Kerry: I never heard "anytime, anywhere" inspections promise in 4 years

Last Updated Jul 19, 2015 2:04 PM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry said the nuclear inspection system the U.S. negotiated with Iran is a "huge accomplishment" even though international inspectors could have to wait up to 24 days to access undeclared nuclear sites.

In an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" that aired Sunday, Kerry argued that having "anytime, anywhere" access to all of Iran's nuclear sites was "not on the table" and a term "I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating" - even though, as host John Dickerson pointed out, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in April that the international community would have "anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access."

"This is a term that, honestly, I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating. It was not on the table. There's no such thing in arms control as anytime, anywhere. There isn't any nation in the world, none that has an anytime, anywhere," Kerry said. "We always were negotiating was an end to the interminable delays that people had previously. "

Asked about Rhodes' comments, Kerry said, "I don't know if he was referring [to] everywhere," but allowing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to a suspected nuclear site is "a breakthrough agreement." Rhodes says that he was careful to refer only to nuclear sites in the April 2015 interview, not anywhere in the whole country.

Kerry said that guaranteeing a finite time period in which nuclear inspectors could access suspected nuclear sites has "never happened before."

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who appeared alongside Kerry said the administration is "very confident" that IAEA inspectors will be able to use environmental sampling to detect nuclear activity "very, very long after it has occurred."

He said that hiding evidence of nuclear production that violates the deal is not "really an option here with nuclear material." Getting the defined timeframe was "critical," he said.

"We're suspicious, which is why we negotiated a deal that is not based on trust at all. Everything that this deal is based on is on performance that could be verified," Kerry said.

Weighing in on the U.S.-Iran relationship, Kerry said, "We're still adversaries. We're not allies and friends by any means."

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said over the weekend that Iran's policies toward the "arrogant U.S. government" would not change despite the deal. Supporters chanted "Death to America" in response, a common refrain heard in Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah.

Kerry said that the nature of the relationship doesn't necessarily matter because "we know...that an Iran without a nuclear weapon is a very different country than Iran with one. And that a Middle East without a nuclear weapon is a safer Middle East."

He pushed Congress to approve the deal, arguing that that if they reject it "there will be no restraints on Iran" because U.S. allies will "desert us" in pursuit of sanctions.

"We will be viewed as having killed the opportunity to stop them from having a weapon. They will begin to enrich again and the greater likelihood is what the president said the other day, you'll have a war," he said.

At the same time, he argued that the deal will not fall apart if President Obama fails to secure the support of a majority of members of Congress.

"I don't think that undermines this deal. This deal will stand ultimately on the fact that there's unprecedented inspection, unprecedented access, unprecedented restraint in their program, which they've agreed to," Kerry said.

He also defended the sections of the deal that lift the ban on Iran buying or selling conventional arms and ballistic missiles. Critics have identified that provision as one of the more concerning pieces of the 159-page deal.

"The reason that we were only able to limit them to the five and eight [years], which is quite extraordinary that we got that, was that three of the nations negotiating thought they shouldn't have any and were ready to hold out to do that. And we said, 'Under no circumstances. We have to have those,'" Kerry said. He argued that there are other United Nations resolutions that ban Iran from giving weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen or Hezbollah militants in Lebanon that will remain in place, allowing the U.S. to continue limiting the movement of conventional arms.

This story has been updated to include comment from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.