Kerry: Israel's security at the top of US agenda in Iran nuclear talks

Kerry vows to consult Israel on final nuclear deal with Tehran; Netanyahu calls on Palestinians to stop "finger pointing."

December 5, 2013 13:21
3 minute read.
US Sec. of State kerry and  PM Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, Dec 5, 2013

netanyahu and kerry 370. (photo credit: GPO / Kobi Gideon)


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Following a month of often shrill megaphone diplomacy between Israel and the US over Iran, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry presented a more harmonious front when publicly discussing the issue Thursday in Jerusalem.

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The bond between the US and Israel is “unbreakable,” and while there may be tactical differences between the two countries occasionally, the long-term strategy for Israel’s security and peace in the region is the same, Kerry said.

The two men, who both referred to the other as “my friend,” took pains to present a common and amiable front.

Following a more than four-hour meeting that dealt with both the Palestinians and Iran, the two issued brief statements, with Netanyahu – who has been unsparing in his criticism of the interim deal reached in Geneva – dialing down his criticism a bit, focusing more on the future and what needed to be done now, rather than criticizing the past.

In a final deal, he said, “we believe it is crucial to bring about a final agreement about the termination of Iran’s military nuclear capability.”

He also said steps must be taken to “prevent the further erosion of sanctions.”

Kerry, in his brief comments, addressed both of these concerns.

“I can’t emphasize enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation is at the top of our agenda,” he said, adding that the US “will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran’s nuclear program – a program of weaponization possibilities – is terminated.”

Kerry said that Israel and the US agree fully on what the final status agreement with Iran should look like, “and in the days and weeks ahead we will consult very closely and continually with our Israeli friends, in order to bring about a comprehensive agreement that can withstand everybody’s test.”

As to the sanctions, Kerry promised that the US would remain “vigilant” to ensure that they don’t start to unravel.

“We say to any country that contemplates moving ahead of sanctions: don’t, because those sanctions will continue to be enforced,” Kerry stressed. “The fundamental sanctions regime of oil and banking remains absolutely in place, it has not changed. And we will step up our enforcement through the Treasury Department and appropriate agencies of the United States.”

In a TV interview on Wednesday, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said that the US was willing to accept Iran’s right to enrich uranium at low levels as part of a final deal.

“We would consider a limited, modest enrichment program if it is attached to real practical needs,” Sherman told Gwen Ifill of PBS’s NewsHour.

“And if, in fact, they agree to all the monitoring and all the intrusive verification that’s needed.”

Sherman led the US delegation in Geneva throughout the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, and will continue to serve as America's point diplomat going forward on the matter as world powers attempt to reach a final status agreement with the Islamic Republic.

“I think getting to a comprehensive agreement will be very, very difficult,” Sherman said. “This includes a lot of dismantling of their infrastructure, because, quite frankly, we’re not quite sure what you need a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor, which is what Arak is, for any civilian peaceful purpose.”

Sherman said that if Iran’s leadership chose to develop a nuclear weapon today, it would take them over a year to do so – and that the interim Geneva deal inhibits their ability to do so without detection.

Asked whether the US was pursuing a normalization in relations with Iran, Sherman said that the prospect was “many years off.”

The administration is preparing the implementation of the “first-phase” deal with Iran over the next month. The second phase, a final-status accord, will start with a meeting of nuclear experts in Vienna in the coming weeks.

Nine former US ambassadors to Israel sent a letter to congressional leadership explaining why the deal was a good one in the interests of US security.

“We are encouraged that this first-step agreement with Iran will constrain and make much more transparent its nuclear program,” the letter reads, signed by Nicholas Burns, Daniel Kurtzer and Thomas Pickering, among others. “This agreement contains concessions and limitations from Iran that few of us thought would have been possible just scant weeks ago.”

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