SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everyone. I want to first thank the extraordinary team of diplomats and experts who have been on the ground here for weeks and who have been working tirelessly, actually, for many months in these negotiations. And I'm talking about both our American team as well as our colleagues from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran, and particularly I would like to thank Baroness Cathy Ashton of the European Union and her team, whose stewardship of these negotiations has been indefatigable and superb.
In today's world, it's an understatement to say that diplomacy is difficult. But diplomacy is our preference for meeting the challenges that we do face all over the world, knowing even as we do that solutions are rarely perfect and nor do they all come at once. But that has never deterred us from pursuing the diplomatic course, and that is exactly what we are committed to doing and doing now.
President Obama has made it a top priority to pursue a diplomatic effort to see if we can reach an agreement that assures that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. In that effort, we have built a broad coalition of countries, including our P5+1 colleagues, to ensure that the international community is speaking with one voice. Despite the difficulties of these negotiations, I am confident that the United States and our partners in the P5+1 remain as squarely focused as ever on testing whether or not we can find a negotiated solution to this most pressing international security imperative.
Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran's own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
In these conversations, and indeed over the last almost six months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made progress. We have all kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have all continued to negotiate in good faith. But after my conversations here with both Iran and with our P5+1 partners in particular, it is clear that we still have more work to do.
Our team will continue working very hard to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that resolves the international community's concerns. I am returning to Washington today to consult with President Obama and with leaders in Congress over the coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted, based on the progress we've made and how things are going.
As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues. And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.
I want to underscore: These goals are not incompatible. In fact, they are realistic. But we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula. There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran's program will always remain exclusively peaceful. So we are going to continue to work and we're going to continue to work with the belief that there is a way forward.
But -- and this is a critical point -- while there is a path forward, Iran needs to choose to take it. And our goal now is to determine the precise contours of that path, and I believe we can.
With that, I'd be happy to take a few questions.
MS. HARF: The first question is from Jo Biddle of the AFP. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. You said that you're returning to Washington for further consultations with President Obama, but you did say that the July 20th deadline is still on the table. How confident are you that you can get an agreement by July 20th? And if we're talking about an extension, have you any idea how long that could be?
And I wanted to ask you about reports that -- today quoting Mr. Foreign Minister Zarif that the Iranians are proposing a freeze on a nuclear program for a few years in return for being later treated as a country with a peaceful nuclear energy.
SECRETARY KERRY: I'm sorry. That got garbled in -- take -- hold the mike a little bit away.
SECRETARY KERRY: A little bit away, sorry.
QUESTION: There was a report in The New York Times today, an interview with Foreign Minister Zarif, in which he suggested that the Iranians have proposed freezing their nuclear program for a few years in return for being treated later as a country with a peaceful nuclear civilian energy program. Does this meet any U.S. demands or is this one of the real gaps that you're still talking about?
And if I may, can I just ask you about the crisis in Gaza as well? Did you talk with Foreign Minister Zarif about this? Are you asking the Iranians to use their leverage with Hamas? And what could the United States do to try to achieve an implementation of a ceasefire which Hamas appears to have rejected? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the issue of July 20th, yes, it's obviously still on the table and we're still working, and we're going to continue to work. The team will be here. They'll continue to meet. And I will, as I said, go back to Washington to talk to the President and also our team back there in order to assess where we think we are with respect to the progress that we have made.
As I said, we have made progress, and there is work still to do, and we believe there is a path forward, so let's see what happens in the next hours and days. I'm obviously prepared to come back here if we have the team say to me that there's a reason to do so, but I have no plans to do so as I leave to go back to Washington to consult with the President.
With respect to the issue of the -- what was in The New York Times and the question of a gap or no gap, I am definitively not going to negotiate in public. I'm not going to comment on any stories with respect to substance one way or the other. The real negotiation is not going to be done in the public eye; it's going to be done in the private meetings that we're having, and it is being done there. And I might add these are tough negotiations. The Iranians are strong in their positions. They understand what their needs are, we understand what ours are. Both are working in good faith to try to find a way forward.
