(CNSNews.com) – Hours before heading to down-to-the-wire Iran nuclear talks in Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday slammed critics of a proposed agreement, and raised a laugh with a swipe at Republican senators who in a recent open letter warned Iran that any deal not approved by Congress could be scrapped by a future president.
Addressing U.S. ambassadors from around the world, Kerry welcomed them to Washington, “where spring is just about to blossom and we have so much to be thankful for – including 47 other secretaries of state on Capitol Hill.”
The letter to Iran’s leaders, initiated by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and signed by 47 GOP senators, informed the regime that they will consider any nuclear agreement that is not approved by Congress to be “nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and [supreme leader] Ayatollah Khamenei.”
The administration assailed the initiative, calling it “ill-informed and ill-advised,” and a “distraction” as the talks between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – approach an end-March deadline.
The letter signatories were also accused of encroaching on the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy.
In his State Department remarks to the visiting heads of mission Kerry, a former senator, drew a distinction between his time on Capitol Hill and his role in the executive branch.
“Twenty-six months now as Secretary has given me a much different perspective than 29 years in the United States Senate, even including a number of years as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” he commented.
Kerry challenged the critics of the Iran negotiations and a proposed deal that – reportedly – will lift sanctions, leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure largely intact, and ease restrictions on the program after about a decade.
“What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable?” he asked. “And that could happen.”
“Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want, if they want, if that’s what they choose.
“And the sanctions will not hold, because those other people who deem the plan to be reasonable will walk away and say, ‘You do your thing, we’ll do ours. You’re not willing to be reasonable, we’re going to do what we think is reasonable.’ And then you have no sanctions regime at all.”
If that happened, Kerry added, there would be no checks on Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. negotiators’ job at the talks was “to provide an agreement that is as good as we’ve said it will be, that will get the job done, that shuts off the four pathways to a nuclear weapon,” he said.
“Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table – and I have yet to see anybody do that.”
Later Wednesday, Kerry was en route to Lausanne, Switzerland, for talks with Iranian officials led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. By the end of March the P5+1 hopes to finalize a political understanding on a comprehensive agreement, with annexes on technical details finalized by the end of June.
With the deadline drawing near, concerns in Congress have been growing.
On Friday 367 members of the U.S. House – a majority of both parties’ lawmakers – sent a letter to Obama charging that “grave and urgent issues” have arisen in relation to the negotiations.
The letter highlighted concerns about the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the regime’s lack of cooperation with international inspectors, and the need for an inspection regime that allows for “short notice access to suspect locations.”
In Switzerland, Kerry will head a U.S. delegation for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials, with a European Union team also involved, according to the State Department.
Others in the U.S. delegation include Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, lead nuclear negotiator Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, and a dozen officials from the State Department, National Security Council, and U.S. Treasury Department.