By Justin Sink - 07/18/14 06:52 PM EDT
Negotiations over Iran's nuclear weapons program will be extended an additional four months, Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday.
The United States and other world powers, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, had set a July 20 deadline for a final agreement with Iran. But with prospects for a deal before Sunday dimming, the world powers have agreed to push that deadline until November 24.
"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."
The extension is sure to face a firestorm of opposition on Capitol Hill, which could explain why it was announced late Friday evening, long after members of Congress had dispersed for the weekend and while most of the world's and Washington's attention was on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight near the Russia-Ukraine border.
A senior U.S. official expressed confidence, however, that the administration would be able to convince skeptical leaders in Congress and Israel that the extension was a good idea.
According to the State Department, the U.S. will continue to suspend some sanctions during the additional four-month period of negotiations, while Iran will retain access to $2.8 billion in restricted assets.
"Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible," Kerry said. "And, just as we have over the last six months, we will continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place."
As part of the extension, Iran agreed to dilute the remainder of its 20 percent enriched uranium into fuel form, making it more difficult to weaponize. Tehran has also agreed to maintain the freeze of its nuclear weapons program.
"It will be very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario," Kerry said. "Attempting to do so would be readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon."
Earlier this week, President Obama touted "real progress" in the nuclear talks and suggested that an extension of the deadline was imminent.
"It's clear to me that we've made real progress in several areas and we have a credible way forward," Obama said.
Obama said Iran had "met is commitments under the interim deal we reached last year," when the country agreed to enter the talks and freeze its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
The president said while "some significant gaps" between the international community and Tehran remained, there was reason for optimism.
Under the inital deal, unveiled six months ago, Iran agreed to enter talks and freeze its nuclear program in exchange for a rollout of some sanctions.
But the move drew criticism from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and the extension of the talks is certain to face vocal opposition.
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 that would 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 cut Iranian oil exports and restrict the administration's ability to ease sanctions. That effort was ultimately blocked by Democratic leadership.
During an appearance on CBS News on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would only be satisfied if negotiator were able “to replicate the Syrian deal” and fully dismantle and remove all nuclear weapons capabilities from Iran.
He said he did not think a freeze of Iran’s weapons program and the installation of monitors would be to the benefit of the U.S. and its allies.
“I think a bad deal is actually worse than no deal,” Netanyahu said.
— This story was last updated at 8:43 p.m.