And as I said, I think we've made some progress. Obviously, there's more work to do. We'll assess where we are in the next few days and make judgments at that point in time. And we don't do this, obviously, exclusively. We are part of a team, the P5+1. Our partners, all of them, weigh in equally in this decision, and we need to be consulting as we go forward.
With respect to Gaza, let me say a few words. I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in multiple numbers in the face of a goodwill effort to offer a ceasefire in which Egypt and Israel have joined together, and the international community strongly supports the idea of a ceasefire, the need -- the compelling need to have a ceasefire. At the same time, there are great risks in what is happening there and in the potential of an even greater escalation of violence. We don't want to see that -- nobody does -- and nor does Israel.
But Israel has a right to defend itself, and it is important for Hamas not to be provoking and purposefully trying to play politics in order to gain greater followers for its opposition, and use the innocent lives of civilians who they hide in buildings and use as shields and put in danger. That is against the laws of war and that's why they are a terrorist organization. So we need to remember what is at stake here, and we will continue to work for a ceasefire.
Now at the moment, one of the reasons I'm going to Washington and not to Egypt, just to answer possibly another question ahead of time, is because there was this offer on the table, and we believe that it was important to give this offer an opportunity. And I still think perhaps reason could prevail if the political wing can deal with the military wing and Egypt can have some leverage. Let's see what happens.
But we are prepared, as the United States is always prepared -- and President Obama has said this again and again -- to do everything in our power to help the parties come together to work to create a climate for genuine negotiations to be able to deal with the issues that truly separate these parties, and we stand prepared to do that. I am prepared to fly back to the region tomorrow if I have to, or the next day or the next, in order to pursue the prospects if this doesn't work. But they deserve -- the Egyptians deserve the time and the space to be able to try to make this initiative work, and we hope it will.
We urge all parties to support this ceasefire, and we support and we ask all the members of the Arab community, as they did yesterday at the Arab League meeting in Cairo, to continue to press to try to get Hamas to do the right thing here, which is cease the violence, engage in a legitimate negotiation, and protect the lives of people that they seem all too willing to put to risk.
MS. HARF: Our next question is from Lou Charbonneau of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I wanted to return to the issue of Iran first. The Supreme Leader of Iran last week had a major speech in which he spoke of Iran needing the equivalent of what some see is as many as 190,000 older-generation centrifuges over the long term, a kind of massive industrial scale. How did you respond -- how did you react to this speech? And in your meetings here with the Iranians, have you seen any sign of a new and substantial flexibility on the Iranian side since your Washington Post op-ed two weeks ago, enough progress that could, in theory, justify an extension?
And then I wanted to add on a question about Libya, where the situation is quite alarming. The UN is pulling out its staff and there has been shelling of as many as 90 planes at the airport. Thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the Supreme Leader's speech on the 190,000 centrifuges, that's not a new figure. It didn't come as a surprise to me or to others. And what it is is it's a reflection of Iran's current ambitions with respect to a nuclear power program, and it reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power. It is not something, I think, that's meant -- and I think it was framed that way, I believe, in the speech.
Obviously, that's not -- I'm not going to get into what we're talking about in numbers or whatever, but we have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment. And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.
Now I do want Iran to understand, I want the Supreme Leader to know, that the United States believes that Iran has a right to have a peaceful nuclear program under Article IV of the NPT -- there's no question about that -- a peaceful program. And what we are now working on is: How do you guarantee that what they do have is in fact purely peaceful and that it adheres to the stated intentions of the Supreme Leader and other leaders of Iran never to have a nuclear weapon?
Now, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa. We take that very seriously. The fatwa issued by a cleric is an extremely powerful statement about intent. But it is our need to codify it. We can't take any declaration because that's not what a negotiation nor a nuclear agreement is about. It's about verifiable, specific steps by which parties that have disagreed can agree that they know each of them what they're doing and how they're living up to their responsibilities. And that's what we're seeing in this particular effort.
