U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday it would be wrong not to test Iran's willingness to comply with international demands over its nuclear program.
In his first public comments since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United States and the West not to trust Iran in an impassioned address to the United Nations on Tuesday, Kerry said the U.S. would not be played for "suckers" with a charm offensive from new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani adding that the U.S. would not take any Iranian offer at face value. Iran will have to prove it is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Kerry told reporters in Tokyo after he and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with their Japanese counterparts.
"We have an obligation," he went on to say. "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," he said.
However, Kerry stressed that 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," Kerry said in response to a question about Netanyahu's recent warnings. "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."
"We are firmly determined that Israel's security remains paramount," said Kerry.
Netanyahu's speech came a day after the Israeli leader met in the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama. In his U.N. address, Netanyahu disparaged Rouhani as "a wolf in sheep's clothing" and suggested it would be foolhardy to put faith in anything he said.
Kerry, who also met with Netanyahu on Monday, said he did not believe Netanyahu was criticizing the U.S. effort to engage Iran, but rather warning of the possibility that Rouhani might not be serious. Kerry says the U.S. 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."
"We are going to look very, very carefully at this. We hope it could work because we think the world would be better off," Kerry said, adding: "A country that genuinely wants to have a peaceful program does not have difficulty proving that it is in fact peaceful, so this ought to be able to be done.
"The test we face over these next weeks and months, not a long period of time, is to determine whether or not that is in fact what Iran intends," he added.
Senior diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are preparing now to meet with top Iranian officials in mid-October in Geneva for the latest round of thus-far unsuccessful talks to get Iran to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.