(CNSNews.com) – Setting aside Iran’s ballistic missile threats, support for terrorism and regional destabilization when crafting the nuclear deal was not a concession but “strategic thinking” on the part of the negotiators, former Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.
As he has done frequently since leaving office, Kerry used the opportunity of the Munich Security Conference to defend, at length, the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal which President Trump has threatened to abandon.
Kerry said that the U.S. recognized that the agreement being negotiated was not dealing with other problematic issues, including human rights abuses, missiles, arms shipments, support for Hezbollah, and its interference in Iraq and Yemen.
Although those were legitimate concerns, he said, the decision to leave them off the agenda was taken “not as a concession, but as a matter of strategic thinking.”
Kerry characterized that thinking as arising from a realization that the George W. Bush administration’s approach – demanding that Iran stop all uranium-enrichment – had gone “nowhere,” and a recognition that the problem could not be resolved through a military option.
He said when he sat down with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, in the fall of 2013 – the first time such a meeting had taken place in decades – Iran had already mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and several intelligence services assessed it was just two months away from nuclear “breakout.”
“Bombing was not about to put that genie back into the bottle.”
Kerry said the U.S. fended off pressure from the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to use military action against Iran.
“I can’t tell you how much we were resisting, the prime minister [Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu] himself, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – who said it to me personally – [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak, who said it to me personally: the only thing you can do with Iran is bomb them.”
He predicted that if the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “goes away,” calls to bomb will quickly resume.
“I guarantee you, if this deal goes away, you know the pressures you’re going to hear, coming from certain quarters, ‘Wow, we’re right back where we were. You may have to bomb them,’ because they’re now free to go back to what we had [under the JCPOA] restricted them from doing.”
At the same venue earlier in the day, Netanyahu warned that as a result of the JCPOA Iran would be on its way to having a nuclear weapons arsenal “in little more than a decade.”
Kerry called the statement “fundamentally not accurate.”
He said the JCPOA limits Iran to a 300 kilogram stockpile of enriched uranium for 15 years, “which is why, when I hear ‘nuclear arsenal in ten years,’ it is physically impossible to make a bomb with 300 kilograms of enriched uranium.”
Kerry insisted that the agreement is being thoroughly monitored to ensure Iran’s compliance, with inspectors examining facilities “on a daily basis.”
He said he believes “it is absolutely critical for Europe, for the world, to make sure that we hold onto this agreement, because to go backwards – we know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement. It’s not a better place.”
Last month President Trump waived sanctions against Iran for another 120 days, for what he indicated could be the last time.
“Either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws,” he said in a message directed at European allies and the U.S. Congress, “or the United States will withdraw.”
One key concern Trump has raised relates to inspections of Iran’s military sites. In his Jan. 12 statement he said that any new Iran legislation must, as one of four critical components, “demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.”
The international community suspects that some military sites played a key part in Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.
The JCPOA sets down procedures under which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can request access to suspect sites, involving consultation and ultimately a vote by the parties to the deal – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran.
The process can take 24 days from the time the IAEA first raises concerns to the time Iran allows inspectors in, however. “A lot of things can disappear” in 24 days, a senior French official observed at the time.
In the event, Iran has repeatedly rejected the notion that the JCPOA requires it to allow inspection of military facilities, saying such a step would violate its sovereignty.
Kerry said Sunday the notion that Iran’s military sites cannot be inspected is “just absolutely wrong.”
He outlined the 21-day process, and noted that in the event of the issue coming up for a vote, the U.S., Britain, Germany and France would have a one-vote advantage over Iran, Russia and China.
For its part, however, the IAEA has not pushed for access to military sites, and so the Iranians’ rhetoric, the 21-day process, and the broad credibility of the inspection regime, have not been put to the test.
President Obama in 2015 declared that the JCPOA incorporates “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”