Secretary of State John Kerry clung to hope Sunday for a deal to end Iran’s nuclear program despite failed talks this weekend, but said the United States would not ease sanctions and was neither “blind” nor “stupid” about Iran’s sincerity or motives.
“I think it’s a question of how it can be done,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
"We are not blind, and I don't think we're stupid," he said. "I think we have a pretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we are acting in the interests of our country and of the globe."
Kerry said the major world powers remain united on reaching a deal with Iran that would lead to it abandoning any efforts to build nuclear weapons. He spoke after the failure of talks Saturday in Geneva with Iranian diplomats. An agreement had seemed imminent on Friday when Kerry flew to Geneva from Israel.
Kerry left Geneva Sunday for Abu Dhabi for talks with United Arab Emirates leaders.
The pause gives opponents of a deal in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Washington time to lobby against any pact that would let Iran keep sensitive nuclear technologies and to press for new sanctions. Kerry intends to fly back to Washington to brief lawmakers and try to head off further congressional penalties that President Barack Obama’s administration says could scuttle an accord.
“I think there was unity (among Western diplomats) there, David, with respect to getting it right,” Kerry told “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. “And we all have said, President Obama has been crystal clear. Don't rush. We're not in a rush. We need to get the right deal. No deal is better than a bad deal.”
He added,” We are absolutely determined that this would be a good deal, or there'll be no deal.”
The United States, France, Germany and other nations have agreed with Iranian diplomats to resume talks on Nov. 20.
Under the deal floated in Geneva, Iran could freeze expansion of its nuclear activity in return for limited relief from international sanctions that have been in place for years. But France’s demands for tougher restrictions on Iran’s nuclear reactors were reported to have helped scuttle the talks.
“A number of nations, not just the French,” Kerry said, “but ourselves and others wanted to make sure that we had the tough language necessary, the clarity in the language necessary to be absolutely certain that we were doing the job and not granting more or doing something sloppily that could wind up a mistake.”
On ABC's "This Week," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Sunday that he supports the French position, and warned that new sanctions are possible.
"I am glad to see … that the French took a hard position," Menendez said. He said the reactor the French took such a strong stance on "is ultimately to create the type of nuclear fuel for nuclear weapons."
"My concern here is that we seem to want the deal almost more than the Iranians,” he added. “And you can't want the deal more than the Iranians, especially when the Iranians are on the ropes. We have to be very wide-eyed as to what these negotiations are if we accept."
At least one leader relived that the talks had stalled was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Iran gives practically nothing and it gets a hell of a lot," Netanyahu said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"That's not a good deal. I hope -- I can only express my wish -- that the P5+1 use the time to get a good deal that takes away Iran's nuclear military capability," he said. The P5+1 is the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.
"I'm expressing, as I said, not only the concerns of Israel but the concerns of many in the region. Some of them say it aloud, some say it behind closed doors, but I'll tell you this is the broad feeling here, broad feeling, that Iran might hit the jackpot here. And it's not good. It's not good for us, it's not good for America, it's not good for the Middle East, it's not good for Europe either," Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries.
Later Sunday, in an address to the annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, being held this year in Jerusalem, Netanyahu made a direct appeal for Jews worldwide to join him in speaking out against the deal, Haaretz reported.
He reminded the U.S. Jewish leaders that the purpose of the "crippling" international sanctions that "brought Iran to its knees" had been "to get Iran to dismantle - dismantle - its nuclear enrichment capabilities, which are used for atomic bombs, and its heavy water plutonium reactor, which is also used for atomic bombs."
Netanyahu said he would not rest until Iran’s nukes were “dismantled” and challenged his audience to “speak up” – not only for Israel’s security but for their own. It won’t be long before Iran builds missiles with the capability to reach the United States, he asserted, and they could carry nuclear weapons, should it achieve that capacity.
“Do you want that?” he asked the crowd, which responded, with an emphatic “No!” “So do something about it,” he shot back.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on his Twitter account repeated a statement he had made to the parliament Sunday after the failure of the talks. “For us, there are red lines that cannot be crossed. Our national interests are our red lines - incl enrichment & other rights under intl law,” Rouhani said – a referring to Iran’s insistence that it been allowed to continue its research on enriching uranium for research purposes. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.
For his part, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement posted on the Twitter website that France has been “openly hostile” toward his country in recent years in what amounted to an “imprudent and inept” stance, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
Despite the breakdown, Kerry's talks in Geneva were the longest high-level negotiations between Iran and the United States in decades -- a sign of the improved atmosphere between the two countries since Rouhani took office in August.
As the talks foundered after initial signs of progress, Kerry rushed to Geneva on Friday, followed by counterparts from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, to try to push through an agreement.
That failed, with disputes between the two sides complicated by rare open dissent within the six powers. France rejected a joint list of demands on Iran, saying they were too generous to result in sanctions relief.
Prospects for an agreement dimmed after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius raised objections to a draft that the French had previously agreed to, the Associated Press reported. Fabius spoke of "several points that ... we're not satisfied with compared to the initial text," telling France-Inter Radio his nation does not want to be part of a "con game."
He did not elaborate, but it appeared France wanted tougher constraints on a reactor that will make plutonium when completed, and on parts of Iran's uranium enrichment program.
"You know, the French are very irritating. When the Americans absolutely want to do something, the French have this terrible habit of somewhat disagreeing," analyst Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research think tank in Paris told the AP. "We actually have experience in dealing with the Iranians directly. There used to be negotiations between the Europeans (and the Iranians) between 2003 and 2005."
"The Americans haven't spoken to the Iranians since 1979. And the Americans are telling us how it should be done," Heisbourg said. As for the Americans, "maybe they just want a deal — it happens all the time in history: People badly want a deal and end up by negotiating against themselves."