Hunting for a badly needed second-term foreign policy victory, President Barack Obama strongly suggested on Wednesday that he will seek to extend negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program past their initial July 20 target date for a comprehensive deal.
“It's clear to me that we've made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward,” Obama told reporters in a hastily arranged statement in the White House briefing room.
But “there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran. And we have more work to do,” the president underlined. “So, over the next few days, we'll continue consulting with Congress, and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations.”
Apart from the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the president has no greater foreign policy priority than forging a deal to ensure that Tehran does not develop a nuclear weapon. In return for enforceable safeguards, Iran would see the United States and its partners ease crippling economic sanctions.
Obama, who in the past has characterized the difficult talks as perhaps the last chance of avert war with Tehran, said the Islamic republic had “met its commitments” under an interim agreement reached last fall — indicating, in effect, that the discussions have moved forward in good faith.
Critics in Congress have loudly declared that they will need to weigh in on any tentative agreement, citing fears that Iran could go the same route as North Korea, which has broken international accords meant to handcuff its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The interim deal that launched the negotiations envisions extending the talks if all sides agree. The United States has been working with partners Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany in what is called the “P5+1” because it groups the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
Speaking at a Middle East forum in December 2013, Obama worked to convince some of his critics that he is not unrealistically optimistic about reaching a comprehensive agreement with Iran.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50,” he said. “But we have to try.”