It would be “diplomatic malpractice of the worst order” not to test Iran’s willingness to comply with international demands over its nuclear programme, US secretary of state John Kerry said today.
In his first public comments since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United States and the West not to trust Iran in an impassioned address to the United Nations, Mr Kerry said they would not be played for “suckers” with a charm offensive from new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
Mr Kerry said the US would not take any Iranian offer at face value and said Iran would have to prove it is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
“We have an obligation,” Mr Kerry said in Tokyo after he and US defence secretary Chuck Hagel met the foreign and defence ministers of Japan.
“It would be diplomatic malpractice of the worst order not to examine every possibility of whether or not you can achieve that before you ask people to take military action and do what you have to do to prevent it.
“You have to exhaust the remedies before you ratchet up to a next tier of remedies that may have more dramatic consequences.”
Mr Kerry stressed that Mr Rouhani’s apparent overtures would be looked at with an extremely critical eye.
“There is nothing here that is going to be taken at face value and we have made that clear,” he said.
“It is not words that will make a difference, it’s actions, and the actions clearly are going to have to be sufficient that the world will understand that not only will they not be on the road to get a weapon but there is no ability to suddenly break out and achieve that.
“I assure prime minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel that nothing that we do is going to be based on trust. It’s going to be based on a series of steps that guarantee to all of us that we have certainty about what is happening.”
Mr Kerry’s remarks came in a response to a question about Mr Netanyahu’s warning on Tuesday, a day after the Israeli leader met President Barack Obama in the White House.
In his UN address, Mr Netanyahu disparaged Mr Rouhani as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and suggested it would be foolhardy to put faith in anything he said.
Mr Kerry, who also met Mr Netanyahu on Monday, said he did not believe he was criticising the US effort to engage Iran, but rather warning of the possibility that Mr Rouhani might not be serious. Mr Kerry says the US agrees with that assessment.
“I did not interpret prime minister Netanyahu’s comments as suggesting that we are being played, somehow, for suckers,” he said. “I understood it to be a warning: Don’t be played.”
Israel is extremely concerned that Iran is stringing the West along with false offers to come clean about its nuclear programme to buy time to reach a point where it can develop an atomic weapon.
Last week, Mr Rouhani said Iran was willing to address international concerns about its nuclear intentions and spoke to Mr Obama by phone in the first contact between the leaders of Iran and the United States in nearly three decades.
Senior diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are preparing to meet senior Iranian officials in Geneva this month in the latest round of so far unsuccessful talks to get Iran to prove its nuclear programme is peaceful.