Kerry: US won’t succumb to ‘fear tactics’ when pursuing Iran talks

In an apparent dig at Netanyahu, secretary of state says it would be ‘irresponsible’ not to give negotiations a chance

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

US Secretary of State John Kerry. (photo credit: AP/Ahmad Jamshid)
US Secretary of State John Kerry. (photo credit: AP/Ahmad Jamshid)

The renewed international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are “an opportunity to put to test” the Islamic Republic’s intentions, and it would be “the height of irresponsibility” to let “fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise” block those negotiations, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.

Kerry’s comments appeared to constitute a response to Israel’s repeated warnings to the international community over Iran’s true intentions regarding negotiations. Israel has said it believes Iran is using the talks as a stalling tactic while it marches forward toward the bomb, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly asserting that Tehran is duping the world and has no intention of halting its rogue nuclear program.

The US is engaged in “an opportunity to try to put to test whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program, and will submit to the standards of the international community in the effort to prove that to the world,” Kerry said, speaking in Washington, DC, at a Ploughshares Fund event.  

“Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test,” the secretary of state continued. “I suggest that the idea that the United States of America as a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise,” he said.

“Our eyes are wide open,” Kerry said, adding that actions on the part of Iran to demonstrate the peaceful intention of its nuclear program “must be real” and “fully verifiable” and be ones that will “get the job done.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in May. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in May. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Where Iran is concerned, Kerry stressed, “no deal is better than a bad deal, because a bad deal could actually wind up creating greater danger.”

The secretary of state noted that the same negotiating principles are in play as “we work with our international partners to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons…Who would have imagined a few months ago that we would be removing weapons that hadn’t even been acknowledged to exist? We have to seize these opportunities.”

Kerry’s statements came during a period in which the US has sought to allay Israel’s concerns about diplomatic overtures from Iran. Iran is seeking relief from Western economic sanctions, which have deeply affected the Iranian economy, in return for concessions on its nuclear program, but Israel is pressing Obama to keep sanctions in place.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama spoke with Netanyahu by phone about Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and other Mideast issues. The phone call was part of their “regular consultations,” said a White House statement. “The two leaders agreed to continue their close coordination on a range of security issues.”

In Rome last week, Netanyahu held a marathon session of discussions, much of which were focused on the Iranian threat. In his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, Netanyahu said, “We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed, but when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance.” He added: “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, here’s my advice: Distrust, dismantle and verify.”

Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Association, said Monday that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build an atomic weapon within two weeks and had, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program.

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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