Kerry says he will ask for more sanctions if the Iran deal doesn’t work. | John Shinkle/POLITICO
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/john-kerry
Obama’s policy is ‘test but verify,’ says Secretary of State John Kerry to lawmakers
By Paul D. Shinkman
America’s chief diplomat took to Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon to ask skeptical lawmakers for some leniency in nuclear negotiations with Iran, a revolutionary nation with a record of questionable human rights and a known state sponsor of terror.
Secretary of State John Kerry, fresh back from a trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, requested members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee temporarily withhold levying further economic and trade sanctions against Iran. Kerry told lawmakers to have faith in an international coalition, known as the P5+1, as it finalizes a six-month deal that could begin to chip away at Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing existing sanctions.
Armed only with guarantees of international oversight and the threat of a military response, Kerry tried to explain that an initial round of repealing some sanctions against Iran was a necessary first step in giving the Middle Eastern nation a chance to show it is willing to cooperate on its nuclear program.
He was met with doubts, at times in the form of fiery criticism that Iran is bound to repeat previous attempts to run Western negotiations in circles.
[READ: International Tensions Mount Following Iran Deal]
“President [Barack] Obama and I have been very clear as every member of this committee has been,” Kerry said. “Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon. It is the president’s centerpiece of his foreign policy. Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. This imperative is at the top of our national security agenda.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday that Western nations cannot stop Iran’s nuclear program and now acknowledge their failure at trying to control it.
“You see that those powers which were thinking of destroying Iran’s enrichment capability have now admitted that they cannot stop Iran’s industrial progress and enrichment due to the indigenization of this industry and its expansion,” Rouhani said, according to Iranian state-sponsored news service Fars.
The P5+1, consisting of the five members of the U.N. Security Council as well as Germany, released a Joint Action Plan Nov. 24 that outlines some of the initial steps required of Iran over a six-month trial period to ensure the country is serious about reducing its nuclear program.
Iran must eliminate its stockpiles of uranium enriched up to 20 percent; halt enrichment more than 5 percent; and not stockpile uranium enriched at more than 3.5 percent. It will allow daily international inspections of its secretive nuclear facilities, such as those at Fordow and Natanz, and monthly inspections of its heavy water reactor at Arak. It must also divulge detailed plans for the Arak facility.
In exchange, the U.S. and European Union will begin to lift some economic sanctions against Iran, such as its ability to export oil, which will account for roughly $7 billion more in Iranian revenue. Kerry dismissed this amount as insignificant for the roughly $1 trillion Iranian economy.
If Iran were to break any part of this deal, all amelioration could be overturned and the U.S. could respond militarily, the secretary said.
“We could not only terminate those facilities, but we could set them back a significant amount of time,” he said.
Kerry dismissed reports of international criticism of the plan, particularly from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all regional powers and known rivals of Iran.
The Saudi and Emirati governments have issued statements of support, Kerry said, and claims Israel only has “tactical” differences in the approach to negotiations.
[ALSO: Everything You Wanted to Know About Iran Sanctions But Felt Too Dumb to Ask]
Kerry speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu multiple times a week, he said, and met with him during his recent trip. Kerry heads back to Israel on Thursday for more meetings there.
“We are totally agreed,” he said. “We need to focus on this final comprehensive agreement.”
The secretary cited President Ronald Reagan’s slogan of negotiating with the former Soviet Union of “trust but verify.”
“We have a new one: Test but verify,” he said.
“We’re building the capacity to know exactly what is happening [in Iran] in an unprecedented fashion,” he said. “We believe our hand is very strong.”
Some members sitting on the dais had a different appraisal.
“It’s looks like ‘Grovel but verify’ to me,” said Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R-Calif., who objected to Kerry’s referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by his title, “supreme leader.” The congressman described the senior cleric, believed to exert de facto control over all Iranian governance, as a vicious man with a bloody background.
The deal Kerry signed in November stipulates the U.S. will not pass further sanctions against Iran. The House already passed legislation that would levy further sanctions, which the Senate is currently considering, and is weighing further options.
Experts in negotiating with Iran say such action would torpedo the deal.
Throughout Tuesday’s hearing, Kerry claimed the sanctions already imposed were designed to bring Iran to the negotiating table and thus have worked.
“We were not imposing these sanctions for the sake of imposing them,” said Kerry, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman before beginning his current job in February. “Has Iran changed its nuclear calculus? I honestly don’t think we can say just yet. But we now have the best chance we’ve ever had to rigorously test this proposition.”
“We will be the first ones to come to you, if this fails, to ask for additional sanctions,” he added.
Rep. Theodore Deutch, R-Fla., said the sanctions were designed to get Iran to give up its nuclear program, not negotiate the terms for it.
House Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., also questioned the Obama administration’s de facto endorsement of Iran’s “right to enrich” if the deal goes through.
