POLITICS
11/24/2013 11:06 am ET | Updated Nov 24, 2013

John Kerry Defends Iran Deal, Calling It An Important 'First Step'

The nuclear agreement reached this weekend between Iran, the U.S., and five other countries is an important "first step" in negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a round of interviews Sunday morning.

“The deal is the beginning and first step,” he said on ABC's "This Week." “It leads us into the negotiation –- so that we guarantee that while we are negotiating for the dismantling, while we are negotiating for the tougher positions, they will not grow their program and their capacity to threaten Israel. Israel will actually gain a larger breathing space in terms of the breakout capacity of Iran. It’s just clear.”

Under the deal that was reached, some sanctions against Iran will be lifted in exchange for it curbing its nuclear activity. The agreement lasts for six months while a more comprehensive plan is worked out. Kerry warned against doing nothing while holding out for a perfect deal, pointing to a 2003 offer by Iran to discuss its program that was spurned by the U.S.

"You cannot sit there and pretend that you're just going to get the thing you want while they continue to move towards the program that they have been chasing," Kerry said. "We've actually succeeded through the sanctions that Congress put in place to be able to get to a point where we're locking in knowledgeably what their current level is and forcing them to go backwards. And while we go through these next six months, we will be negotiating the dismantling, we will be negotiating the limitations. But you can't always start where you want to wind up."

Kerry also reiterated that he doesn't believe the deal gives Iran a "right to enrich" uranium, which Iran believes it does.

"There is no agreement that they can enrich," he said. "They have the ability to negotiate it, but they could only gain that capacity to have some enrichment, as some countries do, if they live up to the whole set of terms necessary to prove it's a peaceful program. Iran has some very stiff hurdles that they are going to have to meet in order to do that."

In a separate interview on CBS' "Face The Nation," Kerry acknowledged that "everybody has a right to be skeptical" of the deal, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have raised concerns, but said he wasn't taking anything for granted.

"What we've done is lock components of their program in place and actually roll some of them backwards," he said. "The result of that is, by destroying their 20 percent uranium stock, by limiting their 3.5 percent stock, by limiting the centrifuges that can be constructed, and where they go, by having intrusive inspection of a number of facilities we've never been in before ... it now opens the door to our going into the larger, more comprehensive arrangement by which Iran will have to prove that its program is really peaceful.

In an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," Kerry said the deal contains measures that will hold Iran accountable.

“When you're dealing with nuclear weapons, it's not an issue of trust,” Kerry said. “Verification is the key. And President Obama and I have said since the beginning, we're not just going to trust and verify. We're going to verify, and verify, and verify."

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