WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Iran nuclear deal Monday night, telling J Street’s annual gala that, defying expectations, the Islamic Republic has only received $3 billion since the accord’s implementation in January.
The US secretary also insisted the Obama administration had not given up on negotiating a two-state solution, contradicting recent statements by the White House.
“Do you remember the debate over how much money Iran was going to get?” Kerry asked the crowd. “Sometimes you heard some of the presidential candidates putting a mistaken figure out of $155 billion. We never thought it would be that. Others thought it would be about a $100 billion because there was supposedly $100 billion that was owed and so forth. We calculated it to be about $55 billion when you really take a hard look at the economy and what is happening. Guess what, folks. You know how much they have received to date as I stand here tonight?”
“About three billion,” he told the J Street supporters who lobbied to cement the deal when it went through the Congress, shortly after its contours were agreed upon between the P5+1 world powers in July.
Kerry reiterated his stance that the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “remains the best way to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
He noted the deal’s restrictions on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, and the US capability to trace any enrichment. He also said that Iran’s stockpile of enriched material has been reduced from 12,000 kilograms to 300 and that before the deal, “[Iran] was two months away from potentially breaking out” and is now “a year away, and we have the capacity to know what they are doing.”
“Despite skeptics’ most dire predictions,” he added. “We are in a place that some people thought was unimaginable.”
Kerry did not address Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles in recent months, which violate UN Security Council Resolutions and which Republican members of Congress have insisted merit additional sanctions.
Kerry noted the bus bombing in Jerusalem earlier in the day that injured more than 20 people, saying it “certainly bears all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.” The US condemns “it in the strongest possible terms,” he said.
Shifting to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kerry said he would continue to pursue a negotiated two-state solution, despite the White House statement in November 2015 it had given up on achieving a final status agreement during the remainder of the Obama presidency.
He said the bombing “reminded us of this imperative” to achieve a sustainable peace accord. The explosion, if confirmed as a terror attack, was “intended to instill fear… but history has proven, and we know it in our guts and we know it in our hearts, they will never succeed in intimidating the Israeli people,” Kerry said.
But, he added, “we can’t just keep condemning the other side and not try to change lives and change the capacity to try and change choices.”
Despite White House assertions to the contrary, Kerry said his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians were not over.
“I can tell you that for these next nine months, we will not stop working to find a way,” to advance a two-state solution, Kerry pledged.
“We will continue to try to advance a two-state solution, the only solution,” he went on. “Because anything else will not be Jewish, and it will not be democratic.”
On March 24, Obama said an Israeli-Palestinian deal would not be reached during his remaining nine months in office.
“This is not something I was able to get done,” he said. “I am not that hopeful that it’s going to happen in the next nine months. It’s been 60 years; it’s not going to happen in the next nine months.”
AP contributed to this report.