Remarks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (March 7)


SECRETARY KERRY: Laurent, thank you very, very much. Thank you for hosting us here today. I really appreciate the welcome, as always. It’s always wonderful to be in Paris, though obviously only for a few hours today.

I want to begin by expressing President Obama’s and my deepest condolences to the families of the French, Belgian, and Malian victims of this appalling shooting in Bamako this morning. As Foreign Minister Fabius made clear just now in his comments, this is an act of cowardice. And these horrific and cowardly attacks, these acts of terrorism, which Paris experienced too much of most recently, but an act of opening fire in a restaurant filled with innocent civilians – in the end, that only strengthens our resolve to fight terrorism in all of its forms wherever it exists. And we are pleased that together with France we have a present-day manifestation of an old relationship as we join together to express our revulsion at this kind of act, and our unity, our partnership, and our alliance in standing up to it and continuing to fight.

So rather than intimidate us, it has the exact opposite effect. It strengthens our partnership and it strengthens our commitment to see this moment, this generational challenge, through. And we will.

Today, we talked at some length – in a short span of time, obviously, but we talked about Daesh. We talked about the challenge in Syria, in Iraq, and the need to continue, and ways in which we can strengthen what we’re doing. We talked also about the need for transition in Syria and the increased efforts with respect to the Assad regime and the need to leverage him to a negotiation. We talked about Libya – the threat, obviously, of Daesh and other extremist groups taking advantage of the lack of adequate governance and the adequate resolution politically of the challenges there. And we committed to redouble our efforts together in order to focus on that.

As many of you know, I’ve spent the past week traveling in Europe and in the Middle East discussing a number of important issues. But obviously, my primary focus for this week has really been the Iran nuclear talks. And after a couple of days of very intense negotiations with the Iranians in Switzerland, I traveled to Saudi Arabia, where I updated our allies and our partners in Riyadh and throughout the Gulf. And here in Paris today, I appreciate Foreign Minister Fabius bringing people together and hosting us for our opportunity to be able to have a discussion about what is a partnership. This is not a bilateral negotiation; this is a multilateral P5+1 negotiation. And all of our partners are consistently exchanging and sharing information, sharing ideas, working together, meeting, and helping to try to drive this to the good conclusion that we want.

As Foreign Minister Fabius said a moment ago, we want an agreement that’s solid. We want an agreement that will guarantee that we are holding any kind of program that continues in Iran accountable to the highest standards so that we know that it is, in fact, a peaceful program. All of us in the P5+1 are deeply committed to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. And we continue to believe that a comprehensive deal that includes intrusive access and verification measures, and blocks each of the pathways to securing fissile material for a bomb and then to try and make a bomb itself, that the best way to achieve the goal is to shut off those pathways.

Now, I agree with Laurent. We have exactly the same assessment. We have made progress, but there remain gaps – divergences, as he said. And we need to close those gaps. And that is our goal over the course of the next days. We have a critical couple of weeks ahead of us. We’re all mindful that the days are ticking by. But we’re not feeling a sense of urgency that we have to get any deal. We have to get the right deal. And it is frankly up to Iran – that wants this program, that wants a peaceful program, that asserts that they have a peaceful program – to show the world that it is indeed exactly what they say. That’s the measure here. And we planned a return to the talks. Starting next Sunday, different folks will be having different conversations, and we look forward to trying to drive this thing to an appropriate conclusion. And we will find out whether or not Iran is prepared to take the steps to answer the questions that the world has a right to get answers to.

I’d be happy to take any questions. Laurent, you —


Hello. Madam (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Foreign Minister, you said yesterday the deal doesn’t go far enough in the extent and duration of Iran’s commitments. What are your primary areas of concern? Is it enrichment capacity, breakout time, how long Iran will accept constraints on its enrichment activities, what happens when the agreement expires? Did you make specific suggestions to Mr. Kerry today on how the agreement can be improved?

