WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday laid out the Obama administration's case for its recently concluded agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program, less than an hour after it became clear that the deal will survive congressional review later this month.
"Every threat to Israel and to our friends in the region would be more dangerous if Iran were permitted to have a nuclear weapon," Kerry said during a Philadelphia speech in which he argued that the July agreement will prevent Tehran from obtaining such a weapon. In return for agreeing to what the Obama administration describes as the most stringent set of nuclear inspections in history, Iran will receive billions of dollars in revenue that it had been denied because of a global sanctions push led by Washington.
Kerry's comments were the first public remarks by a high-ranking Obama administration official after retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) secured the deal's future by declaring her support for it earlier that day.
The secretary used the speech to highlight the increased Iranian transparency the deal obtained. Iran has previously come within months of being able to build a nuclear weapon. Under the deal, that would not be possible, Kerry said, citing provisions that severely restrict Iran's uranium stockpile and that permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to remotely monitor Iranian facilities around the clock.
"If Iran did decide to cheat, its technicians would have to do more than bury a processing facility deep beneath the ground," he said, directly countering deal opponents who have pointed to past Iranian efforts to keep nuclear development secret. "They would have to come up with a complete -- complete -- and completely secret nuclear supply chain: a secret source of uranium, a secret milling facility, a secret conversion facility, a secret enrichment facility. And our intelligence community and our Energy Department, which manages our nuclear program and our nuclear weapons, both agree Iran could never get away with such a deception."
Skeptics of the nuclear agreement have spread deceptions about how it would work, Kerry said. He was keen to discount them. The "myths" the secretary targeted include the idea that the deal is based on trust in Iran, that it gives the Iranians time to hide evidence of suspicious activity and that sanctions relief will unleash Iranian money that would instantly be used to destabilize the Middle East.
"The Iran agreement is not a panacea for the sectarian and extremist violence that has been ripping that region apart," the secretary said. "But history may judge it a turning point, a moment when the builders of stability seized the initiative from the destroyers of hope, and when we were able to show, as have generations before us, that when we demand the best from ourselves and insist that others adhere to a similar high standard. When we do that, we have immense power to shape a safer and a more humane world."
Sen. Mikulski's Wednesday morning announcement that she supported the deal provided the crucial 34th vote it needed in the Senate. It guarantees that even if the anti-deal Republicans who control both chambers of Congress successfully pass a disapproval of the deal, they will not have the votes to override a promised presidential veto of that disapproval. To overcome the inevitable veto, deal opponents would need two-thirds of the votes in both the House and the Senate. Mikulski made clear on Wednesday that they won't have that number in the upper chamber.
"Thirty-four votes are enough votes for the president's veto to be upheld," Kerry told CNN between the announcement and his speech. But the administration hopes to gain even more congressional support, he added. "We want anybody and everybody hopefully to be able to vote for it. We're going to continue to try to persuade people up to the last moment," he said. "And our hope is that that number will grow, obviously."
The secretary spoke also of the hit American credibility would take abroad if Congress unilaterally sunk the nuclear agreement, which the U.S. negotiated alongside five other world powers. "I think it would be extraordinarily damaging," Kerry said. Ambassadors from the other countries party to the deal -- the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China -- successfully convinced some on-the-fence senators last month to publicly endorse the agreement.