Israeli minister rejects Kerry’s ‘intimidation’ on Iran deal

Steinitz dismisses top US diplomat’s claim that Jewish state could face ‘isolation’ if Congress fails to okay nuclear agreement

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yuval Steinitz. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yuval Steinitz. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, the government’s unofficial point man on Iran, on Sunday dismissed a recent warning by US Secretary of State John Kerry indicating that Israel could bear the blame if Congress votes down the nuclear deal with Iran.

“Israel will make its views clear on the Iranian nuclear issue, which is relevant to its security and its existence, and no one has the authority to intimidate us [on the matter],” Steinitz said according to the Walla news site.

He said the arguments against the agreement were objectively sound and not exclusive to Israel. “Criticism of the agreement in the United States in general and Congress in particular is due to the serious flaws and loopholes displayed in the deal,” he said.

As part of the Obama administration’s current campaign to push the Iranian deal signed July 14 in Vienna, Kerry told an audience at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York on Friday that should Congress vote against the agreement, “our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated, and more blamed.”

The statement was promptly rejected by the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, now a member of the centrist Kulanu party.

“If American legislators reject the nuclear deal, they will do so exclusively on the basis of US interests. The threat of the secretary of state who, in the past, warned that Israel was in danger of becoming an apartheid state, cannot deter us from fulfilling our national duty to oppose this dangerous deal,” Oren said in a statement.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the Council of Foreign Relations on July 24, 2015 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the Council of Foreign Relations on July 24, 2015 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Earlier Friday, Kerry warned that any future Israeli military action against Iran over its nuclear program would be an “enormous mistake.”

Iran and the US-led P5+1 world powers signed a nuclear deal that would see Iran curbing its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. The agreement was met with fierce opposition by Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries that maintain the deal doesn’t go far enough to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

In Israel, politicians across the spectrum slammed the deal as soon as it was announced.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged US lawmakers to combat Iranian aggression by rejecting the nuclear deal.

The agreement now goes to Congress which started a 60-day review of the deal and is expected to vote on it by September 17. Congress can pass a motion of disapproval, which President Barack Obama can veto. An override of the veto requires two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate.

Kerry said Friday it would be embarrassing to him and a blow to US credibility on the world stage if Congress rejects the deal.

It would be a “repudiation of President Obama’s initiative and a statement that when the executive department negotiates, it doesn’t mean anything anymore because we have 535 secretaries of state,” Kerry said, referring to the number of members of the House and Senate.

“Do you think the ayatollah is going to come back to the table if Congress refuses this and negotiate again?” he asked.

“Do you think that they’re going to sit there and other people in the world are going to say, ‘Hey, let’s go negotiate with the United States, they have 535 secretaries of state’?,” Kerry said.

“I mean please. I would be embarrassed to try to go out. What am I going to say to people after this as secretary of state. ‘Come negotiate with us.’ ‘Oh, can you deliver?’ Please.”

Ricky Ben-David, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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