Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers have been extended until the end of June 2015 despite the “real and substantial progress” that has been made in the latest round in Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
In his remarks to reporters in Vienna, Kerry defended the new extended deadline and called on U.S. lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Tehran.
“We have made real and substantial progress,” Kerry said. “This is not the time to get up and get away.... We look for your support (in Congress) for this extension.”
The U.S. top diplomat also called the talks “tough” and that there were still “some significant points of disagreement.”
“If we can do it (get a deal) sooner, we want to do it sooner,” Kerry said. “These talks are not going to get easier just because we extend them. They’re tough. They’ve been tough. And they’re going to stay tough.”
The White House said Iran should be given more time to answer concerns about its nuclear program and that imposing fresh sanctions on the Iranians could be counterproductive.
“The president has also been clear that no deal is better than a bad deal. 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,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a briefing.
But three influential U.S. Republican senators said the extension of nuclear negotiations with Iran should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final agreement be sent to Congress for approval.
The three senators - John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte - said in a statement that they view Iran's insistence on having any enrichment program as problematic, and warned that a “bad deal” with Iran would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
McCain, Graham and Ayotte are among their party's leading voices on foreign policy issues.
Western officials said they were aiming to secure an agreement on the substance of a final accord by March but that more time would be needed to reach a consensus on the all-important technical details.
“We have had to conclude it is not possible to get to an agreement by the deadline that was set for today and therefore we will extend the JPOA to June 30, 2015,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters at the end of the talks.
He was referring to the so-called Joint Plan of Action, an interim deal agreed between the six and Iran a year ago in Geneva, under which Tehran halted higher level uranium enrichment in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions, including access to some frozen oil revenues abroad.
Hammond said the expectation was that Iran would continue to refrain from sensitive atomic activity.
He added that Iran and the powers “made some significant progress” in the latest round of talks, which began last Tuesday in the Austrian capital. Hammond said that there was a clear target to reach a “headline agreement” of substance within the next three months and talks would resume next month.
It is unclear where next month's talks will take place, he said, noting that during the extension period, Tehran will be able to continue to access around $700 million per month in sanctions relief. A source close to the talks said Vienna and Oman were possible venues for next month's discussions.
An Iranian official confirmed the extension, as did Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who echoed Hammond's comments about “substantial progress.”
Addressing the nation on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said negotiations with major powers had narrowed gaps and made positions closer, Iranian state television reported.
“During the talks in Vienna many gaps were narrowed and our positions with the other side got closer,” Rowhani was quoted as saying.
Live appearances for the president are rare, but on October 13 he used a late night television interview to say Iran and the West would solve the nuclear crisis, even if there was no agreement by Nov. 24.
Rowhani, elected last year, has staked a lot of credibility on finding a solution to the nuclear issue.
His aim has been welcomed abroad but he has also come under pressure back home from hardliners who say Iran has already made too many concessions to the P5+1 group.
Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful but the West has not yet accepted its assurances and believes Tehran's activities could mask the long-term military plan of building an atomic bomb.
[With AFP and Reuters]