World powers and Iran agreed Monday to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program for up to an additional seven months after they failed in a last-minute push to conclude a broad deal by a midnight deadline.
Negotiators framed the extension as a chance to build on momentum achieved during a year of talks and said an interim agreement will continue to restrain any attempt by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
But the failure to reach a permanent accord also opened the door to a renewed effort by congressional Republicans — who will assume control of the Senate in January — to pressure Iran with stepped-up economic sanctions, measures that the Obama administration has long argued could scuttle the possibility of a permanent deal.
During a news conference here, Secretary of State John F. Kerry vowed to brief lawmakers fully, saying he believed “we have earned the benefit of the doubt.”
“Real and substantial progress” was made, particularly during the past several days of near round-the-clock talks here to close remaining gaps between the two sides, Kerry said. He acknowledged that “significant points of disagreement” remain.
“These talks are not going to get any easier just because we extend them,” he said. “They’re tough.”
The extension is the second since the interim agreement was reached a year ago. That deal limits the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium — essentially preventing any new ones from coming on line — and restricts the level of enrichment to far below levels that would be needed to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran gave up its stockpile of uranium enriched to high levels and agreed to enhanced international inspections to ensure compliance. The interim deal also freed some frozen Iranian assets and provided limited relief from sanctions.