Top US diplomat decries critics’ ‘fantasy’ of a ‘better deal,’ promises increased support to America’s Mideast allies against Iran

John Kerry speaks to Judy Woodruff of PBS's "Newshour" on the Iranian nuclear deal, July 17, 2015. (screen capture/PBS/YouTube)
John Kerry speaks to Judy Woodruff of PBS’s “Newshour” on the Iranian nuclear deal, July 17, 2015. (screen capture/PBS/YouTube)


US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted over the weekend that Israel “will be safer” under the terms of the nuclear deal brokered by world powers and Iran earlier this month.

“I talked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday,” Kerry told PBS’s Judy Woodruff in an interview Friday. “I’ve talked to him regularly throughout this process, and we are absolutely by far more linked day-to-day in the security relationship with Israel than at any time in history,” Kerry said.

That American security cooperation and help will only increase, he promised. “President [Barack] Obama is prepared to upgrade that.”

And, he added, Obama is willing “to work to do more to be able to address specific concerns” Israel has over the details of the agreement, intended to curb Iran’s nuclear drive in exchange for sanctions relief.

“But we still believe that Israel will be safer with a one-year breakout [to a nuclear weapon] for the ten years [of heightened restrictions stipulated by the deal], than two months,” the time it would take Iran to “break out” to a weapon now, according to many Western intelligence estimates.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid and other political leaders have slammed the deal, which leaves much of Iran’s enrichment infrastructure and offensive missile programs intact, and, they say, depends on trusting the Iranian regime to adhere to the agreement despite a long record of breaking previous promises.

Those worries are shared by many US lawmakers working to pass congressional resolutions and bills that might stymie the deal, or at least curtail America’s implementation of its part of the agreement.

Speaking about these congressional critics, Kerry rejected the criticism.

“I really want to sit down and go into the deal [with members of Congress], because I think the deal withstands scrutiny,” he said. “We spent four years negotiating this. This was not a rush…. There is nothing in this agreement that is based on trust.”

Indeed, he told Woodruff, he only knew the deal would be successfully completed “in the last couple of days” of negotiations. “And even then, there was some tough issues to resolve in the final hours which could have snagged the whole thing.”

The day before the deal was concluded, he had to make it clear to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that “we were ready to go home,” he said.

Kerry also rejected the criticism, voiced by Netanyahu as well as American critics of the agreement, that a “better deal” was possible because Iran was growing increasingly desperate to end crippling international sanctions.

“Now there’s no alternative being provided by all these other people,” he charged.

“They all say, ‘Oh, why don’t you crush them by sanctions?’ I’ll tell you why, because they won’t be crushed by sanctions. That’s been proven. And because we’ll lose the other people who are helping to provide those sanctions,” he said, referring to UN Security Council members from Europe, Russia and China, among others, who are eager to see the end the sanctions regime.

“They’re not going to [uphold the US-led sanctions regime] if Iran is willing to make a reasonable agreement,” he insisted.

In this May 30, 2015, file photo, US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Geneva, Switzerland, during negotiations on the future of the Iranian nuclear program. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)
In this May 30, 2015, file photo, US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Geneva, Switzerland, during negotiations on the future of the Iranian nuclear program. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)


Added Kerry: “There’s a lot of fantasy out there about this – quote – ‘better deal.’ The fact is we spent four years putting together an agreement that had the consent of Russia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain and Iran. That is not easy, and I believe the agreement we got will withstand scrutiny and deliver an Iran that cannot get a nuclear weapon.”

Asked about the effect that tens of billions of dollars will have on Iran’s support for terror in the region, Kerry said the US was consulting with Mideast allies on ways to “push back” against Iranian aggression.

Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terror groups, he said, were already forbidden under UN resolutions.

“They’re not allowed to do that, outside even of this agreement. There is a UN resolution that specifically applies to them not being allowed to transfer [arms] to Hezbollah. They are specifically not allowed under another UN resolution to transfer to the Shiite militia in Iraq. They are specifically not allowed to transfer to the Houthis [in Yemen].”

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter will be in the region this week, including in Israel and Saudi Arabia, to discuss the deal and American help in countering Iranian actions in the region, and Kerry will follow him a week later, meeting with Persian Gulf Arab leaders in Doha.

“We are laying down the steps we will take to work with our friends and allies in the region to push back against this behavior.”

Congress has 60 days to review the Iran deal. While lawmakers can’t block the agreement itself, they can try to pass new sanctions on Iran or block the president from waiving existing penalties.

Some Republicans say the White House is trying to pre-empt congressional actions by seeking an endorsement of the nuclear deal at the United Nations Security Council next week. Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote Obama a letter urging him to postpone the UN vote until after Congress considers the agreement.

The White House says the UN vote has no bearing on the status of unilateral American sanctions on Iran.

Addressing Congress, Kerry warned that the alternative to the current deal was war.

“You have a choice. Are you prepared to do what they UN resolution says, which is lift the sanctions over time in return for their negotiating, where by the way they didn’t just come to the negotiations, they have cut a deal – or do you go to war?”

If the US rejects the deal, he explained, the Iranians “will do whatever they want, we will lose the sanctions, we will lose the support of the global community. If the Congress of the United States turns this down, there will be conflict in the region, because that’s the only alternative. The ayatollah [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei], if the United States says no, will not come back to the table and negotiate, and who could blame him under those circumstances?”

As reported by The Times of Israel