US hails accord with Iran as 'good deal'

Kerry says deal will make Israel safer because it establishes a mechanism to monitor Tehran's nuclear activity; Senate Foreign Relations Committee head says new sanctions legislation in Congress would respect 6-month freeze.

Kerry in Geneva 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Carolyn Kaster/Pool)
Kerry in Geneva 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Carolyn Kaster/Pool)
WASHINGTON – Hard negotiations in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program produced just the interim deal sought by US President Barack Obama: A six-month freeze to a crisis that threatened to dominate the rest of his presidency.
Immediately following the announcement of the deal, reached between Iran and the P5+1 powers – the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany – in the early hours of Sunday morning, the White House began explaining why the “first step” accord was a good one for both the US and its allies in the Middle East.
The White House published a detailed breakdown of the agreement, followed by a live, televised statement from the president and a conference call between a handful of journalists and senior administration officials.
“Because of this agreement, Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its program,” Obama said, adding that the deal “cuts off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry explained the merits of the deal in a press conference, and granted a series of television interviews afterward to further press the administration’s case.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Kerry sought to provide reassurances to Israel, which views the nuclear deal as misguided.
“Israel is threatened by what has been going on in Iran,” Kerry told CNN. “But I believe that from this day – for the next six months – Israel is in fact safer than it was yesterday, because we now have a mechanism by which we are going to expand the amount of time in which [the Iranians] can break out [toward making a nuclear bomb],” he said.
“We are going to have insights to their program that we didn’t have before.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was skeptical of Iran’s intentions going in to the deal – but that any new sanctions legislation in Congress would respect the sixmonth freeze.
“I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a sixmonth window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran,” said Menendez, “but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement.
“I do not believe we should further reduce our sanctions,” Menendez added, “nor abstain from preparations to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail.”
Kerry sought to reassure skeptics in Congress who worry that the six-month agreement gives Iran too much leeway and that it might end up using it as a stalling tactic. He told CNN that the US had entered into the deal with their eyes “absolutely wide open,” and explained on CBS that the agreement was not based on any assumptions about Iran’s intentions.
“We did arms control agreements with the great enemy, the Soviet Union,” Kerry told CBS. “You don’t trust. It’s not based on trust.
It’s based on verification... you don’t have to trust the people you’re dealing with.”
Before the agreement was reached, Menendez told The Jerusalem Post that he would entertain an interim deal that addressed the increasing efficiency of Iran’s enrichment cycles. Iran has installed a large number of centrifuges over the last two years, and has developed more advanced centrifuges, which together have shortened Iran’s “breakout” time to attaining a nuclear warhead should its government choose to produce one.
Kerry, asked whether Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s claims that a military strike was “off the table” in a press conference were true, responded, “that’s just not accurate.”
Obama agreed, saying “nothing will be agreed to unless everything is agreed to.”
Sen. Bob Corker, the highest- ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he planned to hold the “international community’s feet to the fire” with new legislation.
“We see where they state in the preamble, there will be a mutually defined enrichment program,” Corker pointed out. “It looks like we’ve tacitly agreed that they will be enriching for commercial purposes down the road. So I think you’re going to see on Capitol Hill... a bipartisan effort to try to make sure that this is not the final agreement.”
Legislation in the Senate would have doubled down on sanctions against Iran, targeting what remains of the Islamic Republic’s oil exports – down 60 percent since 2010 – and its access to foreign exchange.
Foreign exchange is one of the few sources of relief Iran will experience in the deal cut in Geneva this weekend.
The money Iran will have access to will be “doled out in increments,” a senior administration official said Saturday night, and will amount to, “at most, $6-7 billion dollars.”
In return, Iran will allow full access to its enrichment plants – including the elusive Fordow nuclear facility burrowed in a mountain in Qom – as well as its raw materials facilities; will dilute uranium enriched to 20%; will cease enrichment beyond 5%; and will not install its advanced IR2M centrifuges, estimated to be up to three times more efficient than older models.
In a poll released last week, 56% of Americans favored a “first step” agreement as part of a phased diplomatic approach. That figure may be misleading, however: Only 6% of Americans prioritize foreign policy in a 2013 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, suggesting many Americans may not closely follow US relations with Iran.
Reuters contributed to this report.