U.S. Has Leeway as Iran Talks Enter Final Stage, Kerry Says

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The U.S. has “leeway” in negotiations with Iran as talks enter their final stage before a June 30 deadline, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Kerry, who spoke with reporters by video from Boston, where he’s been recuperating from a broken leg, said he’d be returning to Washington today and planned to travel to Europe around June 25 for what he said “should be the close out of negotiations with respect to the Iran nuclear program.”

“Obviously the stakes on that are very high,” Kerry said of the negotiations being held in Vienna.

Kerry spoke as U.S. lawmakers have pressed the administration on the terms of the deal, especially two issues: access for inspectors to Iran’s military facilities, and requirements that the Islamic Republic disclose information about suspected past nuclear weaponization activities.

In words that spurred criticism from Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said, “We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.” Rather, he said, the U.S. wants Iran to resolve those issues in a way that reduces the likelihood of Iranian cheating in the future.

“We know what they did,” he said. “We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in.”

Going Forward

“What we’re concerned about is going forward,” he said. “It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way,” he said. “That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement.”

Many critics of the potential deal, including members of Congress, have said it’s essential that Iran confess to past clandestine weaponization activities it has denied. They say Iran can’t be trusted in any new deal if it doesn’t admit to past misdeeds, while proponents of a deal warn that pressing Iran too hard for what amounts to a public confession will jeopardize the larger goal of preventing future Iranian nuclear-weapons development.

Corker, asked to respond to Kerry’s comments, said in an e-mailed statement, “It is exactly these kinds of statements from the secretary that cause me to have the concerns I have regarding the direction of the nuclear negotiations.”

The Tennessee Republican added: “At every juncture, the secretary and his aides seem way too willing to accommodate Iran.”

Action Plan

Kerry said the outlines of the deal are set in the Joint Plan of Action, or JPOA, established in November 2013 and in a subsequent agreement reached in April in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“There is always give-and-take in the context of a negotiation, but Lausanne defined fundamental parameters, as did the JPOA on what needs to be achieved,” Kerry said.

Kerry’s comments follow a letter Corker sent Monday to President Barack Obama expressing concern about reports of potential U.S. concessions as the Iran talks approach the June 30 deadline.

Corker said walking away from a deal “would be the best thing” for the U.S., rather than accepting compromises that would limit access for inspectors and fail to resolve questions about Iran’s past weaponization activities.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the administration has no illusions about the need for the deal to provide for strict verification and enforcement.

For more, read this QuickTake: Iran's Nuclear Program

“Any agreement would be predicated on a lack of trust”, and would include “one of the most intrusive inspection regimes imaginable,” she said

“There are, of course, dangers of covert capabilities brought online, but that’s what those inspections are about,” she said.