WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz on Monday delivered an impassioned argument for the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal that amounted to a point-by-point takedown of Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s rationale for opposing the agreement.
In a rare meeting with regional reporters in the Old Executive Office Building, Kerry and Moniz argued that if Congress rejects the deal, there’s no possibility that the Obama administration could resume negotiations with Iran to produce a better agreement.
“Iran will not come back to the table because they’ll say: who are we supposed to negotiate with? We just negotiated with the chief executive,” only to have Congress reject the agreement those negotiations produced, Kerry said.
“It is absolutely mistaken for somebody to assert that: ‘Oh, we’ll get a better deal,’ ” Kerry added.
That stands in sharp contrast to what Schumer said in the lengthy statement he issued last Thursday night in which he announced his opposition to the agreement.
“Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be,” Schumer wrote in the statement.
Similarly, Kerry insisted that congressional rejection of the agreement would prompt Iran to resume its nuclear weapons program, which would inevitably lead to armed conflict with the United States.
“I don’t believe that any senator is asking for war,” Kerry said. “I’m hoping not. ... But I can tell you that President Obama and I and Ernie Moniz and all the people engaged in thinking through all the security options here believe that ultimately (congressional rejection of the deal) leads to a conflict.”
If Iran were to resume enriching uranium after the deal’s collapse – which it has said it will do – “what do you think 16 Republican candidates for president will say?” Kerry asked. “What do you think (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu will say? ... Inevitably the pressure will mount for a conflict.”
Only hours earlier, at an appearance in Wyoming County, Schumer asserted just the opposite.
“The alternative does not have to be war,” he said. “It could be increased negotiations, as difficult as they are.”
In his statement and in his appearance in Wyoming County, Schumer stressed that his grave mistrust of the Iranian government – one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism – prompted him to oppose the deal.
“If you think the government of Iran will moderate over the next few years, then maybe it’s OK,” Schumer of the agreement at his appearance in Wethersfield, the Wyoming County town where he was promoting an improved 911 system for the county. “If you think they will not moderate, then it’s not OK.”
Asked about Schumer’s comment, Kerry said: “I personally disagree with the judgment for the simple reason that if they don’t moderate, that’s all the more reason for them not to get a nuclear weapon. If you take for granted that they’re going to be leveraging their behavior in bad ways, you don’t want them to have that weapon.”
Schumer has also said that the deal is particularly bad in the long run, when the provisions barring Iran from getting nuclear weapons expire.
“If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience,” he said in his statement.
But Moniz offered a starkly different take on the two options now facing Congress, and the world.
“Really the choices are between a very large nuclear program tomorrow with no verification and essentially a fraying international coalition, versus a potential large nuclear program after 15 years with verification and with, I believe, strong international unity in facing any Iranian attempt to build a nuclear weapon,” Moniz said.
Schumer’s opposition to the deal has roiled the Obama administration’s attempt to build congressional support for the agreement between the U.S. and five other major powers and Iran, which agreed to give up uranium enrichment and to submit to international inspections of its nuclear facilities as part of the deal.
With Congress set to vote on the deal in September, several of the questions at the meeting centered on Schumer, the likely Senate Democratic leader in 2017 who has disagreed with the Obama administration also about its focus on health care reform.
Asked if Schumer’s stance on the Iran deal should affect his bid for Democratic leader, Kerry, a former Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said: “Well, one of the great virtues of not being in the Senate is that I don’t have to answer any hypothetical question.”
Kerry said he and Schumer had discussed the Iran agreement in depth over dinner and on Capitol Hill before the senator announced his stance.
“He’s a very savvy, capable politician, obviously, and he made his decision on his own terms and I’m not going to question it,” Kerry said. “I don’t agree with the judgment he made; I’ve said that. I think his calculation about the impact of this is incorrect. But look, he’s a friend of mine, I respect him, and he’s made his decision. I’m not going to debate it at this point.”
Kerry also indicated the impact of Schumer’s decision would be minimal. For one thing, he noted that Schumer has said he’s “not going to try to herd people and shepherd them” regarding the upcoming vote.
But Kerry – misjudging the timing of Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s decision to support the deal – also said: “The very next day after he (Schumer) came out, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who’s his colleague in the same state, came out for it. So you assess the impact.”
In fact, Gillibrand, also a Democrat, announced her support for the deal hours before Schumer announced his opposition.
News reporter Gene Warner contributed to this story. email: firstname.lastname@example.org