John Kerry: The world is safer thanks to Iran deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday there is no end to the diplomatic challenges America faces, but he is absolutely certain the world is safer for having reached a nuclear accord with Iran.

He said reaching that deal allows the U.S. to tackle other priorities, including Syria.

“Iran was hurtling towards an unaccounted for, uninspected, full-fledged nuclear program with high levels of enrichment where they had enough enriched material to make 10 to 12 bombs,” Kerry told CNBC’s“Squawk Box” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Now, frankly, at Iran’s consent and agreement, they have rolled that back.”

The international community ended sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program earlier this month after Tehran met the terms of a deal reached last year. Those terms included shipping enriched material to Russia, drawing down its stock of centrifuges and destroying a plutonium reactor.

Long-standing U.S. sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorist groups and its human rights record remain in place. The Treasury Department this week imposed new sanctions on 11 companies and individuals who the United States says helped to advance Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Shortly before that, Iran released four American prisoners in exchange for the release of seven Iranians held for violating U.S. sanctions and an agreement to drop international arrest warrants for 14 others.

With inspectors in place and Iran’s presumed inability to enrich enough material to make a nuclear bomb, the United States can focus on civil wars in Syria and Yemen, an ongoing conflict in Libya, and North Korea’s continued nuclear ambitions, Kerry said.

The end of sanctions frees about $100 billion in frozen Iranian funds, but Kerry said Tehran will only have access to roughly $55 billion because much of that money will go toward repaying loans and other long-term commitments. The rest will likely go toward updating Iran’s ailing oil operations and other infrastructure that went without maintenance for years.

Despite signs of thaw, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned his country to remain wary of American “deceit,” and Iranian leaders have denounced the new ballistic missile sanctions.

Kerry said the Obama administration obviously wishes the rhetoric were otherwise, but noted that Tehran says it is responding to American criticism.

“What I’m trying to do and what President Obama is trying to do principally is move us away from that kind of confrontation and put to test whether or not we can find cooperation,” he said.

For example, the United States and Iran have sat down with other powers to discuss a path for Syria, where the two are at odds. The nuclear agreement also offers the potential to address Yemen’s civil war, he added.

“We look to Iran, as President [Hassan] Rouhani himself said, to make this a turning point,” Kerry said.

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