on everything, especially on the enrichment capacity? And don't you fear, Mr. Secretary, that the French could repeat what they did in November 2013 when they spoiled the whole thing?
And speaking about divisions, if I may, did you raise with Laurent Fabius the issue of the warship Mistral? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first, I just – I don't agree with the assumptions that you've made in the course of that question, in many of them. And I think Laurent Fabius just spoke for France and said nous sommes en commun, we are in common. We are. He gave me a piece of paper – which we've had for some period of time – in which he lays out France's four ideas about what they believe are important. I'm not going to go into them because I said we're going to negotiate this privately. But we agree with every single one of them. We may have a minor difference here or there on a number of something or whatever, but not on the fundamental principles. We are in agreement that you have to be able to verify this, that there are limits. There has to be an acceptable level, and we're confident about our unity as P5+1.
So I'm – we've had a terrific partner in France in this effort. France made a very courageous decision with respect to the Mistral, for example, which is not directly related to Iran, but it's a courageous decision with respect to its impact, its economics, and other things. We have admiration for that kind of decision of principle. And believe me, I know people will try to find a division or create a division, but when we say the P5+1 is united, we mean it. And we're going to work together as colleagues closely. I'll be in close communication with Foreign Minister Fabius even today and into tomorrow and for the next few days. And we're going to work as a team. It's that simple.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Jonathan Allen of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I wanted to just ask you about Mr. Hammond's remarks. He doesn't seem very optimistic that you will make the deadline. So – and he thinks an extension will probably be necessary. So I wondered if you would talk a bit about what sort of extension might be palatable to you, how long this might drag out for.
SECRETARY KERRY: No. We're not talking about an extension, not among ourselves. We have not talked about the ingredients of an extension or – we're talking about getting an agreement. Now, I know that Secretary Hammond is concerned about the gaps. We all are. And I think he's expressing his personal concerns about how to close those gaps over the next few days, and it's very fair for him to have those concerns. But we are not discussing extension; we are negotiating to try to get an agreement. It's that simple.
And look, if you get to the final hour and you're in need of having to look at alternatives or something, we'll look at them. I'm not telling you we're not going to look at something. But we're not looking at them, not now. This is – we're driving towards what we believe is the outline of an agreement that we think we can have. And a lot of work has been done, including on annexes and other things, over the course of these last months by some very effective technical and expert people in the field of nuclear power and so forth. And we're quite confident about the groundwork that's been laid.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: That's it?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, everyone. (Laughter.)
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