WASHINGTON — The United States will know soon if Iran is willing to seal a deal to assure the world it is not seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday, while simultaneously lashing out at critics of the negotiations.
Fresh from talks in Geneva with his Iranian counterpart, Kerry sounded a note of caution, telling US lawmakers he was not sure yet whether a comprehensive agreement was within reach.
World powers grouped under the so-called P5+1 “had made inroads” since reaching an interim deal with Iran in November 2013 on reining in its suspect nuclear program, Kerry said.
“We’ve gained unprecedented insight into it,” Kerry told the Senate appropriations committee at the start of two days of intense congressional foreign policy budget hearings.
“And we expect to know soon whether or not Iran is willing to put together an acceptable, verifiable plan.”
He stressed again that US policy was that Tehran would not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Taking aim at critics, such as official Israel, that are opposed to the agreement, Kerry said they did not “know what the deal is.”
“I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce. Since 2013, we have been testing whether or we can achieve that goal diplomatically — I don’t know yet,” Kerry insisted.
The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany are trying to strike an accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
In return, the West would ease punishing sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is purely civilian in nature.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that an emerging deal would restrict Iranian nuclear activity for a decade, while leaving 6,500 centrifuges spinning, but then allow it to ramp back up.
Israeli officials expressed worry over the report, with some saying the US was allowing a bad deal.
“This agreement, if indeed it is signed, will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. That is, with the consent of the major powers, Iran – which openly declares its intention to destroy the State of Israel – will receive a license to develop the production of bombs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Netanyahu said he would stick to his plan to speak against the deal before the US Congress next week, saying the lawmakers were “likely to be the final brake before the agreement.”
The next round of nuclear talks is due to be held at the political director level on Monday in Switzerland, but US officials have said Kerry could join the negotiations again.