US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to calm Israeli worries over an emerging nuclear deal with Iran in an interview aired Sunday, dismissing some concerns as brought on by “hysteria” over the possible agreement.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 10 television, Kerry said the deal wouldn’t affect American options to counter any possible effort by Iran to build atomic weapons.
He also said he did not believe Israel would surprise the United States by attacking Iran without prior consultation, because of the “huge” potential implications.
“I say to every Israeli that today we have the ability to stop [the Iranians] if they decided to move quickly to a bomb. And I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they are doing, so that we can still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb,” Kerry said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been one of the harshest critics of the US-led framework deal with the Islamic Republic, which offers it sanctions relief in exchange for scaling back its contested nuclear program.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran’s missile capabilities and its support for terrorist groups. In an apparent direct response to Kerry’s comments, Netanyahu said Sunday that the emerging deal “endangers Israel, it endangers the region, it endangers the world, the entire world in my opinion. So I think it’s very important to insist on a better deal.”
Kerry was adamant, nonetheless, that the criticism is misplaced, and that the deal emphatically benefits Israel. “We will not sign a deal that does not close off Iran’s pathways to a bomb and that doesn’t give us the confidence — to all of our experts, in fact to global experts — that we will be able to know what Iran is doing and prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” Kerry told Channel 10.
The emerging deal “will in fact protect Israel,” he said, and he vowed that the US “will never disappoint Israel.”
Kerry made clear that the US maintained all its options, including the military option, to thwart Iran.
He did not directly rule out the possibility of Israeli military action, but he said he did not believe Israel would attack independently of the US. Asked whether he thought he might “wake up one morning” to find that Israel had launched an offensive in Iran, Kerry said: “Obviously, for the most part that’s hypothetical, until we know what the circumstances are where that choice might or might not be made.”
He went on: “I do not believe frankly that Israel… that we’d wake up one morning and find that. I believe our relationship with Israel is such that the prime minister would talk to us at considerable length, because we would be deeply involved in what would happen as an aftermath, and there are huge implications to that.”
Netanyahu believes the potential deal leaves intact too much of Iran’s contested nuclear program, including research facilities and advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium, a key ingredient in building an atomic bomb.
“We will have inspectors in there every single day; that is not a 10-year deal, that is forever,” Kerry countered. “There is a lot of hysteria about this deal. People really need to look at the facts, and they need to look at the science of what is behind those facts.”
Kerry was robust and insistent in highlighting the Obama administration’s support for Israel. “Every week we step up to defend Israel in one forum or another in the world,” he said, citing the UN, the ICC and other institutions. “We constantly are voting, working, pushing in order to push back against unfair, biased, bigoted, degrading, inappropriate assaults on Israel’s sovereignty, integrity, and we stand up for it,” he said.
“In fact,” he went on, “we’re even being kicked out of entities at the UN now because we stand up [for Israel]. And we have a law that says if the Palestinians do something, then we would not pay our dues. Well guess what? Because of that we’re losing our vote in UNESCO.” He said the US had asked Netanyahu “to give us a waiver so that we can at least be able to defend Israel [at UNESCO].”
Kerry noted without elaboration that the administration had “designed and deployed a weapon that has the ability to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.” That, he said, was just one mark of “an administration and a government and a country that will stand by Israel way into the future.”
“No administration in American history has literally done as much,’ he said, “to try to help Israel in so many ways.”
President Barack Obama “wants a strong and normal relationship with the government and the prime minister,” he said.
He denied that Netanyahu’s speech to both houses of Congress in early March had sparked a crisis in ties — “I don’t think there is a crisis,” he said, though he acknowledged a flare-up over the procedure by which that speech was arranged.
And he didn’t accept there was poor chemistry between Netanyahu and Obama: “I don’t get into the chemistry,” he said. “I’m not here to be psychologist or psychobabble-ist. My job as secretary of state is to work with our allies and our friends. And Israel is a great ally and a great friend.”
“I am confident that the relationship between the president and the prime minster will be viewed… as one that is operating on all the critical issues,” Kerry said.
Channel 2 reported Sunday that Netanyahu told Kerry to hold off on a visit to Israel earlier this year until after a coalition is formed.
Kerry had wanted to visit in an effort to reignite peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and possibly to compel Netanyahu to meet previous promises regarding a two-state solution. Netanyahu responded by asking Kerry to arrive only after a new government is formed, according to Channel 2. Kerry himself acknowledged that he had planned to visit “sooner” but would now do so in the coming weeks.
Netanyahu on Sunday maintained his criticism of the Iran deal.
“We think there needs to be a different deal, a better deal, and there are those that tell us this won’t endanger Israel,” Netanyahu said Sunday during a visit by US Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
“I must say as prime minister of Israel, who is responsible for Israel’s security — this does endanger Israel.”
Kerry’s interview came after The New York Times reported on Friday that the Obama Administration is also “scrambling” to assuage the fears of its Arab allies over the deal, and is considering a range of options to placate them, some of which could come at Israel’s expense.
According to The New York Times report, options under consideration include: a defense pact under which the US would commit “to the defense of Arab allies if they come under attack from outside forces”; joint training missions for American and Arab military forces; designating Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as “major non-NATO allies,” a step that would loosen restrictions on weapons sales and offer “a number of military advantages that are available only to NATO allies”; and approving the sale of its advanced F-35 stealth fighter to the UAE three years after it is delivered to Israel.
The sale of F-35s could undermine Israel’s hitherto sacrosanct military edge, the paper noted.
President Obama is reportedly refusing to meet Netanyahu until after the June 30 deadline for the nuclear talks.