After President Obama and senior officials spent months telling the public that all options were on the table in the Iran nuclear talks, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted Tuesday that continued sanctions against Iran were no longer an option, as far as the Obama administration is concerned.
"[T]here will be some who will assert that we could have done more, or that if we had just continued to ratchet up the pressure, Iran would have eventually raised a white flag and abandoned its nuclear program altogether," Kerry said after the deal was announced. "But the fact is the international community tried that approach."
"I will tell you, sanctioning Iran until it capitulates makes for a powerful talking point and a pretty good political speech, but it's not achievable outside a world of fantasy," he added.
Kerry's comments seem to confirm that he and his negotiating team weren't prepared to revert back to the status quo, which might have seen even tougher sanctions against Iran had the deal fell through.
The administration extended the deadline for the Iran deal several times, which led many Republicans to say it was clear that Kerry's goal was a deal, regardless of what that deal looked like in the end.
Kerry defended the result Tuesday by saying in the years when sanctions were applied, Iran's nuclear program added more and more centrifuges.
"The Iranian program grew despite the fact that the international community said, 'No enrichment at all, none,' " he said. "The program grew to the point where Iran accumulated enough fissile material for about ... 10 to 12 nuclear bombs."
Kerry also said critics have no better alternative than the deal he presented them today.
"[T]hose who criticize and those who spend a lot of time suggesting that something could be better have an obligation to provide an alternative that, in fact, works," he said.
Still, critics spent Tuesday criticizing Kerry and Obama for agreeing at the last minute to allow the United Nations' conventional arms embargo against Iran to expire after five years. They said that concession goes beyond the narrow bounds of the nuclear deal, and could give Iran more power to threaten Israel with conventional weapons.
Kerry said that outcome was acceptable given that three participants wanted the arms embargo to end completely, while four wanted it to remain.
But it was concessions like that which led some Republicans to say Kerry tried too hard to reach a deal at any cost, when it should have considered a return to sanctions. On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed to agree with Kerry's analysis that the real goal of the talks was to get a deal and end the sanctions — a far cry from Obama's line that all options were still on the table.
"The president made clear to the world, contrary to his rhetoric, that all options were not on the table. All options were simply not on the table," McConnell said. "Knowing this, the Iranians never feared for their survival."