So Iran can have a peaceful nuclear program and they know how to get there. It's by living up to the demands of the international community, the United Nations Security Council; the IAEA questions need to be answered, the additional protocol needs to be adhered to; and a specific set of verification and transparency measures need to be put in place among other things that make the promises real. That's the nature. It's not specific to Iran. Any country would be in the same place and need to do the same thing, as they do with respect to any kind of agreement.
Libya: We are obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya, and every single day in the State Department, we make assessments about the level of violence, about our personnel who are there, about our Embassy, about the overall nature of the violence. And that is why President Obama has appointed a special envoy, David Satterfield, a diplomat with a great deal of experience who most recently filled in in Egypt. And he has been working very closely with Jonathan Powell, the British special envoy, and with other special envoys -- France, Italy -- all of them focused on how we can transition Libya away from this militia violence, which is what is threatening the airport at the moment. It is not violence that has broken out every single day, all day. It's mostly fighting at night and it is not threatening broadly every interest within Libya, but it is dangerous and it must stop. And we are working very, very hard through our special envoys to find the political cohesion, the glue that can bring people together to create stronger capacity in the governance of Libya so that this violence can end. And we'll continue to stay very, very precisely focused on it.
MS. HARF: And our final question is from Amir Paivar of BBC Persia.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. Many Iranians wonder -- I would like to be very specific -- why the U.S. and the world powers would not accept Iran maintain, say, 10,000 centrifuges. And here, I'm not haggling over numbers, but if the other terms of the deal are secure, numbers capped, degree of enrichment low, inspections intrusive -- if trust is an issue, they say, both Iran and the United States have their checkered history when it comes to nuclear capability.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said earlier, when you start asking about specific numbers of centrifuges and so forth, you get into a zone of public disclosure that is just not helpful to the negotiations at this point in time. So I'm not going to talk about a specific number, what number might work, not work, what we will accept, won't accept. All of those questions belong at the negotiating table, and that's where they are.
But let me just say, in general terms, this is not an issue of trust. This is an issue of factual process by which you can verify on a day-to-day basis what is happening. Now why do we need to do that? Why are there P5+1 at the table? Why is China joining with Russia, joining with the United States, joining with Germany, France, and Britain -- all of them together at the table demanding the same thing, as well as the rest of the world through the United Nations Security Council and the resolutions?
This is not a fabricated issue. The reason that trust has to be built and a process of transparency and accountability has to be created is because over the years, a secret program has been pursued in a deep, under-the-ground, mountaintop facility that was concealed for a long time until it was discovered, and levels of enrichment have been going on on a regular basis and serious questions raised about weaponization in that context.
Now we're working to answer those questions, and I want to -- Foreign Minister Zarif is a tough negotiator. He knows how to fight for what he is fighting for. But he's been clear, as we have been clear, about what we need to do to try to arrive at a fair, reasonable way to meet both parties' rights and interests in this situation. And I believe that, as I said, we've made progress, and I think both of us can see ways in which we could make further progress and hopefully answer those questions.
But I'm not going to get into why Iran might have done that or who pushed who in what direction or what mistakes were made in the past. You can go back to the 1950s and find lots of things that have happened that have given rise to the relationship we're in today. What we want to do is try and see if that's changeable, put that to the test. The first test is to answer the questions and come up with a formula that says to the world this is a peaceful nuclear program, and it cannot be used to make weapons and we know that to a certainty. The test is: Can we know whether or not Iran is able to and is or might be building a nuclear weapon?
Now we're going to continue to do what we are doing here. We're going to work hard to try to find this agreement. This is not just important to the United States, Iran, and the P5; it's important to the world. And it is important for us to try to work hard in order to see if we can find success, and that's what we're going to continue to do.
MS. HARF: Great. Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Appreciate it very much. We'll see you again at some point, I'm sure.