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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Previewing the Secretary's Speech on the Iran Nuclear Agreement in Philadelphia

Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
September 2, 2015

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, and thanks to you all for joining the call and for coming with us to the Secretary’s speech tomorrow. This is all on background attributable to senior State Department officials. It’s just embargoed till the end of the call, so you can report anything out of this call, again, on background. And shortly, I will turn it over to [Senior State Department Official], who I know all of you know, to talk a little bit about the speech – just some of the details. It will be, as you I’m sure know, tomorrow at 11 o’clock at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It will include an audience of members of Congress, local groups of students who are interested in this, some of the scientists of the scientific community that is supportive of the deal, some leaders from the Jewish community in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, and other local business leaders and political folks from the community as well.

So with that, I’m going to turn it over to [Senior State Department Official]. She’ll give some brief remarks and then we’ll go ahead and take your questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Terrific. Thanks so much, [Moderator], and thank you all for being on the phone and for going to the speech tomorrow. The Secretary is going to be speaking to several key themes in his speech tomorrow in Philadelphia. It’s part of his ongoing effort and the Administration’s ongoing effort to talk to the American people and talk to Congress about what we achieved in this deal.

First, that the Iran deal makes us and our allies safer – and he will detail the ways in which that is true on the face of it, and laying out the facts, and directly talking on several of the most prominent myths that continue to swirl about this deal. Several things seem to be circulating around that simply are not accurate.

Second, he will make the case that this deal will not obviate our larger responsibilities to the region and to pushing back on Iran’s other nefarious behaviors in the region. He’ll detail the options we have to continue confronting these issues head on, from sanctions to military options to building partner capacity. And he’ll make very clear the consequences if we walk away from this deal – for American global leadership not just on this issue, which is pretty fundamental, but across the board.

In terms of sort of what he’s trying to get across, this is not a political speech; this is really a speech that tries to stay above the partisan fray that seems to be fraying quite a bit these days. This is not a speech that’s focused on rhetoric but focused on the merits of the deal first and foremost, as well as the lack of alternatives and, as I mentioned earlier, trying to really get at some of the pernicious myths that have been circulating and set the record straight.

You all know that Secretary Kerry was a member of the United States Senate for 29 years. He will be speaking to the core issues that his former colleagues are debating right now. He has, as we all have, been fighting and will continue to for every single vote. We’ve been answering every single question that any member of Congress has. We take no votes for granted. That’s why he’s been so active in reaching out to members of Congress as well as to continue discussions with them.

In this vein, in addition to the speech, tomorrow morning the Secretary will be sending a letter to all of the members of Congress that directly address the issue of reassurance of our Gulf and Israeli partners, something we’ve heard many of them ask questions about which you all are well aware of. We know this is a really important issue and we want to be clear with Congress about all the ways we’re going to keep working with our partners in the region to enhance their security.

And now a little piece of news that hasn’t yet been reported. We are, indeed, immensely fortunate that former Republican Senator Dick Lugar, one of our nation’s committed public servants, who has really spent a lifetime working on nonproliferation issues, will be introducing the Secretary in Philadelphia tomorrow. Senator Lugar has already publicly spoken about the merits of this deal in a piece that he co-authored with former Senator Sam Nunn in Politico. You all know that they are the co-authors of the Nunn-Lugar legislation which has been so critical in the nonproliferation realm and has – have undertaken many, many other efforts as well. Both of these men know something about reaching arms-control deals. They argue in their piece for the deal on its merits. They argue for the deal because there’s a lack of alternatives. And they argue for the deal because of the hit to American credibility that Congress rejecting this deal would bring about. We are very happy to have Senator Lugar introducing the Secretary tomorrow.

So with that, I’ll be glad to take your questions.

MODERATOR: And just one note for folks. This is [Moderator]. We will be sending you the Secretary’s letter that will be going to the Hill. It’s going tomorrow morning. It’s – the text of it is embargoed until the beginning of the speech. The fact that he’s sending it and the topics which [Senior State Department Official] just discussed you can report as soon as this call ends. But we’ll get you the final letter hopefully tonight, possibly first thing in the morning, so you have the text and can work it into any stories as soon as the speech starts. So I just wanted you all to know that as well.


MODERATOR: Yep. So let’s go to questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If you’d like to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your telephone keypad. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue and you may remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing the # key. Once again, press *1 if you have a question.

And our first question will come from Elise Labott with CNN. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I’m not trying to be cynical here, and certainly think it’s good for the Secretary to get out there, but we know that he’s done a lot of interviews and a lot of speaking out. The President gave a major speech. You’ve been talking to Congress, meeting with hundreds of members, and I’m wondering why you feel the need for this speech. Do you feel like he’s going to address new ground? Do you feel that the message has not been getting across enough? I mean, what is it that kind of led him to need to make this speech now after the President has spoken and so many interviews and comments? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think, Elise, we don’t take any vote for granted. We want everyone we can possibly get. But more importantly, clearly, the speeches, the interviews, the President’s comments, the conversations that the Secretary and all of us have had with members have had an effect. You’ve seen in the last days more and more senators and members of the House coming out in support of this deal. But there’s still a lot of confusion out there and there’s a lot of mythology that still exists, and the Secretary wanted to sort of do a roundup of all of those myths and take them on one at a time, not on rhetoric but on facts. He wanted to put together in one speech all of the assurances regarding security in the region that is of enormous concern to members. I think there is growing understanding of the facts of the strength of the nuclear agreement itself, but the Secretary wants to remind people about those facts because this is very complicated and very technical.

