Before Lausanne, Kerry questions March goal for an Iran framework

Obama administration official tells the Post the secretary's team hopes to "seal the deal" and "get it done" by the end of the month.

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March 14, 2015 21:59
3 minute read.
john kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, March 11, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – World powers may not be within reach of a framework agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear work this month, despite having set their goal for a core deal by that time, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Egypt on Saturday.

“I can’t tell you whether or not we can get a deal, whether we are close,” Kerry said at Sharm e-Sheikh, a day before departing for Lausanne, Switzerland, to continue intensive discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “The purpose of these negotiations is not just to get a deal, it is to get the right deal.”

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But one Obama administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Friday the secretary’s team hopes to “seal the deal” and “get it done” by the end of the month – long a public goal of the administration, as political pressures continue to mount within Tehran and Washington on their respective leaders against an agreement.

Past March 24, at least 10 Senate Democrats have committed to joining their Republican colleagues in support of legislation that would trigger hearings and an up-or-down vote on a nuclear agreement, should one ultimately be reached. The author of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), said that Congress has been responsible for the passage of sanctions against Iran, and should have a say in their removal.

US President Barack Obama has threatened to veto that bill, and his administration questions Congress’s role in the immediate aftermath of a deal. The legislature ultimately “will have a vote,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, but “quite some time” after the agreement is reached.

“As far as we’re concerned, Congress has no ability to change an executive agreement,” Kerry said on Saturday, adding that “important gaps” still remained at the negotiating table.

Discussion continued over the political ramifications of a letter penned to Iran by Sen.

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Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who is the youngest in the Senate and just under 70 days in office, and signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues.

While US diplomats have not gauged the impact of the letter on their Iranian counterparts in person, Psaki said they had no evidence that the message has affected negotiations.

Nevertheless, Cotton’s letter, which instructed Iran’s leaders to question the American president’s ability to enforce a nuclear agreement in the long-term, “certainly is something that would give the Iranians an excuse at the end of the game,” Psaki said.

The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany, known as the P5+1, hope to reach a framework agreement by March 31 and a comprehensive joint plan of action by June 30.

P5+1 stands for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, which together have passed sanctions legislation against Iran with the force of international law. The Islamic Republic seeks the swift removal of these sanctions, which, according to the State Department, would be an entirely separate process from removing congressionally mandated sanctions.

The P5+1 proposal to Iran, in its current form, would cap, restrict, monitor and partially roll back aspects of its nuclear program for a finite period, before normalizing Iran as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

International sanctions, put in place over Tehran’s violations of the NPT, would be lifted over the duration of the deal, at a pace still being negotiated in Switzerland.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adamantly opposes the deal, and has made his opposition central to his campaign for reelection as prime minister on Tuesday. His primary opponents, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, have suggested a willingness to accept the proposal.

Obama said he would not accept an agreement that sets back his agenda against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or that allows Iran to ultimately acquire a nuclear arsenal.

Negotiators expect to break from talks for the Iranian holiday of Nowruz on March 20.

Kerry is to return to Washington to host President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan at Camp David on March 22.

Talks are to resume then in Switzerland until the end of the month, US officials say.

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