WASHINGTON (AP)—The government is pushing back forcefully to defend the temporary agreement to freeze Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized in a 7-minute video message to Congress that the agreement is just a beginning, “a first step,” and “the first in almost a decade to put any kind of meaningful limits on Iran’s nuclear program.”
President Barack Obama declared Monday that the United States “cannot close the door on diplomacy.”
“When I first ran for president, I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of engagement with the world,” he said. “As president and as commander in chief, I’ve done what I’ve said.”
The president and Kerry’s remarks followed skepticism of the historic accord expressed by some U.S. allies abroad, as well as by members of Congress at home, including fellow Democrats.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the fiercest opponents of the six-month deal, called it a “historic mistake” and announced he would be dispatching a top envoy to Washington to try to toughen the final agreement negotiators will soon begin hammering out.
Obama, without naming names, swiped at those who have questioned the wisdom of engaging with Iran.
“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing to do for our security,” he said during an event in San Francisco.
The weekend agreement between Iran and six world powers—the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany—is to temporarily halt parts of Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and allow for more intrusive international monitoring. In exchange, Iran gains some modest relief from stiff economic sanctions and a pledge from Obama that no new penalties will be levied during the six months.
Leading Democrat and Republican senators have begun crafting legislation to reinstate the full force of sanctions and impose new ones if Iran doesn’t make good on its pledge to roll back its nuclear program.
The measure would require the administration to certify every 30 days that Iran is adhering to the terms of the six-month interim agreement and that it hasn’t been involved in any act of terrorism against the United States.
Kerry emphasized to Congress the agreement does “not lift the current architecture of our sanctions,” which includes banking and oil sanctions. He said Iran is only getting a “small amount of relief” which is “limited and reversible.”
The country is being allowed to repatriate about $4.2 billion in oil revenues and to export $2.5 billion in petrochemicals and vehicles.
Administration officials said that key technical details on the inspections and sanctions relief must still be worked out before it formally takes effect.
Those talks will tackle the toughest issues that have long divided Iran and the West, including whether Tehran will be allowed to enrich uranium at a low level.
Kerry explained Tuesday that uranium for weapons is about 90 percent enriched, while uranium for reactors to produce electricity is enriched to about 5 percent.
Kerry said the agreement eliminates Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.
“We are holding their centrifuge program where it is today, and we are stopping them from using their most advanced centrifuges,” he said. “These are centrifuges that can separate uranium very quickly and do the enrichment very fast so they are very risky and that’s why we keep them away from that process for now.”
Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and many nuclear analysts believe that a final deal will almost certainly leave Iran with some right to enrich.
“The whole world has an interest in making sure that this is a peaceful program,” said Kerry, adding that the current negotiations offered the opportunity to forge a different future that benefits all of us.
Epoch Times staff member Ananda West contributed to this report.