The Cable

Iran Nuclear Talks Are Extended (Again)

On Tuesday, the State Department announced that negotiators working to complete a landmark agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear program will miss today’s deadline and continue negotiations for several days.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meet at the table at the Palais Coburg Hotel, where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held, in Vienna, Austria on July 7, 2015. Talks seeking a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major powers may yet fail, a German diplomatic source said during a break in negotiations in Vienna on the eve of a deadline.  AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR        (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meet at the table at the Palais Coburg Hotel, where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held, in Vienna, Austria on July 7, 2015. Talks seeking a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major powers may yet fail, a German diplomatic source said during a break in negotiations in Vienna on the eve of a deadline. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

In the latest in a long series of delays, the State Department said negotiators working to complete a landmark agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear program will miss a Tuesday deadline and continue negotiating for several more days.

“We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won’t get any easier with time — that is why we are continuing to negotiate,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in a statement on Tuesday.

Iran and six world powers — the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany — agreed to extend the interim nuclear agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action to Friday. That agreement, which was set to expire, rolled back aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief.

Perhaps most critically, the failure to meet Tuesday’s deadline raises the likelihood that the United States will not be able to send a final deal to Congress by July 9. The White House agreed to a legislative compromise in May that gave Congress 30 days to review a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program if the deal is sent to Capitol Hill by Thursday. Failing to meet that deadline gives Congress 60 days to review the accord, an outcome the White House wanted to avoid because it gives hawks on Capitol Hill more time to lobby against the agreement.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said the talks had entered a “difficult and sensitive” moment but did not elaborate. According to reports from the talks, a key sticking point is Iran’s insistence that all United Nations sanctions against Tehran be lifted, most importantly, a ban on the import and export of conventional weapons. The United States and Europe oppose lifting the embargo.

On Tuesday, Harf said that Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Mogherini would remain in Vienna to continue the negotiations. “We’ve made substantial progress in every area, but this work is highly technical and high stakes for all of the countries involved,” she said.

All week, the Iranians had insisted that the July 9 deadline of delivering a deal to Congress constituted an American, not an Iranian, concern. “We cannot sacrifice a good deal at the expense of meeting a deadline,” an Iranian official told reporters in a background briefing on Monday. “And in our opinion, that is an artificial deadline.”

Photo credit: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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