Iran won a seven month reprieve Monday after stonewalling major world powers over ending its uranium enrichment program.
Iranian negotiators said it would be “impossible” to reach an agreement by November 24. This, after months of coy evasions about ways the Islamic Republic might comply with international demands to curtail its nuclear development activities.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his nation on Monday negotiators “achieved a significant victory” and that “negotiations will lead to a deal, sooner or later.” In a nationwide broadcast Monday evening, Rouhani said that many gaps that remained between the two sides had “been eliminated.”
He expanded on the talks, saying, “One phase is about the behind-the-curtain issues, where ideas are made closer and talks [really] take place. In this phase there has been good progress.
“The other phase is when those agreements are put on paper and turn into a final, ultimate deal in writing. We still have some distance to go in this second phase,” he admitted.
The new deadline for negotiations to wrap up is actually a two-stage runoff sort of deal. It involves first a decision to be made about what actually “needs to be done” — that’s by March 1 — and then a written agreement on whether Iran will actually do it — with that deadline to follow four months later, according to a report published by the Associated Press.
“If we can do it sooner, we want to do it sooner,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in a follow-up briefing on Monday. “These talks are not going to get easier just because we extended them. They’re tough. They’ve been tough. And they’re going to stay tough.”
Kerry said world powers could not continue to carry on talks with Iran forever, but that it was not yet time to walk away. “In these last days in Vienna we made real and substantial progress and we have seen new ideas surface,” he said.
In the meantime, fortunately, the international community has not agreed to reduce sanctions on Iran as long as no agreement has been reached – a point over which Israel had been deeply worried.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing Monday in an apparent response to both Israel and Congressional lawmakers that imposing fresh sanctions on Iran could be counterproductive.
“The president has also been clear that no deal is better than a bad deal,” Earnest said, in an echo of words used in a statement made earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “But we do believe that enough progress has been made to warrant giving the Iranian regime more time to answer the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program — and to put in place a protocol for continuing to assure the international community about their compliance with these agreements.”
Senior Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t necessarily agree, however. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte issued a joint statement on the matter, saying they view Iran’s insistence on uranium enrichment as problematic — and a “bad deal” with Tehran as no less than a prelude to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
“We believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval,” they said.
Senator Bob Corker, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress should weigh in before any final agreement is inked with Iran. He also warned lawmakers to begin preparing a “Plan B,” just in case the talks fail.