The United States did not let Iran off the hook in its recent deal to limit nuclear enrichment in exchange for easing of some economic sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN in an interview that aired Wednesday.
Kerry dismissed as posturing recent comments by President Hassan Rouhani at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and at home, that his country was no longer hampered by sanctions, and that concessions made to broker the deal could be easily overturned.
"Iran is not open for business," Kerry told reporter Jake Tapper on The Lead (full transcript here). "Iran knows they are not open for business. We have increased sanctions against particular companies … and we have told Iran we will continue to apply sanctions. We have made it clear to every other country that sanctions remain in place. Nobody should underestimate our seriousness."
He added that Iran's process of enriching uranium has been demonstrably changed.
“They can’t do anything but replace an existing centrifuge. They have to allow inspection. They didn’t have to do that before. Now we have people every single day coming in. We rolled back their program to the degree that they have to destroy some of their stockpile.”
Kerry said he had told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel and the region “are far safer today than before this agreement because now we have geater insight and accountability into their program.”
Asked if he trusted Rouhani, Kerry said “Nothing we are doing is based on trust. Everything we are doing is based on verification of specific steps.”
Asked about members of Congress who believe the U.S. should restore tougher sanction against Iran, the former Democrat senator from Massachusetts said “it’s a mistake to break faith with a negotiating process in the middle of a process. We agreed with our allies that during the time of negotiations we would not increase sanctions, and our word has to mean something, too."
More than 70 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to President Obama supporting his opposition to new Iran sanctions.
The letter, initiated by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and David Price (D-N.C.), expresses support for the talks now underway between Iran and major powers on the Iranian nuclear program.
“We understand that there is no assurance of success and that, if talks break down or Iran reneges on pledges it made in the interim agreement, Congress may be compelled to act as it has in the past by enacting additional sanctions legislation,” says the letter, which has not yet been sent and which JTA obtained Tuesday from Doggett’s office.
“At present, however, we believe that Congress must give diplomacy a chance,” says the letter, first reported by The Washington Post on Monday. “A bill or resolution that risks fracturing our international coalition or, worse yet, undermining our credibility in future negotiations and jeopardizing hard-won progress toward a verifiable final agreement, must be avoided.
In the CNN interview, Kerry also responded to criticism from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders of comments the secretary made last week.
Following a visit to the Middle East Kerry warned that an international boycott movement against Israel would intensify if no new peace talks begin with the Palestinians.
He said his words had been “distorted” for political reasons.
“I did not do anything except cite with other people are talking about,” said Kerry. “I have always opposed boycotts and I have a 100 percent voting record in support of Israel in 29 years as a senator. Unfortunately there are peple in Israel and Palestine who don’t support the peace process and particularly some people who don’t support two states and don’t want any restriction in settlements whatsoever.” But he said he believed the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace.
In a defiant response to critics of his intensive efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Kerry said “I have been attacked before by people using real bullets, not words. I’m not going to be intimidated now, I’m not going to stand down. I’m going to be committed to finding peace in the Middle East."
Kerry addressed as well the crisis in Syria, saying that "it's fair to say that [President Bashar] Assad has improved his position a little bit, yes but he is still not winning. This is a stalemate. .. Diplomacy is tough, slogging, slow work and hard work but we're beginning to see the shaping of how we might potentially get somewhere."
Responding to a question about his career plans, Kerry said he had no intention to mount a second campaign for president at the end of Barack Obama's term in 2016, saying "one of the joys about my job is that I'm out of politics … This is my last stop.”
JTA contributed to this report.