With No Nuclear Deal in Sight, President Obama Opens Doorway for Extending Negotiations with Iran

President Obama talks about escalating U.S. sanctions against Russia, at the White House. in Washington, D.C. (AP)
President Obama talks about escalating U.S. sanctions against Russia, at the White House. in Washington, D.C. (AP)

President Barack Obama today raised the possibility of extending talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, suggesting that a comprehensive accord won’t be reached before an interim deal expires July 20.

“There are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do,” Obama told reporters at the White House today.

Those gaps include the key issue of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capability, according to U.S. and Iranian officials. Iran wants more clarity over how sanctions will be lifted. A failure to reach agreement would again put the U.S. and Iran on a collision course over Iran’s potential to build nuclear weapons.

“Over the next few days, we’ll continue consulting with Congress and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations,” Obama said.

Robert Einhorn, formerly the State Department’s nuclear nonproliferation adviser and part of the U.S. negotiating team, said that in his view “clearly” the U.S., its partners and Iran have decided to pursue an extension.

“But before indicating that publicly, the administration wants to make the case to Congress that sufficient progress has been made to justify an extension, and it needs to work out with the Iranians the terms of the extension, including its duration and whether the terms of the interim deal will be modified or simply rolled over for an additional period,” said Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Terms, Timeframe

The Vienna talks now include discussions of the terms and timeframe for an extension of the six-month deal that has curtailed parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions, according to a U.S. official involved in negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

No final decisions have been made, the official said.

Obama has been briefed by Secretary of State John Kerry, who returned last night from nuclear negotiations in Vienna, and the president indicated talks are not on the brink of collapse, even if a deal can’t be sealed by July 20.

“It’s clear to me that we’ve made real progress in several areas, and that we have a credible way forward,” Obama said, while echoing Kerry’s comments yesterday that important differences remain between the two sides.

Kerry traveled to Vienna on July 13 for talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and returned to Washington last night after failing to reach a breakthrough. The interim agreement finalized in January to curtail Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for some sanctions relief allows for a six-month extension in talks.

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SOURCE:  Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Bloomberg News

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