Iran nuclear deal extension could embolden agreement critics in Washington and Tehran
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JUDY WOODRUFF: After a year of negotiations, today was deadline day for a nuclear agreement with Iran. Despite an intense six-day push by the U.S. and other world powers, an agreement with the country didn’t happen.
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.
MARGARET WARNER: What was supposed to mark the end of negotiations to sharply curb Iran’s nuclear program is now just another stop along an uncertain road.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We are jointly extending these talks for seven months, with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months.
MARGARET WARNER: A new deadline, but many of the same challenges.
JOHN KERRY: These talks aren’t going to suddenly get easier just because we extend them. They’re tough, and they have been tough and they’re going to stay tough.
MARGARET WARNER: Still, Secretary Kerry insisted much had been accomplished under the interim agreement struck in Vienna one year ago today.
JOHN KERRY: Today, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back for the first time in a decade.
MARGARET WARNER: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also put a good face on today’s news.
PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI (through interpreter): The negotiating positions have come closer together and many of the points of disagreement have gone away. But, of course, there are other steps to take and other paths to follow.
MARGARET WARNER: Under the new two-stage timeline, the world powers and Iran have until March 1 to agree on a political framework, with technical details to be done by July 1. The U.S. bottom line is to increase to one year the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material to produce a bomb, so the world could react to prevent it, militarily or otherwise.
The bottom line for Iran is to preserve some enrichment capability and win quick relief from sanctions that cut its oil revenue in half, driven down its currency and curtailed its access to the international banking system.
Under last year’s interim deal, Iran receives about $700 million a month in frozen oil revenues in return for the enrichment limits Kerry cited. Under the extension, those payments would continue.
But this latest extension could run into trouble in Washington. The incoming Senate Republican leadership has vowed to allow a vote on a bill, supported by many Democrats, too, to tighten sanctions on Iran until a deal is reached. The White House warned today that imposing more unilateral U.S. sanctions now could cause cracks in the international sanctions coalition that’s held firm so far.
Leading Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain vowed to press on, however, saying: “We believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval.”
The delay could embolden hard-liners in Iran as well, who share the views expressed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, a year ago.
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, Supreme Leader, Iran (through interpreter): We insist that there should be no withdrawal from the rights of the Iranian nation, even one step.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Kerry said talks can’t go on forever, but insisted it would be foolhardy not to pursue them further.
JOHN KERRY: We are certainly not going to sit at negotiating table forever, absent measurable progress. But given how far we have come over the last year and particularly in the last few days, this isn’t certainly the time to get up and walk away.
MARGARET WARNER: Negotiators from both teams are expected to resume meeting next month.
I’m Margaret Warner for “NewsHour” in Washington.