Kerry Says U.S. Can Still ‘Whack’ Iran If It Seeks Nuclear Arms

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. can always “whack” Iran if it violates an accord being sought to prevent it from producing a nuclear weapon.

“We will have the ability to know what they are doing sufficiently that they can’t break out, and if they did break out we have the same options available to us to whack them, do whatever you want, as we have today,” Kerry said in testimony on Tuesday to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that handles the State Department’s budget.

The top U.S. diplomat spoke in advance of a speech to Congress next week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said the negotiations under way between Iran and six major world powers will produce a “bad” deal.

Indirectly rebutting Netanyahu’s criticism, Kerry said that “anybody running around right now jumping in to say, ‘well we don’t like the deal,’ doesn’t know what the deal is.”

“I can’t state this more firmly,” Kerry said. “The policy is: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.”

Kerry testified at the first of four congressional committees over two days on the State Department’s budgeting needs for the coming fiscal year. The annual ritual allows Kerry to return to a favorite theme -- how many challenges his department deals with on less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

“We do an awful lot on very little,” Kerry said in urging an end to the budget cuts known as sequestration.

Russian ‘Lies’

Kerry also touched on challenges in Ukraine and President Barack Obama’s move toward normalizing relations with Cuba. The new talks with Cuba, which resume on Friday in Washington, have been received as a welcome policy change all over the world, Kerry said.

Asked if Russia is lying in denying it has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to support separatist forces, the top U.S. diplomat said “they have been persisting in their misrepresentations, lies -- whatever you want to call them -- about their activities there to my face, to the face of others, on many different occasions.”

Kerry spent much of the hearing fielding questions and parrying challenges about Iran. He acknowledged that the country has overt influence in Iraq, that it funds the terrorist group Hezbollah, and supports the Houthi group that has overthrown Yemen’s government.

He argued that economic sanctions on Iran have been effective and forced the Islamic Republic to engage in negotiations on its nuclear program. While an interim agreement easing some sanctions on Iran has provided the country with “somewhere in the vicinity of $14 billion,” Kerry said that “during that time, many times that has been escrowed in an account they can’t reach.”

“The reason they’re negotiating today is because they want to get out from under the sanctions,” Kerry said. Iran maintains that it has a right to develop nuclear technology and will use it solely for peaceful civilian purposes.

Interim Agreement

Kerry said there was widespread agreement that the interim nuclear agreement with Iran is working, as has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and cited as proof that Netanyahu would like it extended. The Israeli prime minister originally “opposed it in the beginning, calling it the deal of the century for Iran,” Kerry said. “It obviously was not the deal.”

Some lawmakers have said they will press for legislation imposing additional sanctions on Iran if an accord to constrain its nuclear program isn’t reached by the end of March, the timetable for negotiators to agree on the framework for a deal. Obama has vowed to veto any added sanctions while the talks continue.

Iran in Iraq

Kerry said the U.S. isn’t coordinating with Iran on fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“We’re not asking them to do anything, we’re not coordinating with them, they’re doing what’s in their own self-interest. They hate Daesh,” Kerry said, using another name for the group.

If Iran takes fighters off the field, “we’re delighted to see them go,” Kerry said.

Kerry batted back a question about whether he would use the phrase “radical Islam,” saying he’d spoken about it often while maintaining that it wasn’t the right description for the fight against Islamic State. Republican critics have faulted Obama for referring more generally to violent extremism.

“What we’re fighting are a group who are naming themselves with a name referring to Islam who have absolutely nothing to do with Islam,” Kerry said. “Now is that a fight against Islam? No it’s not. It’s a fight against a radical group of terrorists, frankly, criminals.”

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