Kerry: Failing to reach nuclear deal will push Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

US secretary of state makes case against imposing additional sanctions on Tehran, saying such a move would signal to Iran the US isn't willing to negotiate in good faith; says no distance between US, Israel on issue.

John Kerry in interview with MSNBC 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
John Kerry in interview with MSNBC 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Imposing additional sanctions on Iran would signal to Tehran that the United States is not willing to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute, and drive hardliners in the country to push for obtaining of nuclear weapons, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday.
Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden met with senators on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in an attempt to convince them to hold off on increasing sanctions on the Islamic Republic, arguing that such a move would be viewed by Iran as a bad faith step from the US.
"You have to do something in order to make it worthwhile for them to say, 'Yes, we’re going to lock our program where it is today and actually roll it back,'" he said.
He stressed that 95 percent, the core of the sanctions regime, would remain in place, and only a "tiny portion" of sanctions would be eased.
"Iran was bringing in a $110-120 billion a year in income from its oil revenues, banking and so forth. That has been knocked down to $40-45 billion and that money is frozen in banks around the world. All we're talking about doing is releasing a tiny portion of that," he said.
He warned that failure to reach a deal would result in Tehran continuing its nuclear program, "and then we're locked in a standoff for the next how-many number of years that becomes more dangerous for Israel and our other allies in the region, and may even push other countries to nuclearize and could result in the requirement that we'd have to - rather than have to negotiate a peaceful resolution of this - take military action in order to secure our goals."
Kerry said that he has had several phone conversations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the issue over the past week, including one of Thursday.
"I respect completely [Netanyahu's] deep concerns, as a prime minister should have about the existential nature of this threat to Israel," he said, noting that the two countries agree about the goal of the talks - stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons - but not on the way to achieve that goal.
"We believe that you need to take the first step and that you will not get Iran to simply surrender and believe you're dealing in good faith if after two years of negotiating you don't follow through with what's on the table. But Mr. Netanyahu believes that you can increase the sanctions, put the pressure on even further, and that somehow this is going to force them to do what they haven't been willing to do any time previously," the secretary of state said.
Despite that, he stressed that there is no distance between Israel and the United States.
"I believe [this deal] is the best first step that will actually make Israel safer. It will extend the break out time. If we don't get that first step, not only will that break out time shrink, but Iran may interpret the congressional reaction to increase sanctions as bad faith on our part and unwillingness to negotiate and may drive the hardliners even more to a commitment that they have to have the weapons," he said.
Kerry's comments came after Netanyahu on Wednesday warned the US and other Western nations that a "bad deal" with Iran on its nuclear program could lead to war. Netanyahu's aides also challenged the US assertion that offers to provide Tehran relief from sanctions were "modest."
The United States and five other major powers are set to resume negotiations with Iran on November 20, and one potential proposal could allow Iran to sell oil and gold and import some food and medicine in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Israel says the relief is too generous and would do little to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Reuters contributed to this report.