White House plays down chances of quick Iran deal
‘In the mind of [Obama] the odds have not moved,’ said White House spokesman Josh Earnest
The White House sought to temper optimism about a seemingly imminent nuclear deal with Iran on Tuesday, warning that some difficult issues are yet to be resolved.
“In the mind of the president the odds have not moved,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, warning that “at best” it is a 50/50 proposition.
The U.S. administration reacted coolly to the confidence of Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who was quoted as saying that “90 percent of the technical issues” had been agreed.
“The president is driving a very hard bargain and Iran is going to have to make some very tough and specific commitments,” said Earnest.
The White House said that it remained to be seen if Iranian leaders, including those not directly involved in negotiations, would sign on to the agreement.
“From our vantage point it is difficult to predict,” said Earnest. “That is an ‘X factor.’”
Earnest said that there had been “substantial progress” over the course of the last year, but “as they encountered stumbling blocks they just delayed them to the end.”
“Some of the most difficult issues, some of the issues that they have been struggling with for the longest period of time are the issues that have yet to be resolved.”
Earlier Tuesday, Iran said that 90 percent of technical nuclear issues had been resolved with the United States and expressed optimism about meeting a late March deadline for a framework deal.
Now in their second extension, the talks have made headway in recent weeks.
The sides have moved closer on limitations on Iran's nuclear activities that could be retooled to make weapons. In exchange, the West would progressively lift economic and political sanctions.
Read also: An Iran deal could have broader implications
“The main issues have been closed,” Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akhbar Salehi told Iranian state TV.
“I hope that in the remaining time we can close this.”
In separate comments to reporters in Lausanne, he said common ground on one “final item” still was missing. If that is resolved, “we can say that on technical issues, things are clear on both sides.
“Of course there are many details, but I can say that, as a whole, I am optimistic” about a deal before deadline, he said.
The sides are working to meet two target dates - a framework in the next two weeks that lays down the outlines of a final deal by the end of June.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have taken the lead in what formally remain talks between Iran on one side and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany on the other.
Most of the disputes focus on technical issues like the numbers of centrifuges which Iran would be allowed to operate as part of an agreement. The machines can enrich uranium up to levels used for the fissile core of nuclear arms, but Iran says it only has energy, medical and scientific aims.
Salehi and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joined the talks last month to try and iron out the technical differences.
Kerry and Zarif met for nearly five hours in the Swiss city of Lausanne Monday, before the Iranians departed for Brussels for talks with European negotiators.
There, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said “we are entering a crucial time, a crucial two weeks.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after “more than 10 years of negotiations, we should seize this opportunity.” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said all sides were committed to trying.
A letter by Republican senators to the Iranian leadership warning that Congress could upend any deal cast a shadow on the negotiations.
Republicans argue a deal would be insufficient and unenforceable, allowing Iran to become a nuclear-armed state. To that end, they've delivered a series of proposals to undercut or block an agreement, including ones that would require a Senate say-so on a deal and order new sanctions against Iran while negotiations are underway.
Obama a they're not going to make any deal that would allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
The deal taking shape would limit Iran's uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity for at least a decade, with the restrictions slowly lifted over several years.
[With AFP, AP]