There has been a lot of swirling around in the press. You all have done a lot of writing, a lot has been on television, but nonetheless there still remains a lot of confusion out in the American public, up on Capitol Hill; myths that were long ago one would have thought debunked still persist. And so this speech will bring all of those pieces together in one place, and this is a terribly important deal that has been reached. This is a terribly important foreign policy objective. It is a priority for the President because it is a priority for our country’s security. And so it is very important that we continue to reach out and have this conversation.

MODERATOR: Well, and I would just add to that – that’s exactly right – to keep in mind the calendar that Congress comes back next week and that there are still a number of undecided members. And so again, as [Senior State Department Official] mentioned, there have been a steady stream of folks coming out for the deal, but there are still some that still need to decide, so --

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Are you hoping that by reaching out directly to the American people that these Americans will – that these people listening will call their congressmen, that they’ll – that the American people now are the ones that need to put pressure on the undecided?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, look, I think that when you give a speech as the Secretary’s going to give a speech, of course you’re talking to the American public. We want them to understand what’s going on. You’re also talking to members of Congress. Citizens will make their own decisions about how they advocate for things that are important to them. That’s not what we tell them to do. This is a speech to make sure the American public understands the stakes here, understands the facts of the deal, understands what is truth and what is myth, understands that we well understand the security challenges in the Middle East and how this government along with Congress has addressed those challenges and will continue to do so with incredible vigor and a robust response.

QUESTION: Just one housekeeping item. You guys are going to get us an embargoed copy of the speech, that’s right?



MODERATOR: We will do it as early as we possibly can. It will not be until tomorrow, but we’ll try and do it as early as possible, yeah.

QUESTION: Great, thanks.

MODERATOR: And still obviously check against delivery as always, but --

QUESTION: Sure, thanks.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Lucas Tomlinson with Fox News Channel. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, [Senior State Department Official]. I had one question: Why do you think 60 percent of this country is still against the Iran deal? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it’s interesting. The polls are all over the place. There is a University of Maryland poll out this morning that shows actually a majority of the American public supports the deal with a – more than a majority of Democrats and less than a majority of Republicans. So I think polls are all over the place because this is very complex. There is a lot of mythology out there. I have heard – people ask me again and again, to give you one example, “What about that $150 billion?” $150 billion has never been on the table of money that is frozen assets of Iran that are sitting in foreign banks. It is in fact closer to $100 billion, and in terms of the assets that are liquid and available and not tied up in loans or nonperforming loans, it’s about $56 billion.

So there is a lot of misinformation that is circulating. There is a lot of confusion. And look, I understand that an automatic response from all of us is “Do you really want to sit down and do a deal with Iran?” People are very concerned about Iran’s behavior, Iran’s – our concerns about Iran getting a nuclear weapon, our concerns about Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, our concerns about Iran in terms of human rights abuses in their own country, their fomenting instability in the region. So I can understand that the immediate reaction of a citizen might be “Really? We sat down with Iran and struck a deal. How can we trust that?”

But as they come to understand what this deal is about, that it is not built on trust – it is built on proof, it is built on verification, it is built on a very, very detailed and rigorous understanding not only with the United States, but with the international community – then they think about this in a different way.

QUESTION: And just one follow-up, ma’am: This $56 billion that Iran is going to get, some would argue that you’re rewarding Iran for its behavior. How do you respond to those critics?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, what I say to them is that $56 billion is their money; it’s been frozen in accounts. They only get access to that – those frozen assets when they have taken all of the steps that they are required to take; only when they have reduced their stockpile of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms – a 98 percent reduction; only when they have cut the number of centrifuges by two-thirds; only when they have put in place all of the verification mechanisms with the IAEA for 24/7 inspections of nuclear sites, assured access to suspect sites; years and years and years all the way, forever, of the Additional Protocol and additional verification mechanisms; until they have taken the calandria out of the Arak – A-r-a-k – reactor, filled it with cement so that that reactor cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Until they have done all of these things, taken all of the steps that the IAEA is requiring in terms of them being able to finish the report on possible military dimensions of their program – all of these actions have to be taken. Only then, only then is there the beginning of any sanctions relief whatsoever.

QUESTION: And that report on the PMD is not due out till December, so would that be the earliest they give you access to that billion is December?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s not the report. It is that Iran has to have taken all of the steps that the IAEA requires so they can write the report. The reason that it is tagged to the steps that Iran has to take as opposed to the report is we did not want to decide for the IAEA when that report would be written or what it would say. The IAEA is an independent organization, but we sure wanted to make sure that the IAEA had gotten all of the access and information that it required.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. So they could perceivably receive some of this money this fall in October?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that’s highly, highly, highly unlikely. Adoption day comes 90 days after the resolution was passed at the UN Security Council – was endorsed; it wasn’t passed, it was endorsed by the Security Council – comes 90 days after that. And then implementation day – the work for implementation day begins, and to remove all those centrifuges, excess infrastructure, take care of Arak, do all of the verification mechanisms, is going to take a period of time.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, looking forward to the trip tomorrow.


OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. For any further questions, please press *1 now. Okay, we have no one else queuing up.

MODERATOR: Anyone else, guys? If not, that’s fine as well.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: [Moderator], if there’s something that you think I missed, feel free to add.

MODERATOR: Nope, I think that covers it. We will get you, as I said, an embargoed copy of both the speech and the letter to Congress, which – the letter is being sent tomorrow morning, as [Senior State Department Official] said. So anything that was said on this call can be reported as soon as we’re off, senior State Department officials. And as always, let me know if you have follow-ups, and otherwise, I will see you tomorrow morning. Thanks, guys.


MODERATOR: Thanks, guys.


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