11 December 2013
“We’re at one of those, really, hinge points in history,” Kerry said in testimony before the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee on December 10. “One path could lead to an enduring resolution in the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The other path could lead to continued hostility and, potentially, to conflict.”
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the European Union have been involved in discussions with Iran to contain its nuclear program since 2006. A turning point came in late November, when negotiators emerged from a Geneva meeting with what the White House described as some initial understandings to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement will reverse the program in several respects that are important to the nations that oppose the expansion of nuclear capabilities by Iran.
In return, the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom agreed to ease U.N.-imposed sanctions against Iranian oil sales, offering the opportunity for economic relief.
That concession has been met with skepticism from some U.S. lawmakers, who called Kerry to Capitol Hill for further discussion about the deal.
Preventing the development of a nuclear weapon by Iran is a key element of Obama administration foreign policy, Kerry emphasized. This agreement serves that end and protects the security interests of the United States.
The agreement “provides unprecedented monitoring and inspections” of Iran’s nuclear program, Kerry said. “We will have increased transparency of Iran’s nuclear program, giving us a window into their activities that we don’t have today,” he added.
International weapons inspectors will have access to Iranian nuclear facilities to which they have had very limited or no access in the past. The deal calls for inspection opportunities at the Fordow, Natanz and Arak facilities, Kerry noted, which will give the international community “extraordinary ability” to monitor whether Iran is freezing and reversing some aspects of its nuclear program as agreed.
The parties to the agreement are unified in the position that “we will not undo the sanctions and that we will stay focused on their enforcement,” Kerry said.
Critics of the deal have put forth what Kerry described as “outlandish numbers” regarding the sanction relief that the agreement offers Iran. Estimates by the U.S. intelligence community and the Treasury Department indicate that the sanction relief will be approximately $7 billion, Kerry said, if Iran complies with the agreement.
“We are structuring this relief in a way that it is tied to concrete, [International Atomic Energy Agency]-verified steps that they’ve agreed to take on the nuclear program,” Kerry said.
The secretary of state recalled his earlier service as a U.S. senator, when he supported the imposition of tough sanction on Iranian oil sales. The fact that negotiators have reached this agreement proves the sanctions have worked, Kerry said. Now the United States must uphold its end of the deal to ease those economic constraints.
Some critics of the deal have proposed even further sanctions since it was unveiled in November. As Kerry urged the House Foreign Affairs Committee against such action, the Obama administration gained ground on the issue in the U.S. Senate.
The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, backed away from proposals for further sanctions, according to news reports. Johnson was quoted as saying that the Obama administration has “made a case for a pause in congressional action on new Iran sanctions.”
The agreement is an initial understanding with a six-month expiration. Since re-evaluation will occur at that time, “general parameters of a comprehensive solution that would constrain Iran’s nuclear program over the long term” are being discussed, according to a White House statement.