The United States and five other countries have agreed to extend the Sunday deadline toward Iran dismantling parts of its nuclear-development program.
Negotiators agreed to a four-month extension this weekend in Vienna, extending the so-called Joint Plan of Action reached in November in which Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
The Obama administration has said it agreed to the short-term deal with the hope of creating “time” and “space” toward reaching a larger, more comprehensive deal.
The extension to Nov. 24 was expected, particularly after President Obama acknowledged Wednesday that Iran had largely met its commitment by taking such steps as neutralizing its weapon-grade nuclear stockpile, not installing new components at its Arak uranium-enrichment facility and allowing for more comprehensive inspections.
“It’s clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward,” Obama said after talking to Secretary of State John Kerry. “But as we approach a deadline … there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do.”
Under the extension, Iran will continued to have access to $2.8 billion in assets previously restricted by the U.S., but sanctions against its oil sales and other assets will remain frozen.
“Let me be clear, Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months,” Kerry said Friday night.
Still, whether Iran can reach a long-term deal with the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia remains unclear.
Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested this week that Iran wants to freeze its nuclear development for seven years, while the other six countries appear to want a deal that extends the freeze at least 10 years.
A senior administration official said late Friday that the U.S. was “very pleased with the successful implementation” of the agreement but acknowledged negotiations have been “difficult” since early July.
“Had we not made progress it was not by any means a forgone conclusion that we would pursue an extension, because our view was the Joint Plan of Action is not a new status quo, but rather a means of getting us the space to reach an agreement,” the official said.