TELL AVIV, Israel — Whether through diplomacy — it's preferred route — or a potential military option, Washington is "intent on guaranteeing" that Iran won't get a nuclear weapon, said US Secretary of State John Kerry.
In an interview with Israel's Channel 10 broadcast Sunday evening, Kerry sought to assure Israel and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies that Washington will "defend them" in the face of Iranian aggression.
He alluded to the recently upgraded Boeing-built GBU-57, a 30,000-pound bunker-buster known as Massive Ordnance Penetrator, as part of an American military option that has not been taken off the table as the United States and world powers seek to conclude a comprehensive deal with Tehran by the end of June.
The US "has designed and deployed a weapon that has the ability to deal with Iran's nuclear program," the top American diplomat said.
He also cited the recent deployment of a US Navy aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf to the waters near Yemen; a show-of-force that ultimately deterred an Iranian flotilla from attempting to run a Saudi-led blockade in support of Houthi rebels.
"We just sent the USS Roosevelt … to push back against this flotilla that was travelling from Iran. We're not going to let them do those things.
"... We want to reassure not just Israel, but all the countries in the region, that the United States will defend them; stand with them, work with them in order to push back against inappropriate, unacceptable, law-breaking behavior anywhere we see it in that region," Kerry said.
According to Kerry, the administration of President Barack Obama is not going to take away penalties imposed on Iran through the US-Israel Sanctions Act, nor is willing to "stand by when [Iran] plays footsie with Hamas."
Similarly, he said Washington is committed to ending Iran's support for Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and Syria. He said he personally travelled to Syria prior to the onset of civil war there "in order to challenge [Syrian President] Bashar el-Assad with respect to their transfer of Scud missiles to Hizbollah.
Kerry estimated Hezbollah's rocket and missile arsenal at 70,000 to 80,000; less than Israeli estimates of 100,000.
"We have no illusions as to what Hezbollah is, who supports them and their activities that are dangerous and provocative. … We need to rid that country of those rockets. We need to end Iran's support for those kinds of terror activities."
Even as Kerry sought to assuage concerns by reiterating Washington's willingness to flex military muscle when needed regarding Iran's other terror-supporting activities in the region, he insisted that the Obama administration's first priority was to "take away Iran's ability to have a nuclear weapon."
"We'll absolutely stand against that kind of behavior. But let me ask you, would you rather stand against an Iran that has a nuclear weapon while you're trying to do all that?"
As for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vociferous opposition to the framework accord struck in Lausanne, Switzerland, and repeated alarms about the direction of negotiations toward a comprehensive deal, Kerry insisted that the administration would not sign a deal "that does not close off Iran's pathways to a bomb."
Without mentioning Netanyahu by name, Kerry noted there was "a lot of hysteria" about the prospective nuclear deal under negotiation with Iran and six world powers.
"People really need to look at the facts and look at the science behind the facts," Kerry told Channel 10.
In an April 30 address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Vice President Joe Biden reiterated many of the same points made by Kerry in support of a prospective diplomatic deal with Iran.
Biden noted that Obama would not sign a deal that does not cut off uranium, plutonium or covert paths to a bomb nor would he sign a deal that does not involve phased sanctions relief, verifiable assurances and a "breakout timeline of at least one year for a decade or more."
However, as opposed to Kerry's observation of "hysteria" on the part of skeptics, Biden said, "I find it preposterous claims that Israel can be too concerned."
Addressing by video link the same Washington Institute event, Netanyahu called on the international community to show courage and to "hold out for a better deal that actually blocks Iran's path to a bomb."
He repeated that position in a May 3 meeting with visiting US Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations. "We think that the goal of the Iran deal should not be just to reach any deal. It should be to block Iran's path to the bomb. And to block Iran's path to the bomb, we need a deal that prevents Iran from having what is given to it in Lausanne," said Netanyahu.
He said the Lausanne framework gives Iran the ability to retain "a vast nuclear infrastructure that is not needed for civilian nuclear energy. It also gives Iran the capacity within a decade or so to have the ability to produce fuel for dozens of nuclear bombs with virtually no breakout time, and this under international legitimacy."
Finally, Netanyahu said removal of sanctions would fill "Iran's coffers in a very short time with tens of billions of dollars to fuel its aggression and its terrorism."
Despite disagreements, Kerry denied characterizations of a crisis in US-Israel relations and said he plans to visit Israel once Netanyahu has his new government in place.
On the issue of negotiations toward a two-state Israel-Palestinian peace deal, Kerry said the US Administration "wants to do everything possible to change the current dynamic."
Notwithstanding Netanyahu's pre-election disavowal of the two-state solution, Kerry said he hopes Netanyahu remains committed to a process that leads to a secure Israel living side by side with a viable Palestine.
"Now is the time for us to put that to the test. What he's prepared to do, what we're prepared to do and what the Palestinians are prepared to do. … I hope the prime minister will embrace a process that will quickly show the world that, indeed, what he said is indeed put into day to day practice."
Finally, Kerry insisted "President Obama wants a strong and normal relationship with the prime minister and whatever government emerges. I look forward to travelling there … and I'm confident we will preserve a strong and healthy relationship with Israel, because that's in our DNA."