The Cable

Kerry Signals Nuclear Talks Will Miss Congressional Deadline

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the United States “will not be rushed” into concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but warned that America’s willingness to negotiate an agreement is not indefinite.

US Secretary of State John Kerry gives a press conference outside the Palais Coburg Hotel, where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held, in Vienna, Austria on July 5, 2015. Kerry said that "it is now time" to finalise a historic nuclear deal with Iran, on a ninth day of talks in Vienna between Tehran and major powers. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR        (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry gives a press conference outside the Palais Coburg Hotel, where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held, in Vienna, Austria on July 5, 2015. Kerry said that "it is now time" to finalise a historic nuclear deal with Iran, on a ninth day of talks in Vienna between Tehran and major powers. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the United States “will not be rushed” into concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but warned that America’s willingness to negotiate an agreement is not indefinite.

“All that we are focused on is the quality of the agreement,” Kerry said in front of Vienna’s Coburg Palace, the site of the international negotiations. “If, in the end, we are able to reach a deal, it has to be one that can withstand the test of time. It is not a test of a matter of days or weeks or months. It is a test for decades.”

Kerry’s words all but guarantee that a landmark nuclear accord with Iran will not be completed by a deadline set by a U.S. law known as the Iran Nuclear Review Act. The White House agreed to the legislative compromise in May that gives Congress 30 days to review a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program if the deal is sent to Capitol Hill by midnight 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.

As negotiations continue, the U.S. and Iran continue to haggle over how quickly world powers will offer sanctions relief to Tehran under the terms of a deal and how long they will maintain an embargo on the export and import of conventional arms to the country. 

In recent days, top Republicans had encouraged the Obama administration to take its time with the negotiations and not worry about missing Thursday’s deadline. “To be clear, there is no push from Congress to conclude these negotiations in the next few hours,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier on Thursday. “If the Administration negotiates a sound agreement, it shouldn’t matter if the congressional review period is 30 or 60 days.”

After reviewing the deal, the legislation allows lawmakers to pass a “resolution of disapproval” that would permanently prevent the president from waiving or suspending congressional sanctions against Iran — a key component of any final nuclear deal. The resolution of disapproval requires a simple majority to pass, but President Barack Obama would almost certainly veto the resolution if it amassed enough votes. To override a veto, Republicans would need enough Democratic votes for a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. The high bar for blowing up a deal gives the White House an advantage that Republicans have privately acknowledged might be insurmountable.

But Democrats with long-standing ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that opposes the nuclear deal taking shape in Vienna, will face intense pressure to vote “no” on a final deal.

A few key Democrats will be pivotal in carrying large blocs of votes after a potential deal is announced, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the third ranking Democrat in the Senate, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton, the party’s presumptive nominee for the 2016 presidential contest.

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