Deadline for a framework deal with Iran: March 24, or March 31?

An explainer on a deadline confusing Congress and the public.

March 5, 2015 06:30
1 minute read.
John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards his plane after delivering remarks in Montreux March 4, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – World powers hope to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program by the end of June and a political framework agreement – a “big picture” understanding that addresses core issues in the talks – by the end of this month.

But reports have suggested confusion over the precise deadline for parties to reach such a framework.

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In a letter written by 10 Democratic senators on Wednesday to Republican leadership, they state – as they have several times – their belief that “the deadline for a political framework agreement with Iran is March 24.”

Importantly, those 10 senators commit themselves to supporting legislation on Iran past that deadline, alongside the Republican caucus. One bill under consideration would trigger new sanctions on Iran should negotiations fail; a second would require congressional oversight, hearings and review of any comprehensive agreement.

Also on Wednesday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said negotiators were working toward a March 31 goal.

The source of the confusion appears to be a simple misunderstanding.

Because the talks were extended on November 24, Senate aides have simply calculated four months ahead to March 24, several told The Jerusalem Post.

But technically, only one official extension was agreed upon in November: The Joint Plan of Action, an interim agreement that has structured the current talks over a comprehensive deal, had an expiration date set for January 2015 that was extended six months until the very end of June.

Instead of calculating four months ahead from the date the JPOA was officially extended – on November 24 – to March 24, negotiators have calculated backwards from the new June deadline, to March 31.

Confusion may stem from the wording of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks upon announcing the extension on November 24 in Vienna: “We are jointly – the P5+1, six nations and Iran – extending these talks for seven months with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months.”

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