Kerry Defends Iran Deal Before House Foreign Affairs Committee

'The national security of the United States is stronger'

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J. Scott Applewhite/ AP

Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday defended the nuclear deal he brokered with Iran as a step in the right direction that strengthens American security.

“The national security of the United States is stronger under this first step agreement than it was before,” Kerry said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “Israel’s national security is stronger than it was the day before we entered into this agreement. And the Gulf and Middle East interests are more secure than the day before we entered into this agreement.”

Republicans in Congress have been skeptical of — if not outright hostile to — the temporary deal negotiated with other world powers last month, which begins lifting crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a partial freeze in its nuclear program while a longer-term deal is hashed out.

California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, who chairs the committee, criticized the deal for lifting sanctions even as Iran is allowed to continue enriching uranium.

“Iran is not just another country,” he said. “It simply can’t be trusted with enrichment technology because verification efforts can never be foolproof.

“The sanctions pressure that drove Iran to the negotiating table took years to build,” he added.

Kerry said the administration isn’t making any assumptions that Iran is ready to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

“Has Iran changed its nuclear calculus? I honestly don’t think we can say for sure yet,” he said. “We certainly don’t take words at face value. Believe me this is not just about trust.”

And Kerry urged Congress not to move forward with legislation that could impose new sanctions against Iran, which the administration fears would alienate Iran before a final deal is reached.

“I’m not saying never,” Kerry said. “I’m just saying not right now.”

The interim deal provides for no new sanctions while it’s in effect, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told TIME in an interview published this week that new sanctions would kill the deal.

“We do not like to negotiate under duress,” Zarif said. “And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States.”

The agreement with Iran will lift about $7 billion in sanctions in exchange for Iran capping uranium enrichment levels below what’s needed for nuclear weapons and allowing United Nations inspectors greater access to its nuclear sites. Iran can keep some elements of its nuclear program that it says are for peaceful purposes.