US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday expressed doubt that Iran really wants to annihilate Israel, arguing that while Tehran has “a fundamental ideological confrontation” with the Jewish state, it has not implemented “active steps” to “wipe it off the map.”
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg published in The Atlantic on Wednesday, Kerry said that the proposed nuclear deal with Iran is as “pro-Israel” as it gets, and that should Congress block the agreement it would only reaffirm the Iranian leadership’s mistrust of America.
Regarding Iran’s open animosity to Israel, Kerry said that while “they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment” that doesn’t necessarily mean “that translates into active steps” and pointed out that Iran has not ordered Hezbollah to use its arsenal of 80,000 missiles in Lebanon against Israel.
The discussion about Iran’s hostility toward Israel in connection with the nuclear deal is “a waste of time here,” opined Kerry.
The secretary of state also defended comments he made last Friday in which he warned that should Congress vote against the Iranian nuclear deal signed last month in Vienna, Israel could find itself more isolated in the international arena and “more blamed.”
It was, he explained, more of a head’s up to Israel than a threat.
“If you’ve ever played golf, you know that you yell ‘fore’ off the tee,” he said. “You’re not threatening somebody, you’re warning them: ‘Look, don’t get hit by the ball, it’s coming.’”
Kerry insisted the deal, which has been vehemently criticized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not going far enough to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, is the best that Israel could have hoped for.
“I’ve gone through this backwards and forwards a hundred times and I’m telling you, this deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets,” Kerry said. “And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.”
The top US envoy, who led the American team in negotiations with Iran alongside diplomats from the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany, cautioned that if Congress votes to block the deal it will only serve to play on the doubts and mistrust held by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The ayatollah constantly believed that we are untrustworthy, that you can’t negotiate with us, that we will screw them,” Kerry said and warned that congressional intervention to stop the deal “will be the ultimate screwing.”
On the other hand, Kerry revealed, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had personally assured him that “If we get this finished, I [Zarif] am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues.”
However, if Congress stops progress on the deal they would “shut that down, shut off that conversation, set this back, and set in motion a series of inevitables about what would happen with respect to Iranian behavior,” Kerry said.
As for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the secretary of state, who sponsored that last round of talks that failed in 2014 after nine months of negotiations, still offered some hope of a solution.
“Doable,” he said. “But not unless somebody wants to do it.”
The US Congress is expected to vote on the Iran deal by September 17. Congress can pass a motion of disapproval, which US President Barack Obama has already said that he would veto. An override of the veto requires two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.