By Justin Sink - 11/10/14 11:50 PM EST
The United States is not engaging Iran in discussions about a possible extension of the Nov. 24 deadline for a deal on its nuclear weapons program, the White House said Tuesday.
“We have not focused on discussions with Iran on extending those discussions because we want to keep the focus on closing gaps,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Beijing.
“He will give the president an update on where things stand, on what progress he made, so President Obama will hear directly from him,” Rhodes said.
In an interview last week, Obama conceded that “a big gap” remained in the talks.
“We may not be able to get there,” Obama told CBS News.
At the same time, the president praised Iran for “significant negotiations” and engaging in a “serious way.”
“The question now is are we going to be able to close this final gap so that they can reenter the international community, sanctions can be slowly reduced, and we have verifiable, lock-tight assurances that they can't develop a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
That task was complicated by a tweet from Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who over the weekend tweeted that Israel should be “annihilated.”
That provoked a fiery response from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said in a statement the “terrorist regime in Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear threshold power.”
“Don't rush into a deal that would let Iran rush to the bomb,” Netanyahu said.
Rhodes called the comments by Khamenei “obviously outrageous” and said that U.S. officials “completely reject it, of course.”
He added that while nuclear negotiations don’t “lessen our concerns” about Tehran’s anti-Israel behaviors, the verifiable end to its nuclear weapons program would be a security win for Israel.