John Kerry Says Iran Deal Could Happen Sooner Than Expected

John Kerry Says Iran Deal Could Happen Sooner Than Expected

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. expects to achieve a deal on reining in Iran's nuclear program within three or four months, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday, suggesting an agreement could be possible months sooner than previously anticipated.

Iran and the global powers negotiating with it -- the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China -- had previously failed to reach a deal by their self-imposed deadline of Nov. 24. At that point, they extended the talks for another seven months to June 30, 2015.

"Though it said seven months, we're not looking at seven months. I think the target is three/four months and hopefully even sooner if that is possible," Kerry said.

The secretary made the comment to a room packed with some of the biggest skeptics of a deal with Iran: the leaders of Israel, the country Iran would likely seek to intimidate were it to gain stronger nuclear capabilities. Israel's government, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long been vocally critical of any Western outreach to Iran.

A host of Israeli lawmakers and government officials are currently in Washington for the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of U.S. and Israeli policymakers and power players held here by Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban and the Brookings Institution. Kerry's address at the closing session of the forum sought to frame current U.S. policy in the Middle East, from the more conciliatory approach toward Iran to the fight against the Islamic State, as beneficial for the shared goals of Israel and the U.S.

The U.S. and allies like Israel are safer because of ongoing nuclear diplomacy with Iran, the secretary said -- and were ties with Iran's leadership severed, the international community would remain in a position where it had no way to ensure that that country assuaged international concerns about its nuclear program.

"One year ago, Iran's nuclear program was rushing full speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons grade plutonium, an ever shortening breakout time. Today, Iran has lived up to every commitment it made in the interim agreement," Kerry said.

"Progress on its nuclear program has been rolled back for the first time in a decade. How do we know that? Because the [International Atomic Energy Agency] and our partners have been able to verify that Iran is indeed honoring [its] commitments. Today, IAEA inspectors have daily access, daily access, to Iran's enrichment facilities ... and we have developed a far deeper understanding of Iran's nuclear program."

The Obama administration hopes to achieve a deal with Iran that would account for international concerns over that country's ability to build a nuclear weapon, allow it the civilian nuclear program it says it requires for its energy needs, and begin the process of normalizing Iran's relations with the global community.

Kerry was at the forefront of an effort to achieve a temporary agreement with Iran last year. That agreement, the Joint Plan of Action, provided Iran with limited relief from burdensome international sanctions in exchange for Iranian commitments on transparency and limiting the production of material and technology that could help it build a nuclear weapon.

The secretary said a longer-term agreement -- which he emphasized is still far from guaranteed, with "significant gaps still remaining" -- offers "the best way to account for and close off all of Iran's potential pathways for a nuclear weapon."
In a nod to the concerns of his Israeli-dominated audience, Kerry repeated the phrasing of deal skeptic Netanyahu: "The United States continues to believe as we have from day one, and as Israel has said it also believes, that no deal is preferable to a bad deal." He said that concern for getting precisely the right kind of agreement was what motivated the present extension.

Netanyahu on Sunday took a softer line on the nuclear talks than he previously has, suggesting that U.S. assurances are having an effect. But Kerry and the administration must also convince Iran hawks at home that the process is worth continuing -- and that proposed new sanctions that a Republican majority in Congress may try to act on come January are not worthwhile in the midst of such a delicate diplomatic process.

"If we succeed in reaching an agreement," the secretary said, "the entire world, including Israel, will be safer for it."

This post has been updated with additional comments from Kerry and Netanyahu.

Before You Go

Ahmadinejad out, Rouhani in
The thaw in relations owes a lot to this guy - president Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in June 2013.In the 19 months between the British embassy closing and Rouhani's election, relations between Britain and Iran failed to improve - Britain even sending a warship to the Gulf over fears Iran may block the strategically important Strait of Hormuz.But Rouhani's election marks a sea change. He is seen as more moderate than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is elected promising to improve relations with the West.His election prompts Britain to say it is interested in improving relations "step by step".
Rouhani addresses the UN
Rouhani visits New York City in September 2013, three months after his election. It is seen as a major break with his predecessor's line on "The Great Satan" and signals a desire to improve US/Iran relations.He addresses the UN, saying "peace is within reach" and offers negotiations to allay "reasonable concerns" the West has over his country's nuclear programme.In the same month, foreign secretary William Hague meets with his Iranian counterpart. Hague said he welcomed Iran's offers to slow down its uranium enrichment programme.
Obama and Rouhani's historic phone call
September 28 2013 - A 15-minute phone call between Obama and Rouhani is hailed as a historic moment that ends the 34-year diplomatic freeze between the two countries.It is the first conversation between an American and Iranian leader since 1979.Rouhani tweeted about the conversation, saying Obama ended it by saying "goodbye" in Farsi.
Diplomats exchanged
In the same month, foreign secretary William Hague meets with his Iranian counterpart. Hague said he welcomed Iran's offers to slow down its uranium enrichment programme.In October, Hague and Mohammad Javad Zarif (pictured right) announced that the countries will exchange diplomats with a view to re-opening permanent embassies in each country.
Cameron calls Rouhani
November 2013 - After Obama becomes the first American president to call the Iranian leader in 34 years, David Cameron calls him too, becoming the first prime minister to do so in more than a decade."The two leaders discussed the bilateral relationship between Britain and Iran welcoming the steps taken since President Rouhani took office," a Downing Street spokesman says."They agreed to continue efforts to improve the relationship on a step by step and reciprocal basis."Cameron also implores Rouhani to be "more transparent" with Iran's nuclear programme, Downing Street says.
About that embassy...
Suddenly, being friends became a lot more urgent when ISIS took Mosul, Iraq's second city, and began tearing through the country executing opponents and imposing strict Islamic law on the population.The Sunni militants' rise has been blamed on the pro-Shia stance of Iraq's Malaki government.Under Saddam, the country's Sunni minority dominated political life and fought an eight-year with Iran, which is a Shia majority country and does not like the idea of a terrorist army on its doorstep.

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