“Iran, from our standpoint, does not need this technology to generate electricity,” he said. “If they have this technology, it is exactly what they do need to make nuclear weapons.”
Kerry claimed leaving the existing sanctions in place could prompt a Western war with Iran.
“If you’re going to take a nation to war, you better have exhausted all possible ways of negotiating peacefully,” he said. “There’s nothing naive about what we’re doing.”
“It may be wrong, you might find miscalculation, but it’s not a miscalculation founded on naivete,” Kerry added. “If we were just negotiating and pressing them further, we would be inviting a prolonged process. That would drive them to want to get a the weapon even more, and then you’d be at a place where you’d get a negotiation but they’d be closer to getting the weapon than they are today.”
By Chris Good and Arlette Saenz
The Obama administration has a long way to go in selling its Iranian nuclear deal to lawmakers.
For the first time since striking it in Geneva on Nov. 24, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on Capitol Hill today to testify on the deal, continuing his sales pitch to a skeptical Congress. He encountered plenty of resistance — not just from Republicans, but also from fellow Democrats.
Read more: When Will the Iran Nuclear Deal Actually Start?
Case in point: Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a nine-term Democrat, told Kerry, “I was briefed by the administration on this deal and I was impressed a little bit less after I read it.” and pressed for new sanctions that the administration is trying to prevent.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during previous testimony. Photo by Reuters
Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., a freshman, expressed at length at the outset of his questioning his support for Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Then called the deal “naive.”
Read more: Obama Defends Iran Deal to Israeli Policy Forum
Ranking Member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., voiced “serious reservations” about the deal in his opening statement.
Republicans, as expected, attacked the deal with force. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Utah, pressed Kerry to guarantee that “not one single dollar of that new money coming in to Iran is going to be used to kill one American soldier.” Kerry couldn’t.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a long-tenured foreign-policy voice in the House GOP conference, admonished Kerry for referring to Ayatollah Khamenei as “supreme leader.”
“Quite frankly, that’s groveling but verify,” Rohrabacher said, a quip on Kerry’s advertisements of a “test but verify” approach to Iran.
As expected, Kerry plugged the deal as a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program that would create breathing room for negotiations, in exchange for modest sanctions relief.
“This agreement halts the progress of Iran’s nuclear program — halts the progress — and rolls is back in certain places for the first time in nearly 10 years,” Kerry said in his opening remarks.
“There’s nothing naive about what we’re doing. It is calculated. It may be wrong. You may find that it’s a miscalculation, but it’s not miscalculation based on naivete. We understand the dangers. We understand the risks. We understand how critical this is and how high the stakes are,” Kerry said later, responding to criticism.
“I’m not saying never,” Kerry said of passing new sanctions. “If this doesn’t work, we’re coming back and asking you for more. I’m just saying not right now.”
Kerry called it a “very delicate diplomatic moment” with Iran.
On Wednesday, the secretary of state will return to the Hill to brief senators on the Iran deal behind closed doors, with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Congressional cooperation will be important if the deal is to succeed, and the administration has reached a crossroads with lawmakers.
Both Republicans and Democrats have pushed for new sanctions on Iran — or at least a bill that would guarantee new sanctions at the end of the six-month “first step” agreement if a broader deal isn’t reached and would trigger new sanctions if Iran doesn’t hold up its promises under the interim agreement.
But under the Geneva agreement, any new oil sanctions would invalidate the deal, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Time Magazine this week that the deal is off if Congress imposes new sanctions — even if they’re delayed for six months. It’s unclear what would happen if Congress were to pass new sanctions and President Obama were to veto them.
The Senate will likely be the more critical battleground. With Democrats in control, it would be harder for sanctions backers to gain the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.
For now, the Senate Banking Committee, which is responsible for passing sanctions legislation, will hold off on moving forward with a new bill.
“The President and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now. I’ll have more to say on this at Thursday’s Banking Committee hearing,” committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said in a statement today.
The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to examine the nuclear agreement reached last month, featuring testimony from Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of political affairs at the State Department, and David Cohen, the agency’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
In the House. Kerry told lawmakers today that new sanctions — even delayed ones — would not only upset Iran but could spook world powers from holding to the international sanctions regime.
“Our partners, if we pass them now, could get squirrelly on the whole idea of sanctions,” Kerry said.
“We told them we would not do it,” Kerry said of Iran, noting that “our partners don’t expect us to” pass new sanctions.
Kerry also revealed he expects the Geneva deal to take effect soon.
Although it’s been three weeks since Iran and the United Nations’ P5+1 reached it, the agreement hasn’t actually been implemented. Iran has yet to submit to additional monitoring, and the U.S and world powers have yet to roll back sanctions. Technical teams met in Vienna on Monday to discuss implementation, but until today the State Department had provided no guidance on when that final haggling might be over with.
The deal will take effect “in the next weeks,” Kerry said.