WASHINGTON (JTA) — Citing progress, Iran and the major powers extended nuclear talks until Nov. 24.
In a statement late Friday, John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, said that the sides had made progress in talks since January, but there were still gaps.
“To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully, and to maintain the international unity that we have built,” he said.
Nuclear talks, launched in January, were to have wrapped up by July 20, although an extension of six months was possible. “While we’ve made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time,” Kerry said.
Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and Catherine Ashton, the top European Union foreign policy official, issued similar statements, and the White House issued its own statement announcing the extension.
Kerry outlined as areas where the sides are closer to agreement the repurposing of Iran’s nascent plutonium reactor at Arak and its uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, a bunker like fortress near Qom; and a tough inspections regimen.
Areas where there were gaps included the fate of a nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, he said.
The major powers, including Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States, want Iran to substantially reduce its capability for enrichment by dismantling centrifuges; Iran wants to reduce enrichment, but keep centrifuges intact.
Israel opposes any deal that leaves Iran close to a nuclear breakout capability and has expressed skepticism about the talks.
Kerry praised Iran for abiding by the agreement that governed the talks, including rolling back uranium enrichment and the building of facilities.
He said that the West would continue to roll back a a limited number of sanctions, allowing Iran access to $2.8 billion in frozen assets.
Under the interim deal governing the first six months of the talks, Iran got between $4 billion and $7 billion in sanctions relief.
Republicans in Congress slammed the extension, saying it buys Iran more time to advance to a weapons capability.
“This tells me Iran, with centrifuges spinning, thinks time is on its side,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “Increased economic pressure would strengthen our hand, but the administration opposes it. It should welcome congressional efforts to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran.”
The Obama administration rallied congressional Democrats earlier this year to block bills that would trigger new sanctions should the talks with Iran fail.