Kerry: Proposed Iran sanctions relief 'tiny'

Secretary of State John Kerry pushed back Thursday against criticism of the Obama administration's proposed sanctions relief for Iran, calling it "tiny."

Israeli officials have lambasted the proposal as offering Iran up to $40 billion in relief — of about $100 billion in total annual cost — and congressional opposition is building. The Israelis have also said the deal, which Iran rejected over the weekend, would only have delayed Iran's nuclear program by 24 days.

“All we're talking about is a tiny portion of that would be released,” Kerry told MSNBC, “because you have to do something.”

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Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz has said the proposal would offer Iran $20 billion in direct relief, while weakened enforcement could bring in another $20 billion. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday dismissed the estimate as “inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based in reality.”

Kerry visited lawmakers with Vice President Biden on Wednesday to urge them to postpone new sanctions. Negotiations with Iran are set to resume next week in Geneva.

“The reason we passed the sanctions was to be able to negotiate,” Kerry told MSNBC.

“The sanctions are working, we're now able to negotiate, and what we're really asking the Congress to do is give us the time to be able to negotiate and present a good deal that will be able to protect Israel, protect our interests, protect the region and guarantee — I mean guarantee, failsafe — that Iran will not be able to get a nuclear weapon.”

Administration officials also pooh-poohed the Israelis' estimate of how far back the deal would set Iran's nuclear program during Wednesday's briefing, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told reporters. Kerry did not offer a timeline, but defended the approach as a first step to dismantling Iran's nuclear program.

“Each of [Iran's] critical enrichment facilities are part of this agreement and none of them will be able to progress further if we get this first step,” Kerry said Thursday. “That's how we begin to roll back the program and hold it where it is.”

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