'No illusions' on Iran, Kerry says

Secretary of State John Kerry defended the new agreement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions Sunday, calling it the best course available and only the first step of a long process.

After negotiating late into the night in Geneva, Kerry appeared on several Sunday talk shows in the U.S. to talk up the deal. But at the same time, he made clear that the Obama administration is well aware that Iran must be watched closely as the deal is implemented, and the burden is on Tehran to prove it can follow through.

“Iran has some very stiff hurdles that they’re going to have to meet,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

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“This negotiation is not the art of fantasy or the art of the deal. It’s the art of the possible,” he added.

Republicans and Democrats made clear that they had serious concerns about Iran’s willingness to follow through on their end of the deal, and GOP lawmakers contended the White House came up short in the talks.

Under the new accord, Iran agreed to new limitations on its nuclear program, along with heightened oversight of its facilities from the international community. In exchange, global diplomats agreed to limited relief from economic sanctions. The six-month compromise is hoped to serve as the basis for longer-term talks about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Kerry repeated a line from President Obama’s remarks late Saturday after the deal was reached, noting that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Republicans aired concern Sunday about whether Iran will use the temporary deal to obtain relief from sanctions, while doing little to nothing to actually curb their nuclear program. Several cited previous efforts to limit North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which ended up with that nation ultimately developing its own nuclear arsenal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Iran views the Obama administration as “weak” and lacking “intestinal fortitude.”

“If you see the reaction in Iran right now, they’re spiking the football in the end zone,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Key concerns among Republicans were the fact that the deal does not require Iran to destroy any existing nuclear facilities, and still allows the nation to continue enriching uranium, although in a limited capacity that is more difficult to turn into a weapon.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) called the deal “a mistake” in a statement, citing Iran’s ability to continue to enrich. And Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he needed to hear more from the administration about the deal, which could end up looking like a “remarkably clever Iranian move” to escape sanctions while keeping its nuclear plan on track.

But Kerry defended that aspect of the plan, saying it is clear under the terms that Iran does not have a “right” to enrich. While the nation can push for that continued capacity over the longer term in new negotiations, Kerry said the nation has a host of new obligations to meet first.

“There is no agreement that they can enrich. They have an ability to negotiate but they can only gain that capacity…if they live up to the whole set of terms necessary to prove it’s a peaceful program,” he said on ABC.

Kerry also stressed that the new deal does not suggest that the White House is more willing to trust Iran. Rather, he contended the deal gives the nation an opportunity to prove it can meet certain obligations if it wants to escape harsh sanctions or even the possibility of military action.

“We have no illusions. This is not going to change in one fell swoop,” he said. “We have to put to the test Iran’s words and intentions.”

“We’re not sitting here pretending that Iran is going to suddenly turn over a new leaf,” he added on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

With that lingering distrust in mind, lawmakers made clear that harsher sanctions against Iran are still on the table if the deal fails to produce the desired result. The Senate had been preparing to advance a tougher Iran sanctions bill in the near future. With this new deal in place, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said on ABC’s “This Week” that that effort should continue.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed, saying it was time to “ratchet up” sanctions until Iran agreed to abandon nuclear efforts.

“Until they do that, they’re still on the road to having the capability for undetectable nuclear weapons break out,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Even Democrats made clear that while they want to see the new deal work, ramping up sanctions if Iran fails in any way is very much an option.

“Congress, I think, will want to make it clear that if Iran does not live up to its commitments…we will have stronger sanctions against Iran,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on “Fox News Sunday.”

Meanwhile, Kerry pushed back on efforts to push more sanctions that could complicate talks.

Israel has been highly critical of the agreement, as that nation had sought an outright ban of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium. The new deal allows that nation to continue enriching uranium in a limited capacity. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a “historic mistake,” and said Israel would not abide by it.

But Kerry insisted on several programs that the agreement, by placing new limitations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and placing it further away from developing a bomb, was an upgrade in the state of affairs for Israel.

“There’s no daylight between [Israel and the US] in terms of what we want to achieve at this point,” he said on ABC.

Bernie Becker contributed.