U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is "absolutely convinced" that the internationally brokered deal to lift sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program will reduce the chances of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East if it is implemented.
"The threat of other countries going for a weapon in the Middle East is greatest if you don't have the deal [rather] than if you do," Kerry said during a July 24 appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.
Critics of the deal, including prominent Republicans in the U.S. Congress and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have warned that the accord could spark a nuclear arms race in the region and globally.
Speaking in New York a day after testifying before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry dismissed this criticism, saying Iran would force the hand of other governments in the region in the absence of a deal.
"The potential of conflict grows, and if the Arab world is looking at an Iran that doesn't have inspections, doesn't have accountability, hasn't reduced its stockpile, is proceeding headlong to enrich" uranium -- which can be used as fuel for power plants or weapons -- "that’s the incentive for them to go out and feel, 'We’ve got to defend ourselves and put something together,'" Kerry said.
He said that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, "maybe Kuwait," and other countries in the region "will quickly follow suit" if Iran proceeds to expand its nuclear capabilities without the restrictions stipulated under the agreement in place.
"With this deal they've told us: If this deal does the things that we have laid out, they will not go after a [nuclear] weapon," Kerry said.
He added that a tinderbox like the Middle East "is going to be more manageable with this deal" than with "no deal and the potential of another confrontation with Iran at the same time."
U.S. President Barack Obama has said the deal, under which sanctions against Iran will be gradually lifted in return for Tehran accepting long-term curbs on its nuclear program, will "prevent" Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Critics, however, warn that it will only slow Iran's nuclear development and embolden Tehran to support terrorism and sow trouble in the Middle East.
Obama's administration is now fighting a Republican-led attempt in Congress to scuttle the deal reached in Vienna on July 14 between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers: Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany.
Obama bowed to pressure by lawmakers in May by giving Congress the right to review the Iran deal and possibly derail an agreement by passing a disapproval resolution that would remove the U.S. president's right to waive sanctions passed by Congress.
But he vowed on July 14 to veto any legislation that would prevent the deal's implementation. Congress could override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress, which are controlled by Republicans.