And Mr. Secretary, also relating to the Foreign Minister’s comments yesterday, do you agree the deal does not go far enough in terms of the extent and duration of commitments? What will you say to your partners today to reassure them about the progress of the talks? Also, Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said today Iran has put forward technical proposals to the U.S. to overcome their concerns. He said the impasse over technical issues is over. Do you share this assessment? Thank you.


Under no circumstances Iran will never seek nor possess any nuclear weapon.

(In French.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I agree completely with the comments of Foreign Minister Fabius, particularly with respect to the picture that he just drew of what happens if you don’t have a good, solid agreement. All of us have an interest in making certain that the countries in the region feel sufficiently convinced that this agreement is meaningful – that it will hold, that it’s real, and that they’re secure – so that they don’t in fact make matters worse by all engaging in the development of a program because they feel threatened.

So our obligation is, as Laurent just said, not to each other, not just to those of us in the talks. It’s to a much broader community – in fact, to the world. Because we are also deeply involved in trying to denuclearize North Korea, and there are any number of other players in the world who might at some point think that they would be advantaged by proceeding down this road. So this – the stakes here are higher than just this P5+1-plus-Iran negotiation.

I also agree – and I said at the beginning of my comments, we are on the same page. If we didn’t think that there was further to go, as Laurent said, we’d have had an agreement already. The reason we don’t have an agreement is we believe there are gaps that have to be closed. There are things that have to be done to further strengthen this. We know this. And we have not resolved – now, like Laurent, I’m not going to stand here now and negotiate with you in public and give you a whole bunch of differentials. That’s what we’re going to go do, all of us together.

But the bottom line is that everybody knows what matters here: the length of this – the length and duration, the levels of visibility, the control, as Laurent said, the issue of verification and knowledge. All of these are key. This is an arms control agreement. They have been negotiated for a long period of time, particularly before between the Western world and the former Soviet Union. So we know something about these. We have a track record of standards. We have a track record of IAEA requirements. We have a track record of mistakes and we understand what we need to do.

So the proof will be in an agreement if it is reached. And none of us are going to, I think, publicly start to lay out numbers and equations here. We know what we’re chasing after, and we’re chasing after the same thing, all of us in the P5+1. That’s what’s important.


QUESTION: (Inaudible), Al Arabiya (inaudible). Secretary Kerry, you have said on Thursday that Iran is still supporting terrorism, while General Dempsey was telling senators that Iran’s role in Iraq might be positive. Does that mean that according to the United States, Iran is fighting terrorism in Iraq and supporting it in Syria and in Yemen? Would you clarify this divergence between the two statements?

(In French.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer that very directly. The advance on Tikrit is an Iraqi-designed and an Iraqi-controlled advance. And Prime Minister Abadi himself went out to the front several days beforehand. He briefed our people and others on what their plans were. There are Sunni tribes involved in this effort. There are Iraqi armed forces involved. And yes, there are some militias involved, and yes, some of those militias are receiving direction from General Soleimani and from Iran. That’s a fact.

But we’re not coordinating with them. We’re not discussing this with them. I think what General Dempsey said is a matter of pure common sense and fact. If Iran kills a bunch of ISIL/Daesh on the ground, and it serves the interests of Iraq and the rest of us, that might wind up helping, but it doesn’t mean that we accept in any way their behavior with respect to other things they’re doing in Yemen, in Beirut, in Damascus, elsewhere.

So yes, they have been engaged in these other activities. That’s why they are a designated country. And the truth is that’s not on the table in this discussion. Our goal is ultimately to change the behavior and ultimately try to affect these other places. But for the moment, the key is to prevent them from having a nuclear weapon. Because if this country that is engaged in these other activities has a nuclear weapon, you got a whole different ballgame.

So let’s keep our eye on the priority. Priority number one is to not have a pathway to a nuclear weapon and guarantee that this program is peaceful. And as I have said to our friends in the region and elsewhere, the next day, if we get an agreement, we continue to have disagreements over these other kinds of activities. And that will be the next layer of effort, is to try to work at changing the whole dynamic. But that’s not what’s on the table here right now. And I think General Dempsey was simply speaking to a kind of common sense judgment about one moment, but only a moment in this unfolding process.