The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and five of their large neighbours endorsed the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday's 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing highlighted the importance of the accord in preventing the spread of atomic weapons.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries along with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea welcomed the deal with Iran struck last month as an "important resolution" that could resolve one of the world's most pressing concerns if it is adhered to. The statement was issued on the final day of a Southeast Asian regional security forum in Malaysia.
If the deal is fully implemented "the international community will be able to resolve this significant international security challenge, and to do so peacefully," said the statement. It said the deal would "ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," which many believe has been used as a cover for atomic weapons development. Iran denies that charge.
ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. Also signing the statement were China, Russia and the United States, which were involved in negotiating the agreement with Iran.
The public display of Asian support for the deal comes as President Barack Obama tries to convince skeptical U.S. lawmakers to back the accord, which would place curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. On Wednesday, Obama delivered a speech in Washington defending the agreement and challenging opponents to come up with a viable alternative. He accused critics of "selling a fantasy" and warned Congress that blocking the accord would damage American credibility and increase the likelihood of more war in the Middle East.
As Obama makes the case for the agreement at home, Secretary of State John Kerry has been lobbying for support abroad. On Monday, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Sunni-ruled Arab nations that fear Shiite Iran's increasing aggressiveness in the region — came out in support of the agreement after meeting with Kerry in Qatar. In addition to Qatar, those countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Shortly before the joint ASEAN statement was released, Kerry met in Kuala Lumpur with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan and others marked the 70th anniversary of the Aug, 6, 1945 nuclear blast in Hiroshima. Kerry said the occasion was a "very, very powerful reminder" of the impact of war that also demonstrated the importance of the Iran deal.
"It is impossible not to have thoughts about it," Kerry said, adding that he had watched the ceremony in Hiroshima's peace park marking the moment of the atomic blast in 1945.
"Needless to say, it is a very, very powerful reminder of not just the impact of war lasting today on people and countries, but it also underscores the importance of the agreement we have reached with Iran to reduce the possibility of more nuclear weapons," he told reporters. "And the United States and other countries are working to move — particularly Russia and the United States with our agreement — to reduce the number of existing nuclear weapons."
Kerry also lauded the current strong ties between the United States and Japan and paid tribute to Hiroshima's survivors, recounting one woman's story that he had heard.
"She survived and she is a great witness to the human spirit and to our ability to reconcile after war," he said. "And, I think that our relationship today with Japan is one of the most important that we have in the world. We (are) great democracies that work together and we share common values, common vision of the future and I think today is really a great tribute to remembrance but also to the possibilities of the future."