Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s policy on Iran before an audience of thousands of pro-Israel activists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on Monday evening.
While acknowledging skepticism about Iran’s intentions, he defended the six-month interim agreement signed with Iran and the “P+5” nations in Geneva as a vast improvement over the prior status quo.
“Our approach is not that of Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets,” Kerry said. “Our approach is not ‘Trust, but verify.’ Our approach, in a much more complex and dangerous world, is: ‘Verify, and verify.'”
He told AIPAC that the agreement had been the result of “strong diplomacy” and “forceful diplomacy” that had seen Iran accept daily inspections at some of its facilities, and reduce its 20% enriched uranium stockpile to “zero.”
(Technically, that is true–though the stockpile has merely been oxidized, a reversible process, not “eliminated,” as President Barack Obama has often suggested.)
Kerry said that the Obama administration would support new sanctions if diplomacy failed, even though it opposed the Kirk-Menendez bill, a bipartisan effort to ensure that such sanctions would apply immediate if Iran failed to meet international demands.
He assured the audience that the administration would support new sanctions in that event: “Congress will have to do no more than schedule the vote,” he said, to applause.
While making the administration’s case, Kerry chose his words carefully, promising to prevent an Iranian nuclear “weapon” or a nuclear “bomb.”
The prior objective of the U.S., as well as the UN Security Council, had been to stop all Iranian nuclear enrichment activity–given the fact that Iran had deceived the world about its nuclear program–as well as to prevent Iran from achieving even the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon.
Kerry then addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that the administration was determined to “end this conflict once and for all.” He praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having “demonstrated his commitment to peace and security.” He added that Netanyahu “knows” Israel must remain “a Jewish state” and not “a binational state,” referring to the discredited idea that Jews would be a minority in a single state.
The Secretary of State said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could still be a potential partner. “President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence,” Kerry said–ignoring the many examples of Abbas lauding terrorists, both dead and alive.
It would be far better, given the lessons of past unilateral withdrawals, for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank through a negotiated agreement. Kerry cited former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who once told AIPAC that the two-state solution was the only way for Israel “to remain both Jewish and democratic.”
At the same time, Kerry denounced attempts to boycott Israel to pressure it to make concessions, noting that he had done so throughout his career. Kerry had recently caused controversy in Israel by noting the possibility of international boycotts if no deal were reached.
The Secretary also called for an end to Palestinian incitement against Israel and Jews–bizarrely citing President Abbas as a partner in doing so. “President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed,” he said, “and he has sought our help in order to deal with the problem.”
Kerry said that the outlines of the potential deal were clear, saying the remaining issues were “narrative issues, they’re tough issues, they’re complicated.”
He closed by recalling the words of the song, “Shir Hashalom” (“The Song of Peace”), sung by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination in 1995. He also reminisced about an ascent up the historic mountain of Masada, an ancient fortress symbolic of Israel’s defiant survival.
Kerry’s remarks were not particularly well-received, but they were well-heeded. There were relatively few applause lines, but the AIPAC activists in the room listened carefully.
If Kerry’s mission had been to convince them to trust the Obama administration’s policy, he seemed to fall somewhat short. Yet if his mission had been to convince them of the sincerity of his own efforts at peace–however ill-informed–he may have done somewhat better.