SECRETARY KERRY: We’re here this morning just outside of Tel Aviv, but our hearts are in Johannesburg with all the millions of people who loved Nelson Mandela. Madiba’s long walk to freedom gave new meaning to character and to courage, to forgiveness, and to human dignity. And now that his long walk has ended, the example that he set for all of humanity lives on. He will be remembered as a pioneer for peace, and there are some people, I think, in the course of life who truly – you meet and you are touched by them, and you’re forever changed by the experience. Nelson Mandela is one of those people.
Teresa and I had the honor of sitting with Mandela over the Thanksgiving holidays of 2007, and – that and several other times. And I also stood in his tiny cell on Robben Island, a room with barely enough space to be able to lie down in or stand up in. I learned that the glare of the white rock quarry on the island permanently damaged his eyesight, and it hit home even more how remarkable it was that after spending 27 years locked up, locked away, and having his own vision impaired by that condition, that this man was still able to see the best interests of his country, the best interests of humanity, and embrace even the very guards who kept him prisoner. That is the story of a man whose ability to see resided not just in his eyes but in his conscience. He was a stranger to hate. He rejected recrimination in favor of reconciliation, and he knew the future demands required that we move beyond the place that he had been, beyond the past.
So we just think of the lessons that he taught the world which have special significance at this moment in history. He said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” I think it’s appropriate for us to think about that in the context of the work that I’ve been doing here in the last couple of days and over these last months, and of the hopes and aspirations of the people of this region. That example of Nelson Mandela is an example that we all need to take to heart as we face the challenge of trying to reach a two-state solution.
Over the past two days, I had the opportunity to meet with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. And despite the fact that we are discussing really difficult, complicated issues, I am encouraged by the continued commitment of both leaders to the pursuit of peace. And they both underscored their commitment to continue to work through these difficult issues in the days ahead. As we look to the challenges that we face in the coming months, we need to all be not just reminded of the example of Nelson Mandela’s words, but by his actions. The naysayers are wrong to call peace in this region an impossible goal. It always seems impossible until it’s done.
Since the two parties first agreed to resume talks four months ago, they have held regular discussions and the United States has remained in close contact with both sides. It hasn’t been easy; I won’t pretend that. But none of the parties embarked on this path with the expectation that it was going to be a simple or easy process. We all knew upfront that it would be a long, arduous, and complicated journey.
Nonetheless, it is absolutely clear to me through the discussions that we had – and believe me, I wouldn’t spend these hours and I wouldn’t come back here given the agenda that we face on a global basis if I didn’t think it was worthwhile, if President Obama didn’t believe it was worth pursuing. And it is quite clear that both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu remain as determined as ever to continue down this path and to explore these possibilities. Because both parties have the same endpoint in their sights: Two nations for two peoples living side by side in peace and prosperity.
But neither peace nor prosperity are possible without security, and the United States will only support a final status agreement that makes both Israelis and Palestinians more secure than they are today. As I made clear yesterday, the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is ironclad. It is a commitment that spans decades. It is permanent. In 1973, that commitment was the driving force behind the 32-day airlift the United States conducted to deliver military assistance to Israeli forces during the Yom Kippur War. More than 20 years ago, that commitment was the reason we began work with Israel to develop ballistic missile defense technologies that continue to protect the Israeli people from the range of threats that they face every day. And at this moment, our commitment to Israel’s security – a central issue as we work towards a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and as we work towards the creation of a viable, independent, Palestinian state.
That’s why President Obama and I have been working very closely with General John Allen, who is one of the United States’ most experienced military leaders, and a team with him of American defense experts – so that we can anticipate all of the threats to Israel’s security at every step of the final status negotiations process and work out ways to address those threats as well as to address the complicated questions of security within a new state of Palestine and to deal with the issues of a viable independent Palestinian state and the security challenges that that presents. Together, there is no doubt in my mind we can reach an agreement that will support the peaceful and promising Palestine that the Palestinian people deserve alongside a prosperous and a more secure Israel.
There’s another issue at the heart of Israel’s security that’s also been a key focus of all of our discussions, and that is the P5+1 negotiations with respect to Iran. Throughout these negotiations, our commitment to Israel’s security is paramount. The fact remains that both the United States and Israel have the same priority with respect to Iran. We are laser-focused on preventing the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The United States firmly believes that the P5+1 first-step agreement not only makes Israel more secure than it was the day before that agreement, but we believe it will take us closer to a lasting, peaceful, and comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear program. It is the best opportunity we have to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
I pledge this, as President Obama has: As we proceed forward in this negotiation, we will continue to consult very closely with Israel as the negotiations resume as well as with our other friends and allies in the region and around the world, because that input is critical to us in the process. And as is known, Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu Yossi Cohen will travel to the United States next week. We will be engaging in very direct conversations so that we are on the same track going forward. I look forward to speaking in greater detail about the United States partnership with Israel tomorrow when I address the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C.
For now, let me just now reiterate how grateful I am for the courage that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas both continue to display against naysayers, against opponents, as they pursue a full exploration of the possibilities of peace. I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve and yearn for.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to answering any questions.
MODERATOR: Lara Jakes, AP.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you. Just kind of following up on what you just said, you said you believe that we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about peace and prosperity. You’ve been here eight times, and as you know, the media is full of reports that there has actually been no progress made. So what specific examples of progress can you give us to show for your time here?
