America's chief diplomat took to Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon to ask skeptical lawmakers for some leniency in nuclear negotiations with Iran, a revolutionary nation with a record of questionable human rights and a known state sponsor of terror.
Secretary of State John Kerry, fresh back from a trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, requested members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee temporarily withhold levying further economic and trade sanctions against Iran. Kerry told lawmakers to have faith in an international coalition, known as the P5+1, as it finalizes a six-month deal that could begin to chip away at Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing existing sanctions.
Armed only with guarantees of international oversight and the threat of a military response, Kerry tried to explain that an initial round of repealing some sanctions against Iran was a necessary first step in giving the Middle Eastern nation a chance to show it is willing to cooperate on its nuclear program.
He was met with doubts, at times in the form of fiery criticism that Iran is bound to repeat previous attempts to run Western negotiations in circles.
"President [Barack] Obama and I have been very clear as every member of this committee has been," Kerry said. "Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon. It is the president's centerpiece of his foreign policy. Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. This imperative is at the top of our national security agenda."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday that Western nations cannot stop Iran's nuclear program and now acknowledge their failure at trying to control it.
"You see that those powers which were thinking of destroying Iran's enrichment capability have now admitted that they cannot stop Iran's industrial progress and enrichment due to the indigenization of this industry and its expansion," Rouhani said, according to Iranian state-sponsored news service Fars.
The P5+1, consisting of the five members of the U.N. Security Council as well as Germany, released a Joint Action Plan Nov. 24 that outlines some of the initial steps required of Iran over a six-month trial period to ensure the country is serious about reducing its nuclear program.
Iran must eliminate its stockpiles of uranium enriched up to 20 percent; halt enrichment more than 5 percent; and not stockpile uranium enriched at more than 3.5 percent. It will allow daily international inspections of its secretive nuclear facilities, such as those at Fordow and Natanz, and monthly inspections of its heavy water reactor at Arak. It must also divulge detailed plans for the Arak facility.
In exchange, the U.S. and European Union will begin to lift some economic sanctions against Iran, such as its ability to export oil, which will account for roughly $7 billion more in Iranian revenue. Kerry dismissed this amount as insignificant for the roughly $1 trillion Iranian economy.
If Iran were to break any part of this deal, all amelioration could be overturned and the U.S. could respond militarily, the secretary said.
"We could not only terminate those facilities, but we could set them back a significant amount of time," he said.
Kerry dismissed reports of international criticism of the plan, particularly from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all regional powers and known rivals of Iran.
The Saudi and Emirati governments have issued statements of support, Kerry said, and claims Israel only has "tactical" differences in the approach to negotiations.
Kerry speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu multiple times a week, he said, and met with him during his recent trip. Kerry heads back to Israel on Thursday for more meetings there.
"We are totally agreed," he said. "We need to focus on this final comprehensive agreement."
The secretary cited President Ronald Reagan's slogan of negotiating with the former Soviet Union of "trust but verify."