Former Secretary of State John Kerry last night took to the stage to deliver a passionate defense of the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord — and to remind the world of how critical they both are to global security today, and for generations to come. He stressed the importance of protecting the landmark nuclear deal, which stopped an Iran bomb without starting another deadly war in the Middle East, from new proposed sanctions that could put it at great risk.
"It doesn’t make a lot of sense, folks, to risk a step that gets us nothing new, but could cost us what we already have," Secretary Kerry, who played a leading role in negotiating both agreements for the Obama administration, said Monday at Ploughshares Fund’s annual Chain Reaction event in San Francisco. Congressional attempts to undermine the historic deal — which is working — remain a constant threat. Recent congressional efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran could ultimately unravel the nuclear agreement. Ploughshares Fund, our network of grantees and other key allies have been pivotal in averting this latest threat, working tirelessly to educate policy and decision-makers on Capitol Hill about the profound benefits to national and global security the agreement provides.
Furthermore, as we’ve seen with the Paris climate accord, Donald Trump has been keeping some of his most dangerous promises. He also pledged on the campaign trail to renegotiate or pull out of the landmark Iran nuclear agreement. Secretary Kerry implied that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would be our best bet at keeping the agreement alive.
"My hope is that they would in fact not just be the adults in the room but that they would be listened to," Secretary Kerry said.
The evening opened with a poetry recital by spoken word artists, Janae Johnson and Terisa Siagatonu, who gave a powerful rumination on living in a world threatened by nuclear weapons and climate change, underscoring the severity of these twin threats to society. Their performance was followed by an address from Barbara Hall, the creator of the hit television program, Madam Secretary, about a determined, principled Secretary of State who also grapples with thorny issues — including the Iran nuclear agreement.
"We did an episode where Secretary Madeleine Albright appeared as herself to consult and advise with our Secretary of State, Elizabeth McCord. Secretary Albright was excited to be there, professional and prepared. But when it came time to shoot her scene, we couldn’t get her to come out of her dressing room because she was on the phone. An hour went by, we were losing daylight, worried about making the schedule, and frankly, we thought she was a bit of a diva," Hall quipped.
"Finally, she showed up on set, knew all of her lines, and we had no trouble getting through the scenes. Later we found out what the phone call was. It was a conference call with Secretary John Kerry and all former Secretaries of State to inform them of the finalization of the nuclear agreement and to answer any of their questions regarding it. So we feel we did our part by holding up our production for an hour and you’re welcome," she added, as the audience erupted in laughter.
Secretary Kerry later joked that he was envious that it took Madam Secretary just one hour to make an Iran nuclear deal when it took him 4-5 years.
After speaking for nearly half an hour, Kerry was joined on stage by Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione for a deeper discussion that included the Trump administration’s motives for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, the future of the Iran nuclear agreement and the growing North Korea nuclear crisis. The evening concluded with Ploughshares Fund grantee Meredith Horowski, who represents a new generation mobilizing for change, tapped into the growing national movement of resistance to dangerous policies.
"If there’s one thing millennials hate — more than being called millennials — it’s being told that we don’t belong at the table," said Horowski, global campaign director of Global Zero, which is dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide. "Through decades of carefully shutting us out, the nuclear apparatus has emboldened the very force that can help bring it down," she added.
She ended on an optimistic, empowering note: "Right now, we are seeing one of the most beautiful and diverse uprisings in human history. A resistance movement that understands [that] our struggles for justice and freedom are more connected than they’ve ever been."
Photo: Drew Altizer Photography