Kerry: 'We drove a hard bargain' with Iran

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFormer Georgia senator and governor Zell Miller dies 2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Kentucky candidate takes heat for tweeting he'd like to use congressman for target practice MORE said Tuesday his nuclear negotiators “drove a very hard bargain” with Iran amid a rash of criticism from Congress and Israel. 

In a seven-minute video, America's top diplomat said the interim deal reached over the weekend sets back Iran's nuclear program without undermining international sanctions. Congressional critics argue it gave Iran breathing room and are teeing up new sanctions in case Iran reneges.

“We drove a very hard bargain to achieve what we needed to in terms of our verification and certainty about where they're going,” Kerry said. “We drove a hard bargain because we have one unwavering purpose in our goal: President Obama has been absolutely clear that Iran cannot and will not acquire a nuclear weapon.

“Today, thanks to this effort we took an important first step toward guaranteeing that that never happens. And I think we did it in the most effective way — we did it through diplomacy.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the agreement as a “historic mistake.”

Kerry sought to address dual concerns that the deal allows Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions while undermining sanctions. He said the deal for the first time requires Iran to eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium, stop its most advanced uranium centrifuges and put on hold its heavy-water reactor at Arak, which could be used to produce plutonium for a bomb. 

“This agreement is the first in almost a decade to put any kind of meaningful limits on Iran's nuclear program,” Kerry said. “We're not just slowing down its program; we're actually halting it and even rolling it back in some key areas. [That] means that even as we continue to move forward with negotiations, Iran's nuclear program will not move forward.”

“We're adding more international inspections so we know exactly what Iran is doing in these risky places,” Kerry said. “So we can make absolutely certain they're not using those facilities." 

On the sanctions side, he said sanctions relief will add up to less than $7 billion: Iran will be allowed to repatriate $4.2 billion in oil revenue and export $2.5 billion in petrochemicals and vehicles.

“Believe me, when I say this relief is limited and reversible. I mean it,” Kerry said. “We all know that if the agreement falls apart, Iran is going to quickly face even tougher sanctions.” 

He said it's now up to Iran to reach a final settlement over the next six months that puts the world's concerns to rest.

“We're going to get this done, I hope. But we're not cocky about it; we're not overconfident — it's going to take a lot of work. In the end, it's really up to Iran to make the choice to prove that its program is indeed peaceful.”

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