As Kerry Recalled His War Experience at End of Iran Talks, ‘Everyone Had Tears in Their Eyes’

Patrick Goodenough | July 15, 2015 | 7:54pm EDT
Font Size
Secretary of State John Kerry led the U.S. delegation at the P5+1 nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo, File)

( – In the closing minutes of the Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna this week, Secretary of State John Kerry made a comment about having gone to war as a young man and not wanting to do so again, leaving everyone in the room, including the Iranians, with “tears in their eyes.”

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator in the talks, recounted the moment while addressing the annual Generation Prague Conference at the State Department on Wednesday.

Sherman said that in the final plenary session, with the media out of the room, each of the foreign ministers of the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – and Iran “made a statement about what this meant to them.”

“All of the remarks, by all of the ministers, including [Iranian Foreign] Minister [Javad] Zarif, were very moving, because it was private, and it was about what this deal meant to them.”

Kerry was the last to speak, Sherman said, and at the end of his remarks, he said: “When I was 22, I went to war” – before choking up.

“He couldn’t get the words out,” she recalled. “And everybody was completely spellbound.”

Kerry composed himself and continued, “I went to war and it became clear to me that I never wanted to go to war again.”

“That’s what this was all about. Trying to settle these matters through diplomacy and peaceful means.”

“And it was such a moving moment,” Sherman told her audience, “that everybody in that small room applauded – including the Iranian delegation. Everyone had tears in their eyes.”

Sherman was close to tears herself as she received a standing ovation before she began to speak, and again as she told the Kerry anecdote. She attributed her emotion to exhaustion.

“The tears are largely exhaustion,” she said. “Doing these kinds of negotiations is absolutely, positively draining.”

The delegation arrived back in Washington around midnight Tuesday night. Kerry was in the Austrian capital for 18 days, Sherman for 27, and other members of the U.S. team for longer.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna shortly after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement was announced on Tuesday, Kerry also briefly raised his Vietnam War experience.

“I will just share with you very personally, years ago when I left college, I went to war,” he said. “And I learned in war the price that is paid when diplomacy fails. And I made a decision that if I ever was lucky enough to be in a position to make a difference, I would try to do so.”

Kerry said he believed the JCPOA was an effort by the P5+1 “to come together with Iran to avert an inevitability of conflict that would come were we not able to reach agreement.”

“I think that’s what diplomacy was put in place to achieve, and I know that war is the failure of diplomacy and the failure of leaders to make alternative decisions.”

Administration officials have on a number of occasions suggested that the only alternative to its diplomacy with Iran was war.

During his White House press conference on Wednesday, President Obama said critics of the JCPOA call it a “bad deal” but do not offer a better alternative.

“And the reason is because there really are only two alternatives here:  Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war,” he said. “Those are the options.”

mrc merch