Secretary of State John Kerry offered a robust defense of the interim nuclear agreement with Iran on Sunday, rejecting comparisons to North Korea and insisting that the deal would make Israel and Persian Gulf allies of the United States more secure, not less so.
Speaking on three Sunday news programs, Kerry said the deal, signed early Sunday morning in Geneva, would lock in place nuclear activities that bring Iran closer to having a bomb and subject its nuclear facilities to unprecedented international inspections.
“From this day, for the next six months, Israel is in fact safer than it was,” Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “We’re now going to expand the time by which they can break out, rather than narrow it.”
Kerry acknowledged that Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region had a right to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions. But he said the United States and its negotiating partners had taken steps to address that by insisting on strict monitoring and verifications.
“You don’t trust,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “It’s not based on trust. It’s based on verification. It’s based on your ability to know what is happening.”
Lawmakers expressed skepticism of the deal Sunday, with members of Congress from both parties arguing that it should have taken a harder line against Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.
Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN that the agreement gave a “dangerous” nation an out from mounting sanctions that were just starting to show results.
“The only thing that has changed is that you have now given them a permission slip to continue enrichment,” he said.
There were already indications that Iran and the West were interpreting crucial parts of the six-month agreement differently. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has asserted that the agreement explicitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He also said the agreement effectively removed the threat of a U.S. military strike.
Kerry rejected both of those contentions. “The fact is, the president maintains” the option to use force “as commander in chief, and he has said specifically, he has not taken that threat off the table,” he said on CBS.
Administration officials reaffirmed Saturday night that the United States has not yet recognized a right to enrich uranium by Iran. But in the interim agreement, the language is more ambiguous, saying that a “comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits.”
The treatment of this question is likely to be a major focus of the next six months of negotiation. Israel and other countries have flatly opposed Iran’s right to enrich uranium because of its violation of several resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that in his reading of the interim deal, enrichment is “respected in practice but not acknowledged just yet.”