Kerry Says Israel May Deepen Its Isolation by Opposing Iran Nuclear Accord – Michael R. Gordon/The New York Times
OCCUPIED WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the nuclear accord he negotiated with Iran was in Israel’s interest and that the Israeli government’s decision to oppose it could further its isolation.
“I fear that what could happen is if Congress were to overturn it, our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed,” Mr. Kerry said in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations.
There was no immediate response from Israeli officials to Mr. Kerry’s comments, which he made before meeting with American Jewish leaders in New York. But a number of foreign policy experts said that they risked aggravating the tense relations between the Obama administration and Israel.
“It is the kind of statement that would be far more compelling to Israelis, or many in the Jewish community, if it came from an Israeli raising questions about the government’s approach,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former negotiator and senior adviser to President Obama on the Middle East. “I am afraid it will have the opposite effect of what the secretary may have intended.”
As if to underscore Mr. Ross’s point, Michael B. Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, assailed the comments.
“If American legislators reject the nuclear deal, they will do so exclusively on the basis of U.S. interests,” Mr. Oren said in an email to reporters. “The threat of the secretary of state who, in the past, warned that Israel was in danger of becoming an apartheid state, cannot deter us from fulfilling our national duty to oppose this dangerous deal.”
Republican lawmakers, and even some Democratic ones, have complained about the new nuclear accord, saying that core provisions limiting Iran’s nuclear program will expire in 10 to 15 years and that Iran may use the billions of dollars gained from the lifting of sanctions to carry out a more aggressive policy in the Middle East.
Mr. Kerry has argued that the accord presents the best chance to rein in Iran’s nuclear program and that a rejection by Congress would lead to the very situation that the critics wish to avoid: the collapse of the international sanctions and a further expansion of Tehran’s nuclear efforts.
But the opposition of the Israeli government has also been a factor in the debate.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sternly denounced the emerging agreement in a March appearance before Congress as a “bad deal” that would encourage Arab nations to pursue their own nuclear programs.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, has continued to argue against it in meetings with lawmakers, according to news reports.
Israel’s opposition has resonated with some lawmakers who say that the Obama administration has turned a deaf ear to the concerns of a longtime ally to negotiate with Iranian leaders who still denounce the United States.
In a congressional hearing on Thursday, Mr. Kerry sought to rebut that criticism by citing news reports that some former Israeli intelligence officials backed the agreement, and he highlighted his long record of supporting Israel when he was a senator.
“I had a 100 percent voting record for 29 years here on the subject of Israel,” Mr. Kerry told the panel. “There’s no debate in this administration whatsoever about our willingness to commit anything and everything necessary to be able to provide for the security of Israel.”
But Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations, said Israeli officials were likely to view Mr. Kerry’s latest remarks in a different light.
“It not only alienates the Israelis but fails to influence positively the very constituency the secretary presumably is trying to sway: Congress,” he said.