Trying to preserve fragile nuclear talks between Iran and western powers, Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday testified to members of the House Foriegn Affairs Committee to shore up support for the administration’s six-month deal with Iran.
“I would state to you unequivocally, the answer is yes, the national security of the United States is stronger under this first-step agreement than it was before. Israel’s national security is stronger than it was the day before we entered into this agreement. And the Gulf and Middle East interests are more secure than they were the day before we entered this agreement,” Kerry said.
Under the interim agreement reached among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran last month, Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to access its nuclear facilities in return for up to $7 billion in sanctions relief.
The interim agreement, Kerry and Obama administration officials say, allows western nations and Iran to work together over the course of the next six months toward a permanent deal. Threatening to undermine those talks is pressure from skeptics, including a contingent of U.S. lawmakers who blasted the deal as weak, naïve, and dangerous for Israel. Texas Sen. John Cornyn accused the White House of striking the deal to distract from the bungled roll-out of the Affordable Care Act website.
A chief critic of the deal is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls Iran’s leader “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
In June, Iranians elected former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the volatile former president of Iran. Rouhani campaigned on a promise to open Iran to the west and ease the western-imposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Since taking office in August, Rouhani has publicly addressed concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, which he maintains is for peaceful civilian energy use, and not for building weapons. He shared a historic phone call with Obama in late September, marking the highest-level direct talks between the two countries in more than three decades.
Amid tension over the nuclear talks and tepid talks toward a mideast peace deal, Kerry is racking up the miles between Washington and Jerusalem. He completed his eighth trip since taking charge of the State Department, and said Monday that he plans to have dinner with Netanyahu again on Thursday. Kerry reiterated support for the Jewish state Monday evening in an address to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and echoed Obama’s pledge that the U.S. will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
“If you remember when Prime Minister Netanyahu held up that cartoon at the U.N. with the bomb on it in 2012, he showed the world the chart that highlighted the type of uranium that he was concerned about, and he was talking about that 20% stockpile,” Kerry said Tuesday before the House committee, referring to Iran’s current stock of 20% enriched uranium. “Under this agreement, Iran will forfeit all– not part – all of that 20%, that 200 kilogram stockpile –gone!” The deal stipulates that Iran will destroy its 20% stockpile by converting it to forms unusable for weapons, or by diluting it.
“We are all rightly skeptical, but we now have the best chance we’ve ever had to test this proposition,” Kerry told the lawmakers.