US Secretary of State John Kerry began a promotional tour in Congress to drum up support for the interim agreement reached between Iran and the world’s major powers on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Kerry tried to allay fears among nervous lawmakers that the international deal would not stop Iran’s progress toward developing a nuclear weapon.
Once implemented, “this agreement halts the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolls its back in certain places,” Kerry told the committee. He argued repeatedly that that the national security of the United States, Israel and other allies in the region “is now more secure than on the day before the agreement.”
Kerry also reiterated several times that the international community “for the first time in ten years” would get access to Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to monitor activities and to establish regular progress reports. “We will brief you constantly”, Kerry told committee members.
“We now have the best chance we’ve ever had” to get a permanent agreement with Iran, Kerry said. He urged Congress to hold off imposing new sanctions. “I’m just saying ‘not right now,’” adding that “this is a very delicate diplomatic moment.”
Kerry said he did not want to threaten the unity of UN Security Council members or give the Iranians an excuse to violate the interim agreement, as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Time Magazine that the interim deal would be dead, if Congress imposed new sanctions.
But Republicans and Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee alike were not to be swayed easily, especially on the issues of additional sanctions. “I am hard pressed to understand why we would be letting up sanctions pressure at the very time its economy is on the ropes without getting an agreement which stops its centrifuges from spinning”, said Republican committee chairman Ed Royce.
Similar concerns were also voiced by Democrats which suggests that there is a broad bipartisan opinion in favor of new sanctions now. Kerry remained patient and eloquent, drawing from his competence as chief US negotiator and decades of foreign policy experience, even when lawmakers did not seem to be understanding Kerry’s words – or even listening.
At one point, when Republican Joe Wilson accused Kerry of ending the decades-old sanctions regime to the detriment of the security of US allies like Israel, Kerry asked coolly: “Where did the sanctions bring you?” In 2003, the Iranians had less than 200 centrifuges, today they have 19,000, Kerry said.
Kerry plans to brief US senators on Wednesday, before he heads to Jerusalem to confer with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a harsh critic of the interim agreement with Iran. According to Kerry, Netanyahu’s national security advisor is in Washington this week to be briefed by US State Department experts.
Several senators from both parties are considering whether to move ahead with a new round of sanctions against Iran’s oil sector. None of the competing proposals would begin unless Iran violated the interim agreement.
The Senate Banking Committee will hold off on passing a new Iran sanctions bill, Chairman Tim Johnson said Tuesday. The South Dakota Democrat said he made the decision after hearing from President Barack Obama and Kerry, who have pressed Congress to wait before imposing new sanctions on Iran.