- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2013

Secretary of State John F. Kerry struck a tough note Friday on Iran, saying that there is still a chance for diplomacy but that the administration is “prepared to do whatever is necessary” to deny the regime nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the end of his first week as the nation’s top diplomat, Mr. Kerry also said his department is still studying the issue of whether to permit the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to the U.S.

Mr. Kerry, who appeared before reporters at Foggy Bottom after holding private talks with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, was quick to home in first on the issue of ongoing tension over Iran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“I want to underscore to Iran, the window for diplomacy is still open,” he said, though he stressed that the U.S.’s position is that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

“The choice is really ultimately up to Iran,” said Mr. Kerry, who is completing his first week as secretary of state after succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The remarks follow a tense week of rhetoric between Washington and Tehran.

While Iranian government officials have agreed to partake in talks with the United States and other international powers next month in Kazakhstan, the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader said that “talks will not solve any problems.”

“You are holding a gun against Iran saying you want to talk. The Iranian nation will not be frightened by the threats,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, according to wire reports.

Mr. Kerry appeared to be responding to the remarks when he said Friday that Iran should come to the negotiations “prepared to talk real substance and to address the concerns, which could not be more clear, about their nuclear program.”

“If they don’t, then they will choose to leave themselves more isolated,” Mr. Kerry said. “That’s the choice.”

The upcoming talks are slated to include officials from Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain and the United States, and they represent the latest attempt of the international community to avoid a military clash with Iran over its nuclear program.

The U.S. and others have long pushed Tehran to disclose information to prove that the program is not geared toward developing a nuclear warhead. Iranian officials have resisted, while arguing publicly that the program is peaceful.

Mr. Baird, Canada’s foreign minister, bolstered Mr. Kerry’s remarks Friday, saying that “the threat of a nuclear armed Iran is the biggest threat to international peace and security.” He added, however, that he agreed with the “view that a diplomatic solution is possible.”

Keystone XL talks

Mr. Baird otherwise focused his remarks on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline application that the Obama administration must decide on.

“Obviously, the Keystone XL pipeline is a huge priority for our government and for the Canadian economy,” Mr. Baird said.

The 1,700-mile pipeline would transport oil sands from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Mr. Obama had initially tried to delay a decision on the pipeline until after last year’s elections and then, when forced to make a final decision by a law passed by Congress, he rejected the application.

But a new application has been submitted and approved by the governor of Nebraska, which had been a sticking point. Now anticipation is mounting in Washington, where the State Department — which has final say because the pipeline crosses the international boundary — is expected to soon issue a final review of the proposal.

It remains to be seen how heavily Mr. Kerry’s personal positions may weigh on the decision.

Prior to being named secretary of state, he spent years as one of the loudest voices in Congress warning about climate change, and environmental groups say the pipeline and the oil from the tar sands contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Several environmental groups are now expressing hope Mr. Kerry will use his newfound power to quash the pipeline application.

But Mr. Kerry did not expose his hand Friday, saying only that he’s committed to seeing the process through and said the review is “very open and transparent.”

Mr. Baird said he and Mr. Kerry “spoke about making a decision based on science and based on facts.”

“When it comes to the environment, I think we have like-minded objectives,” the Canadian foreign minister said, adding that like President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has supported reductions in pollution from automobiles.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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