Obama on Iran Negotiations: 'What's the Rush?'

At a news conference today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama was asked whether nuclear negotiations with Iran were headed for another extension.

His response, in part: "What's the rush?"

"I think there was always the assumption that although the interim agreement lasted a certain period of time that we would probably need more time to move forward," Obama said.

"The good news is is that there have been very serious discussions. That time has been well spent. During this period of time, issues have been clarified, gaps have been narrowed, the Iranians have abided by the agreement, so this is not a circumstance in which by talking they've been stalling and meanwhile advancing their program."

Iran has announced it will unveil new nuclear achievements in April, and senators have contended that Iran is doing just fine in its program advancement.

“Iran is procrastinating because the longer the negotiations last, the further the P5 moves in their direction. We have slowly shifted positions during the last 18 months after dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, the Arak reactor, the Fordow enrichment facility, Iran’s 19,000 centrifuges to allow Iran to keep all those elements in some form, while we settle for alarm bells that will tell us only when it’s too late," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said at a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing. The senator added that he “can’t begin to understand how we would build an inspection and verification regime or how long the agreement must last until we know how far they’ve come towards building a nuclear weapon.”

Obama said today of Iran that "the issues now are sufficiently narrowed and sufficiently clarified, where we're at a point where they need to make a decision" on "a deal that allows them to have peaceful nuclear power but gives us the absolute assurance that is verifiable that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon."

"And if, in fact, what they claim is true, which is they have no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon, that, in fact, according to their supreme leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal. They should be able to get to yes," he added.

The president said he doesn't see a further extension "being useful if they have not agreed to the basic formulation and the bottom line that the world requires to have confidence that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon."

"Now, if -- if the framework for a deal is done, if people have a clear sense of what is required and there's some drafting and T's to cross and I's to dot, that's a different issue."

Democrats have agreed not to act on sanctions legislation from Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) until the administration's self-imposed March 24 deadline for a framework with Iran. But the strong bipartisan 18-4 vote in the Banking Committee on Menendez-Kirk shows Obama has lost many in his own party on the interminable negotiations.

"I have been very clear -- and Angela agrees with me, and David Cameron agrees with me, and the others who are a member of the negotiations agree that it does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they're about to be completed and we should play that out. If, in fact, we can get a deal, then we should embrace that," Obama said. "If we can't get a deal, then we'll have to make a set of decisions and, as I've said to Congress, I'll be the first one to work with them to apply even stronger measures against Iran."

"But what's the rush? Unless your view is that it's not possible to get a deal with Iran and it shouldn't even be tested. And that, I cannot agree with, because as the president of the United States, I'm looking at what the options are if we don't get a diplomatic resolution. And those options are narrow, and they're not attractive."