ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing back against Israeli criticism of a still-developing deal to limit Iran's nuclear program, saying the international community is not giving up anything by talking to Tehran's new leaders.
Kerry met Monday in Abu Dhabi with Emirate leaders, saying there is no race "to complete just any agreement" limiting Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions. He also said the inability to conclude such a deal in Geneva this past weekend shows there is more work to do.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday the apparent deal is "bad and dangerous" because it lowers the pressure of sanctions while allowing Iran to retain both its capability to enrich uranium and its pursuit of a plutonium reactor.
Speaking Monday to reporters in Abu Dhabi, Kerry said Netanyahu's criticism is premature. "I believe the prime minister needs to recognize that no agreement has been reached about the endgame here. That's the subject of the negotiation."
Kerry said sanctions were put in place to bring about negotiations. So it would be irresponsible to "the concept of diplomacy as well as the potential of any future use of force" if the United States ignored a chance to reach a responsible, verifiable deal to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons.
"The first order of business of any superpower is to exercise its power thoughtfully and respectfully. And if we had to turn to a military option because we are left no other option, we must show the world we have exhausted every possible remedy and opportunity," said Kerry.
Israel has long threatened to strike Iran militarily to prevent it from developing an atomic bomb, and Kerry said Washington remains committed to Israeli security.
Iran says it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. But parts of its program go beyond what experts say is needed for atomic research and to generate electricity.
Netanyahu said he has discussed the plan with U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron asking them all: "Why the haste?" He said they should wait and "consider the matter seriously."
Kerry said the question is, "What would would happen without this diplomatic path? Obviously Iran will continue to ramp up enrichment activities and advance on the plutonium track while we would risk losing the international coalition that has been built up to keep Iran isolated."
Kerry spoke following talks with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed. The UAE along with Saudi Arabia and their Gulf Coast allies have expressed concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, but bin Zayed Monday backed the Geneva talks.
The foreign minister said this is no doubt a difficult period, but political and diplomatic discussions are the best outcome for the Iranian issue. He said it is the hope of the United Arab Emirates that Tehran sees it has no option but to be clear and transparent about its nuclear program.
Kerry says these talks are meant to test "whether or not Iran is prepared to do what is necessary to prove that its program can only be a peaceful program."
International mediators plan to continue negotiations next week in Geneva.