Kerry: Only Alternative to Iran Nuclear Deal Would Be War

'This deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets,' the U.S. secretary of state says. 'And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.'

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Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks to the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 2, 2015, in Geneva. Credit: AP

Congressional rejection of the Iranian nuclear deal would be “reckless” and would likely lead to war, United States Secretary of State John Kerry said in a wide ranging-interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, published on Wednesday.

 “This deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets,” Kerry said. “And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.”

While maintaining that he was “very sensitive” to Israel’s concerns and its need to protect itself, Kerry said that he thought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “seeing this the wrong way.”

“I think Bibi, for years, has had an article of faith in his political makeup and his perception of Iran and the challenges that Israel faces,” the secretary said. “He has come to a conclusion about Iran that they will find any means, and do anything necessary, to follow through on their threats.”

“We are not discounting the threats Our difference with Bibi is not whether or not Iran is bad, or has done bad things, or threatens Israel. It is over whether or not this step actually advantages Israel and puts Israel in a better place to defend itself.”

Kerry said his operating assumption was that “Iran is a fundamental danger, that they are engaged in negative activities throughout the region, that they’re destabilizing places, and that they consider Israel a fundamental enemy at this moment in time.”

From that perspective, the objective of the agreement is to “build a bulwark, build an antidote.” If Iran is really plotting Israel’s destruction, “then having the mechanism to get rid of nuclear weapons is a prima facie first place to start, and you’re better off eliminating the nuclear weapon if that’s their plan.”

Iran, Kerry pointed out, “didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that.”

The world was in “a dangerous place” before the nuclear talks began, the secretary stated.

“We were at two-months [breakout]; we were at 10, 11 bombs-worth of fissile material. Arak was about to be completed and commissioned, which would produce plutonium for two bombs a year. They were almost there. We stopped that. People forget: We have two years of this agreement under our belt and they’ve done everything they said they would.”

He rejected Israel’s contention that Iran will be free to develop nuclear weapons once the initial phase of the agreement has ended.

“Close analysis of this agreement completely contradicts the notion that there is a 15-year cutoff, for several different reasons,” Kerry said. “Reason number one: We have a 20-year televised insight into their centrifuge production. In other words, we are watching their centrifuge production with live television, taping the whole deal, 24-7 for 20 years.

“But even more important, and much more penetrating, much more conclusive, we have 25 years during which all uranium production – from mine to mill to yellowcake to gas to waste – is tracked and traced. The intelligence community will tell you it is not possible for them to have a complete, covert, separate fuel cycle. You can’t do the whole cycle; you can’t do the mining and milling covertly. So it’s not 15, it’s 25, and it’s not even just 25.

“Therefore, when you add the Additional Protocol with 25 years of uranium tracking, we’re more than confident that this is something unusual that doesn’t exist in any other agreement in the world. They will not be able to get a bomb.”

Kerry also disputed the contention that increased and more stringent sanctions would have produced a much better deal.

“Sanctions are already fraying,” he said. “We’ve pressed our case hard and the reason people went along with us is that we went to negotiations and we were in negotiations. People agreed to what was happening in negotiations. If we unilaterally walk away from this process and turn our back on their cooperation, they’re gone. I know they’re gone. Russia? China? Russia and China didn’t even want an arms embargo or a ballistic-missile embargo. They’re gone.”

Moreover, the secretary added, “we don’t control the money in the banks. It’s not in our banks. That $55 billion is in India, China, Abu Dhabi. It’s being held at our request and our insistence. But if we break this And by the way, if Congress votes the way they vote, the president doesn’t have the ability to waive anything.”

Kerry outlined his scenario of how U.S. rejection of the agreement would lead to war, saying it would mean “going back to a situation where you don’t know what they’re doing—you don’t have inspectors in; you have no inspections regime; you have no reduction in their stockpile; you have no requirements that they do any of that. You’re simply - quote - “relying on them being people of common sense.” You mean, all of a sudden the people you say want to destroy Israel, they’re going to become a country of common sense? I mean, how contradictory is that?”

“President Obama is not asking for war,” Kerry stressed. “He’s not saying we’re going to war. He’s saying that the unfolding of events in the absence of inspections, in the absence of a regime that requires [the Iranians] to do things, in the absence of a reduction of their stockpile, while they’re spinning centrifuges—what do you think is going to happen when you have uninspected centrifuges spinning and enrichment taking place in Iran?

“The hue and cry will be, ‘Iran is going to go to a bomb, you better drop the thing on them now to stop them.’ It’s inevitable Iran will respond. So how many of those rockets that are going to come crashing into the straits? Will the Strait of Hormuz be closed? Will our troops in Afghanistan be attacked? Will other bases that are static in the region start – what happens?

“We are not taking [the military option] off the table. That is maybe what you have to do in the end if [the Iranians] don’t comply. But everybody believes that keeping those six nations together, keeping international law on your side, keeping that option and giving it the opportunity of playing out, is a far smarter way to go than just leaping into it because you don’t trust them today.