- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
Rejecting critics who say the United States should simply re-negotiate a “better deal” with Iran over its nuclear program, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday such a proposal is naive and based on a misreading of the last decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
“There isn’t a, quote, ‘better deal’ to be gotten,” said Kerry, speaking at an event hosted by Thomson Reuters in New York.
Barack Obama’s administration is currently promoting its nuclear accord to the public and Congress, which is expected to vote on the deal in September after the August recess. President Obama has promised to veto legislation rejecting the pact. With Republicans almost uniformly opposed to the agreement, the GOP would need support from at least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House to override a veto. A trio of Democratic senators have indicated that they would side with the White House in recent days, but one of the most powerful Democratic lawmakers, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, has announced vocal opposition to the pact.
On Monday, in his first remarks following the publication of his blog post announcing his opposition to the deal, Schumer said “I believe we should go back and try to get a better deal,” adding “the nations of the world should join us in that.”
In his speech Tuesday, Kerry pushed back hard against Schumer and other critics. The nation’s top diplomat noted that two previous efforts by the George W. Bush administration to negotiate the complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in 2003 and 2008 failed to secure an agreement. Instead, he said, Iran kept advancing its nuclear enrichment capabilities.
“What happened was in both occasions, Iran went from 103 or  centrifuges to 19,000,” said Kerry. “When I became secretary of state, what did I find? I found 12,000 kilograms of material, enough for 10 to 12 bombs.”
The current deal negotiated by the United States, Iran, and five world powers allows Iran to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure while imposing a tough inspections regime and new restrictions on research and development and other activities. The administration says most of the provisions would remain in place for roughly 15 years and push Iran’s breakout time — the period it would need to enrich enough uranium for a single weapon — to more than one year. Opponents say that Iran has lied to the world about its nuclear program before and warn that the tens of billions of dollars of frozen assets that Tehran would gain access to as part of the accord would allow it to increase its support to armed proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria.
Kerry also fielded a question about whether the U.S. could maintain unity against Iran among the world powers that negotiated the agreement last month if Congress rejects the deal. The former Massachusetts senator said maintaining international sanctions against Tehran would be impossible if American allies watched Congress reject a deal they saw as fair and equitable.
“Are you kidding me?” said Kerry. “The United States is gonna start sanctioning our allies and their banks and their businesses because we walked away from a deal?”
He also argued that unilaterally imposing sanctions on friends and adversaries in that manner would undermine the status of the American dollar as the reserve currency of the world and diminish international support for military action against Iran in the event that it rushes ahead with its nuclear program.
Kerry’s remarks follow a recent spate of positive comments about the deal by Senate Democrats, who are being fiercely lobbied by administration officials anxious to ensure they have the support to block a veto override effort by Republicans. On Monday, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced their plans to support the agreement. On the same day, a spokesman for fellow Minnesota Democrat Al Franken said the senator is strongly leaning toward supporting the accord.
But the fight isn’t over, as it remains unclear how forcefully Schumer will press his fellow Democrats to oppose the deal.
At the moment, Schumer is the only Senate Democrat to pledge a no vote on the deal, though New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is almost certain to oppose the accord. Republicans will need 13 Democrats in total to override a potential veto. Senators to look out for include Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Ben Cardin of Maryland.