WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that he could not envision a set of circumstances that would compel the United States to further extend the deadline for negotiating a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“The only chance that I can see of an extension at this point in time would be that you really have the outlines of the agreement. But if we are not able to make the fundamental decisions that have to be made over the course of the next weeks, literally, I think it would be impossible to extend. I don’t think we would want to extend at that point,” Kerry said in an appearance on NBC’s "Meet The Press."
Talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, as well as Germany -- over the future of the country’s nuclear program have been going on for years now, with deadlines pushed back twice to give negotiators more time. The last delay came in November 2014, when the parties set a March 1, 2015, deadline for a political framework to be put in place and a July 1, 2015, deadline for a final agreement.
Critics of the talks have said that Iran is essentially slow-walking the process, using the guise of the pursuit of diplomacy to advance their nuclear program without punishment. The two delays, they worry, portend the likelihood of a third.
Kerry’s statement to "Meet The Press" is one of the firmer assurances from the administration that this deadline is the last.
“Either you make the decisions to prove your program is a peaceful one, or if you’re unable to do that it may tell a story that none of us want to hear,” said Kerry.
The Iran negotiations represent perhaps the last great foreign policy achievement that President Barack Obama can have before he leaves office. And he's been intensely dedicated to managing the matter.
The president has privately appealed to skeptical lawmakers on the Hill not to pass additional sanctions on Iran so talks could proceed without complications. The lobbying has proven effective, as some Democrats who wanted those sanctions in place should the talks fail have now said there isn’t a rush.
“First, the president came to the caucus and made a very convincing case,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The Huffington Post. “Second, since the sanctions don't take effect till June and if you look at a good strong agreement as a much better alternative than anything else -- and the president says he needs a month and a half -- even if you don't think the odds are great, you give it a chance and you've lost virtually nothing.”