Kerry to brief Obama as Iran deadline nears

Secretary of State John Kerry will brief President Obama and Vice President Biden Wednesday on nuclear talks with Iran as negotiators appear unlikely to reach a deal before the July 20 deadline.

Kerry, who is returning from Vienna, will discuss possible avenues forward, including an extension of the deadline during the Oval Office meeting.

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On Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not confirm reports that negotiators had agreed to extend the talks past the deadline next Monday, although signaled that doing so was a distinct possibility.

Earnest praised the Iranian track record within the negotiations as "surprisingly favorable" and said there had been "legitimate discussion and constructive engagement" in the talks.

"There are a number of paths forward for all of the parties to consider, and Secretary Kerry is consulting with the president this afternoon to make sense about what paths would be in the interests of the United States," he said.

Earnest said it was "certainly a possibility" that the White House would release details about the meeting or have the president speak about the negotiations following the meeting with Kerry.

Kerry told reporters in Vienna that the two sides had made "tangible progress" but still remained far apart. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would encourage leaders in Tehran to extend the negotiations.

“As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing,” he said, according to The New York Times. “This is my recommendation. I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation.”

Under the diplomatic framework, unveiled six months ago, Iran agreed to enter the talks and freeze its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions. But the negotiations drew criticism from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and any extension of the deadline is likely to deepen concerns.

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are reportedly circulating a letter asking their fellow senators to support a plan to require Iran to agree to at least two decades of inspections before Congress agrees to ease financial sanctions. 

Earlier this year, Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) presented legislation that would block Iranian oil exports and restrict the administration's ability to ease sanctions. That effort, though, was ultimately blocked by Democratic leaders after White House criticism.