Fact Check: John Kerry’s Wildest Statements on Iran

A lot depends on the credibility of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s remarks in his testimony before Congress. But how credible is he? Here are some statements he has made in the past that suggest we ought not to take his word as fully credible.

Kerry on Iran Confessing its Weapons Program

April 2014: JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, another issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past military-related nuclear activities. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?

JOHN KERRY: No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal; it will be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because it’s not there now.

JOHN KERRY: It will be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So that information will be released before June 30th, will be available.

JOHN KERRY: It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.

June 2015: [W]e’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in.

No one believes that we have “absolute knowledge” about the Iranian military nuclear program. This is a bluff designed to soften the blow of having given up on this point. Congress can easily confirm the state of our knowledge during the debate over the deal via classified briefings. This represents a caving in by Secretary Kerry on a point of key importance to the IAEA and the United States, covered in public by an obvious lie.

Kerry Disturbed By Iran Saying What It’s Been Saying For 36 Years

Kerry admitted in an interview with Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya News that he was troubled by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” that were shouted during Khamenei’s speech:

“If it is the policy, it’s very disturbing, it’s very troubling, and we’ll have to wait and see,” Kerry said, suggesting the Ayatollah’s public comments should be taken seriously…. I don’t know how to interpret it at this point in time, except to take it at face value, that that’s his policy,” Kerry added.

No one could be surprised by this who has had even the barest awareness of Iran’s leadership at any point in the last several decades.   This has been a constant refrain. “We’ll have to wait and see” implies a hope that the policy might change, but also the danger that we’ll “wait and see” if they really carry it out. The Ayatollah Khamenei has since helpfully published a book blueprinting the destruction of Israel and the removal of the Jewish population, so we’ll know what to look for.

Kerry Wants Congress to Approve a Deal He Hasn’t Read

Kerry, testifying about the IAEA/Iran side deal he wants Congress to approve governing secret military sites and the Parchin military facility where nuclear weapons research has been carried out:

“I don’t believe that Susan Rice has seen it. No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve been briefed on it… We don’t have access to the actual agreement.”

Would you sign any legally binding arrangement that you weren’t allowed to read? These side deals were contingencies for the final deal we are being asked to sign, and are therefore part of the terms. We don’t know what the terms are. No one would sign a lease to rent a house if there were secret terms that they couldn’t know but would be bound to obey. It’s reckless beyond measure, yet apparently it was totally acceptable to the State Department negotiators under Secretary Kerry.

End Goals of Negotiation: Never, or Six Months

November 2013: “[W]e drove a hard bargain because we have one unwavering purpose in our goal. President Obama has been absolutely clear that Iran cannot and will not acquire a nuclear weapon. And today, thanks to this effort, we took an important first step towards guaranteeing that that never happens, and I think we did it in the most effective way. We did it through diplomacy.”

December 2013: “President [Barack] Obama and I have been very clear as every member of this committee has been,” Kerry said. “Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon. It is the president’s centerpiece of his foreign policy. Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. This imperative is at the top of our national security agenda.”

December 2013: “I don’t think any of us thought we were just imposing these sanctions for the sake of imposing them,” he said. “We did because we knew that it would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear program. That was the whole point of the regime.”

April 2014: Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said it was no secret that Iran’s “breakout period” was two months, but that the so-called P5+1 talks were aiming to raise that period to half a year. “I think it’s public knowledge today that we’re operating with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months,” Kerry said. “Six months to 12 months is — I’m not saying that’s what we’d settle for, but even that is significantly more,” he said of the efforts in Vienna.

Once again we see that the promises made about the terms we would demand were almost infinitely slippery. Even the “centerpiece” was negotiable, and indeed was negotiated away. The deal will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state even under the best case scenario, one armed with modernized ballistic missiles and heavy weapons to boot. It will improve its nuclear production capacity by constructing numerous light water reactors capable of producing weapons grade plutonium. “Never” was negotiated away, and there is no reason to believe we got anything in return for it.

Ballistic Missiles Are (Un)restricted

Then, John Kerry: “This is a nuclear negotiation about a nuclear program. The United Nations, when they passed the resolution, contemplated that if Iran came to the negotiation and they ponied up, all the sanctions would be lifted. We didn’t lift all the sanctions. We left in place despite the fact that three out of seven countries negotiating wanted to do away with them altogether. We won the five years for the arms and eight years for the missiles.”

Now, Senator Menendez: “As I read the Security Council resolution on page 119, the ban on Iranian ballistic missiles has, in fact, been lifted. The new Security Council resolution is quite clear. Iran is not prohibited from carrying out ballistic missile work. The resolution merely says, quote, ‘Iran is called upon not to undertake such activity,’” he said. “Now previously, in Security Council Resolution 1929, the council used mandatory language where it said, quote, ‘It decides that Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.’ Why would we accept inferior language that changes the mandatory ‘shall’ to a permissive ‘call upon’? We often call upon a lot of countries to do or stop certain actions in the U.N., but it doesn’t have the force of shall not which has consequences if you do.”

As Senator Menendez points out, a UN Security Council resolution “calling on” Iran to avoid an activity has no teeth compared to a UN Security Council resolution barring the activity. The danger here is that Kerry may not understand his own concession. He agrees that he conceded that Iran would be able to return to ballistic missile improvements, a massive concession given that we believe they are trying to construct a nuclear bomb. He thinks he conceded it in five years or eight, but the agreement he actually made has no such language. Russia or China can start selling tomorrow, and no more restrictive language can be inserted because of Russia’s Security Council veto.