Also, this was the first time that General Allen briefed the prime minister on some ideas for a security resolution for Israel. Is the U.S. moving now into a more proactive bridging role because the two sides together have been unable to come up with some kind of resolution, solution, or compromise? Thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, actually, no. Let me answer the first – the second part of the question first as I answer the first part of the question.
The United States has always been an active participant and will remain an active participant, but the negotiation is between the two parties. And we play a critical role because we have an ability to be able to provide technology as well as other technical capacity as well as concepts that we can help shape with respect to security. Now, why do I say that I believe we’re making progress? Because we’ve gone through a very detailed, lengthy, in-depth analysis of the security challenges of the region, and particularly the challenges to Israel and to the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state. And that process has taken time.
General John Allen, who came with me on this trip and did brief, did so because we’ve reached a point where we have something to brief on, where we have results as a consequence of the analysis that’s been made. And we believe we’re able to contribute thinking as a consequence of those – that analysis that could help both the Palestinians and the Israelis to make judgments about some of the choices that are important to arriving at an agreement. So that is progress, and it hasn’t come easily. There are about 160 people who have contributed one way or the other to the process General Allen has pursued. The intelligence community, the Department of Defense, the State Department, the White House – all have been engaged in thinking through the various possibilities of how you deal with one problem or another with respect to security. And so obviously, security is paramount in the minds of the prime minister and his team with respect to their ability to be able to move forward with other issues that have to be dealt with. If Israel’s security cannot be increased through this agreement, it’s very difficult to make an agreement. So we are making certain that we’re addressing each and every one of those questions.
And I’m not going to comment further on the progress, but one thing I will say is this: We purposefully agreed at the beginning of this process that I would be the only person to comment on these talks publicly. And I notice in the newspapers or in some comments here or there there’s a leak and somebody suggests this or that. I have no idea who is leaking; I know it’s not me, and I’m the only authorized spokesperson. So whatever people are saying that something is on the table or not on the table or this or that is really not grounded in these talks. Some people may want to think they know more than others or suggest that they know what’s going on or – but the reality is that the people who really know what’s going on are not talking about it. And so there is not going to be a lot of information coming out. And the fact that there is not a lot of information coming out doesn’t mean that the talks aren’t being productive.
So we feel – I mean, I wouldn’t spend these hours if I didn’t think it was productive and we weren’t hammering out important concepts. And nor would the prime minister of Israel, who has a lot to do, spend this kind of time – nor would President Abbas, who has major responsibilities with respect to finance and to management of the Palestinian Authority. But all of us are committed to this process and they have taken, particularly, political heat for choices they have made in order to continue to pursue it. And guess what? They are continuing and they remain committed, and that’s because they know that we are engaged in serious conversations about how we could resolve the differences between the parties.
MODERATOR: Anne Gearan from The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, do you leave here today with any assurances from the Israeli prime minister that he will be quieter or more cooperative on the Iran talks front? And also, did you discuss with him directly the role of Congress and possible new sanctions and anything that he might do to influence against that? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: No. I did not have any conversation with the prime minister regarding Congress or Congress’s role. But of course, we did discuss the substance of the issue of Iran and the negotiation. And look, the prime minister has every right in the world to make his views known with respect to his concerns about the security of his country, and we would expect him to do that. But the prime minister has also been extremely constructive in working with us on the next steps and where we need to go now. He understands that we are now in the real negotiation.
And as I pointed out in my earlier comments, and I’ll say this again – I have said this to the prime minister, and I think it’s – and I’ll say this again now to the people of Israel and to any interested parties: I am personally convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Israel is safer today after we have reached this first-step agreement than it was before we did that. Why do I say that? I say that because we are now engaged in the major comprehensive discussion that the prime minister wanted us to be engaged in, but guess what? We have stopped their program where it is.
They are destroying – under requirements, they will have to destroy the 20 percent enriched uranium in its entirety. They will not be able to grow their 3.5 percent enriched to stock at all. They will not be allowed to put new centrifuges in place. They will have to submit to inspections of the Fordow facility, of Natanz facility, of Arak facility. The Arak facility cannot progress at all with the installation of components or the testing of additional fuel or the installation of any of the nuclear components. And therefore, we have expanded the amount of time during which Iran could actually break out. That makes Israel safer in our judgment.
And the fear of the prime minister with respect to the sanctions is certainly an appropriate concern, but it is one that the Treasury Department and the Obama Administration are absolutely determined to prevent from becoming a problem, because we have the ability to control what happens with respect to those sanctions. And we will continue to enforce them. There is no change in the fundamental sanctions regime. A very small amount of money is released, but those sanctions will continue over the course of these negotiations. And we are free at any time, if Iran is not complying, or we do not move forward, to ratchet up those sanctions and even to go back to Congress and ask for additional sanctions.
So I am convinced that we have put forward a strong proposal, and now what we are doing with Israel is working very closely on what the final comprehensive agreement ought to look like. Israel and the United States are absolutely in sync, not an ounce of daylight between us, with respect to the need to make sure that Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapon, will not in the future be able to achieve it, and certainly cannot move towards it without the United States of America and Israel knowing that and therefore being able to take steps to deal with it. I believe Israel is safer today and we will approach this final negotiation with an absolute view about Israel’s security, Israel’s safety, the region’s safety, and our ability to stand up afterwards and say, this was an agreement that was good for the region, good for Israel, good for the United States, good for the world. That’s our objective.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.