With two days to go until the July 20 deadline for a final nuclear agreement with Iran, the Obama administration announced Friday evening that it would extend the deadline by four months.
In a lengthy statement from the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest lauded Washington’s “unprecedented diplomatic effort with the Islamic Republic of Iran to achieve a comprehensive solution to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
“As verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has met its commitments under that initial accord – ceasing its enrichment of uranium to higher levels; taking steps to neutralize its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material; refraining from installing more centrifuges, including its more advanced models; halting advances at its Arak reactor; and submitting to broader and far more frequent inspections of its facilities,” Earnest said. “Meanwhile, the relief provided by the P5+1 and EU has been limited, and the overwhelming majority of our sanctions remain in force.”
The White House insisted that while “our negotiators have made progress in some areas and, while real gaps remain, there is a credible prospect for a comprehensive deal.”
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He added “throughout this process, we have consulted regularly with Congress, whose efforts have been critical in supporting this diplomatic opportunity” — but lawmakers have regularly complained throughout the six-month period that they haven’t been included in the process.
“We have also engaged closely with our regional partners and allies – particularly Israel and our Gulf partners – given our shared interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the United States’ enduring commitment to regional security,” Earnest said.
“We will not accept anything less than a comprehensive resolution that meets our objectives, which is why it is necessary for negotiations to continue.”
On Wednesday, the White House wouldn’t say if it would extend the talks, but was paving the way by waxing about Iran’s “surprisingly favorable” record.
Secretary of State John Kerry insisted tonight “this effort remains as intense as it is important, and we have come a long way in a short period of time.”
“Less than a year ago, President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani spoke for the first time to try to usher in a new diplomatic moment, and I held the first bilateral meeting between a Secretary of State and an Iranian Foreign Minister in more than three decades,” he said in a statement. “Since that time, we’ve been intensely engaged in a constant and comprehensive effort – the best chance we’ve ever had to resolve this issue peacefully.”
The six-month interim agreement, Kerry claimed, “has been a clear success.”
“Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues, but there are still a number of brackets and blank spaces in that text,” he said, adding that some of those gaps are concentrated around “issues such as enrichment capacity at the Natanz enrichment facility.”
“Diplomacy takes time, and persistence is needed to determine whether we can achieve our objectives peacefully. To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully, and to maintain the international unity that we have built. While we’ve made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time,” Kerry continued.
The Nov. 24 date was picked because it’s exactly one year since the initial agreement was finalized in Geneva. Kerry argued the extension is “warranted by the progress we’ve made and the path forward we can envision.”
The U.S. “will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment,” he said.
Kerry was quickly booked on all five Sunday morning news shows.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that Tehran would be open to an extension “if it becomes clear that the opposite side respects the Iranian nation’s rights and viewpoints within the framework of international law.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on the floor of the upper chamber this week noted the “same obfuscation, same Iranian tactics we’ve seen for decades … that’s not an endgame – that’s a nonstarter.”
Menendez stressed that the only acceptable agreement is one that would set off alarm bells if Iran tries to attain nuclear weapons capability over the next 20 to 30 years.
Along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Menendez circulated a letter to President Obama around the Senate this week to gather signatures on the need for a tough stance against Tehran, touching off a lobbying battle of sorts with pro-Iranian groups.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said tonight the extension sounds like anything but the “progress” claimed by Kerry.
“It looks like the Iranians won extra time with a good cop-bad cop routine, backing off the Supreme Leader’s absurd claim for 190,000 centrifuges,” Royce said. “This tells me Iran, with centrifuges spinning, thinks time is on its side. Increased economic pressure would strengthen our hand, but the administration opposes it. It should welcome congressional efforts to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran.”
“Any deal should be graded on its technical merits, not in the hopes of a partnership with Iran on Iraq and other issues, as some have argued,” the chairman added. “Iran’s terrorist-backing activities, including illicitly shipping missiles to Hamas, demands even higher standards of verification for any deal. Everything about Iran’s nuclear program signals ‘nuclear bomb,’ yesterday, today, and I worry tomorrow.”