Israel Should Be Calmed by Inspections

Kerry and the administration made frequent promises meant to soften opposition to the deal. Israel and Congress were both promised a standard that Kerry now claims he never intended to deliver.

Then: Do you think because many in Israel including the prime minister are very uncomfortable with the deal that the it’s now making it more likely than two years ago, for example, that Israel might attempt some unilateral action — military or cyber attack against Iran?

Kerry: Well I think that would be an enormous mistake. A huge mistake with grave consequences for Israel and the region, and I don’t think it’s necessary. The fact is we will have for 15 years a restraint on Iran that absolutely prevents it from developing a weapon. They can’t enrich beyond 3.67%. You can’t make a bomb at 3.67% they will have only 300 kilograms in a stockpile of enriched uranium. You can’t make a bomb with that. They would have inspections on a daily basis the in their facilities.

Now: Kerry: “There’s no such thing in arms control as ‘anywhere, anytime.’ There isn’t any nation in the world, none that has anytime, anywhere.”

BloombergView, commenting on the shift: “[I]f Kerry knew there would be no “anytime, anywhere” inspections, why did he let so many members of Congress believe this was a possibility while he was negotiating the deal? … This was not the impression the Obama administration left in April, after the White House announced it had the framework for a deal with Iran. Back then, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told Israel’s Channel 2 that the International Atomic Energy Agency would have immediate access to any site the agency wanted to inspect.”

2014: Iran Cooperating with the IAEA that Says Iran’s Not Cooperating

When Secretary of State John Kerry outlined for reporters on Monday ways in which “the world is safer than it was just one year ago” as a result of the Iraninan nuclear negotiations, he suggested the improvements included Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yet just four days earlier, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog complained once again that Iran was not cooperating fully. As a result the agency was unable to draw a line under questions about past activities in the nuclear field that may have had military applications – some of which may be ongoing.

A reminder: as of July 2015, this long time goal of the international community’s of learning about those past nuclear programs was dismissed by Kerry as unimportant after all. The reason he was dismissing the concerns was that the IAEA had reportedly made a deal with Iran that he found satisfying. Yet he was not able to read the deal. When he reported the IAEA’s position to Congress in 2014, he had either not understood it or was misrepresenting it even though he had direct access to their statement. Why should we believe his representation of the IAEA deal he hasn’t read?

2014: Iran Not Violating Agreement (More Than Usual)

Kerry said on Monday, November 24, in Vienna – the “deadline” for the negotiations with Iran over it’s nuclear program:

I would say to those who are skeptical. Those who wonder whether we should rush ahead down a different course. I believe the United States and our partners have earned the benefit of the doubt at this point. Many were quick to say that the Joint Plan of Action would be violated; it wouldn’t hold up; it would be shredded. Many said that Iran would not hold up its end of the bargain. Many said that the sanctions regime would collapse. But guess what? The interim agreement wasn’t violated. Iran has held up its end of the bargain. And the sanctions regime has remained intact.

He lied…. Under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), Iran had committed to freeze its centrifuge activities at Natanz. Nevertheless, the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly report noted that Iran was feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into it’s IR-5 centrifuges at Natanz…. . The IAEA’s report, released earlier this month, however, notes that Iran’s stockpile of LEU “has grown by 8 percent to nearly 8.4 tonnes in about two months.” … The IEA reported this spring that Iranian crude exports were far exceeding the 1 million barrel-per-day limit set by the P5+1* as a key condition for the JPA. In reality, Iran was exporting more than 1.65 million barrels per day.”

As in the examples above, we find that the Secretary’s remarks are just out of line with reality. We have to question whether he has understood the reality, or whether he is intentionally misrepresenting it. This is a longstanding problem with Secretary Kerry, one that stretches back even before his Senatorial career to his anti-war activism. The inability to square what he said about reality with the facts and documents was an issue in his campaign for President, one that could not be sorted out successfully even years later. His credibility is an issue throughout, as this clear example of Iranian violations shows.

Kerry: US and Israel See Eye-to-Eye

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday morning that there was “no space” between the United States and Israel when it came to the temporary agreement over Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Kerry’s statement seemingly contradicts virtually every news report about Israel’s position. On this occasion it is not even clear why he said what he said. Not only was every existing news report against him, his claim was certain to provoke a clear and public rebuttal almost immediately. If credibility were a currency, this would be like throwing money in a river. The Secretary’s judgment ought to be questioned when we find him making statements like these.

It’s Not Just Iran

On Wednesday Obama Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress:

“Our citizens, our world today is actually, despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally— less deaths, less violent deaths today than through the last century.”

On Thursday Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress:

“When the final accounting is done. 2014 will be the most lethal year in global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled. About half of all attacks including fatalities in 2014 occurred in just three countries, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

In fairness to Secretary Kerry, the time frames are not exact. “The last century” included both world wars, whereas “the 45 years such data has been compiled” only includes the Pax Americana following World War II. The problem is that Clapper’s remarks show that this long peace is unraveling, and it’s unraveling in spite of sustained American attention in the three countries he cites. Kerry’s movement on Iran is going to leave the United States weaker in the region, and Iran stronger. If the dangers of ‘the last century’ are not to return, the American peace needs to be shored up. Instead, it is being traded away.