U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that failing to pursue diplomacy on Iran’s disputed nuclear program would be irresponsible and urged Congress to become more involved in efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
Kerry addressed the Obama administration’s nonproliferation efforts as the U.S. and partners prepare to meet again on Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva and a U.S. research institute said North Korea has renewed construction at its main missile site.
“We will not succumb to fear tactics” against holding talks with Iran, Kerry said last night in remarks at the United States Institute of Peace, a congressionally funded, nonpartisan policy group in Washington. While Kerry didn’t elaborate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faulted the administration’s willingness to engage with Iran.
President Barack Obama made nuclear nonproliferation a priority for his administration early in his first term, signing an arms-reduction treaty with Russia. Negotiations with Iran now represent an opportunity to stem the spread of nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf, where Iran’s enemies could start their own nuclear programs should talks fail.
“Iran is so crucial in the health of the whole nonproliferation regime and policy, it’s kind of the centerpiece,” said Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy group.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said earlier yesterday that his country was “hopeful of a good result” in talks with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that continue today. Araghchi met for an hour yesterday with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. The IAEA’s nuclear inspectors are seeking wider access to people and places suspected of conducting undeclared nuclear activities.
Iran will be offering a “new approach” in higher level talks with the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China that take place Nov. 7-8 in Geneva, Araghchi said. Iran insists its program is for civilian purposes, such as medical research, a claim that countries including the U.S. and Israel dispute.
The prospect for a negotiated solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program has sharpened differences between Israel and the U.S. on what, if any, atomic activities Iran should be allowed to continue under tighter restrictions. Netanyahu last week said it would be a “tragic mistake” to ease pressure before Iran agrees to dismantle its nuclear program.
Abandoning the diplomatic process now under way with Iran “would be the height of irresponsibility,” Kerry said last night. Even so, he said, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
The secretary also expressed concern that partisanship in Congress risked undermining non-proliferation efforts. He cited the arms-reduction accord reached with Russia, known as the New START Treaty, which passed the Senate in December 2010 over the objections of some Republican lawmakers who favored delaying its approval and reopening talks with the Russian government.
“As the nation that ushered in the nuclear age, we have an obligation to usher it out,” Kerry said. He warned budget-minded lawmakers that containing the spread of nuclear weapons “does not come cheap.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings, said the “progress on Iran is extraordinary, though it’s also bipartisan, dating back to the Bush years.” With talks continuing, O’Hanlon said it’s so far an “incomplete success.”
“There has been little to no headway with North Korea or Pakistan, unfortunately, but the road was very difficult with both, in different ways,” he said.
Efforts to restart international disarmament talks with North Korea remain stalled as President Kim Jong Un refuses U.S. and South Korean demands that the country first show signs of rolling back its weapons development.
North Korea is instead building a possible new launch pad for mobile missiles that could be complete by mid-2014, according to a report issued yesterday by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
The institute reported Oct. 24 that North Korea has also built two new tunnel entrances at its atomic test site in a sign the regime is preparing future underground blasts to bolster its nuclear arsenal.
Pyongyang stepped up its arms program this year, holding its third nuclear test in February followed by a threat in March of first strikes against the U.S. and South Korea. South Korea’s intelligence chief confirmed this month the North had restarted its main nuclear reactor.