Secretary of State John F. Kerry defended the Obama administration’s carrot-and-stick approach to nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying Sunday that the conciliatory strategy needs to be given a chance to work — while vowing that the U.S. is prepared to use force if necessary to keep the Islamic republic from developing a nuclear bomb.
“We can’t let mythology and politics start to cloud reality,” said Mr. Kerry, who dismissed criticism that the administration has done a poor job leveraging American power in international talks — the latest round of which closed over the weekend without a breakthrough — over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
“The president has been willing and made it clear that he is prepared to use force with respect to Iran’s weapon, and he has deployed the forces and the weapons necessary to achieve that goal if it has to be achieved,” Mr. Kerry said during an interview with NBC.
Congressional lawmakers, as well as U.S. allies including France and Israel, have expressed concerns that the Obama administration has veered dangerously close to making too many concessions in its pursuit of a deal for Iran to reconfigure its nuclear program and open it to close international scrutiny in exchange for lifting U.S.-led sanctions.
In order to lay the groundwork for such a deal, the Obama administration has spent the past month making rare diplomatic overtures toward Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whom many Western analysts deem a moderate.
Despite the otherwise aggressive tenor of his remarks, Mr. Kerry defended the administration’s strategy of reaching out to Iran. “You have to act in some good faith, and an effort to be able to move towards the goal you want to achieve — if, as their act of good faith, they freeze their program and allow us absolutely unprecedented access to inspection and do other things,” he said.
Mr. Rouhani said Sunday that progress was made during recent talks in Geneva but that Iran will not be pressured to fully relinquish its uranium enrichment programs in order to achieve sanctions relief from Washington.
With the next round of negotiations to begin Nov. 20, Mr. Kerry told reporters over the weekend that although a deal may be in sight, “the window for diplomacy does not stay open indefinitely.”
“You need to give diplomacy the chance to exhaust all the remedies available to it if you are ultimately going to exercise your ultimate option, which is the potential use of force,” said the secretary of state. “The world wants to know that it was a last resort, not a first resort.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the leading critics of the talks with Iran, remained skeptical Sunday of any deal. He criticized the outlines of a U.S.-led international plan to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons program, saying it sounded as if Iran would be trading a nominal drawdown in enriched uranium in exchange for significant concessions on sanctions.
The deal as described, he said, means that Iran maintains its enrichment capabilities to develop nuclear bombs. “All Iran gives is a minor concession of taking 20 percent enriched uranium and bringing it down to a lower enrichment, but that they could cover within a few weeks,” Mr. Netanyahu said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “This is a huge change from the pressure that was applied on Iran through the effective sanctions regime, which brought them to the table in the first place.
“In other words, Iran gives practically nothing and it gets a hell of a lot. That’s not a good deal.”
Some members of Congress were also wary of the proposal.
“My concern here is that we seem to want the deal almost more than the Iranians,” Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There is no right under international law for domestic enrichment. There is a right to a peaceful civilian nuclear program.”
Mr. Kerry has asked Congress to delay a vote on additional sanctions until talks are completed.
“You can imagine that Congress — that put these sanctions in place with the administration kicking and screaming all the way, pushing back against these sanctions — [is] very concerned that we’re going to deal away the leverage that we have where we finally have Iran willing to sit down and talk about these issues,” Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted a bipartisan push from Congress to introduce another round of sanctions, but said the threat of military force is the only tactic will bring the Iranians to the table.
“A sensible outcome would mean stop enriching, dismantle the centrifuges, stop the plutonium-producing reactor at Iraq,” Mr. Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If you want a peaceful nuclear power program, which I’m fine with in Iran, let the international community control the fuel cycle where the Iranian program looks like Mexico and Canada, not North Korea, and turn over all highly enriched uranium that they have in their possession to the international community.
“A new round of sanctions will be coming from the Congress,” he said. “The Congress will define the end game because we’re worried about the endgame, not some interim deal. You can’t trust the Iranians. They’re lying about their nuclear program, they’ve been hiding from the international community very important aspects of their nuclear program. I want a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear problem. I don’t want a North Korea in the Mideast, and that’s where we’re headed if we continue to negotiate the way we are.”