Reaching a nuclear deal with Iran is a top priority for Washington and would be a major foreign policy achievement for US President Barack Obama, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in an audio recording from early this year that was published Friday in the Washington Free Beacon.
The recording surfaced as Secretary of State John Kerry said gaps between the sides had narrowed ahead of a November 24 deadline. “We’re closer than we were a week ago or 10 weeks ago,” Kerry said in an interview Friday, “but we’re still with big gaps.”
Rhodes addressed a group of liberal activists in January and said that the “Bottom line is, this the best opportunity we’ve had to resolve the Iranian issue diplomatically, certainly since President [Barack] Obama came into office, and probably since the beginning of the Iraq war.”
He said that the prospects of a rapprochement with Tehran over an agreement on its unsanctioned nuclear program is “no small opportunity, this is a big deal.
“This is probably the biggest thing that President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy. This is healthcare for us, just to put it in context,” Rhodes said, referring to the Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
The report surfaced as Iran and the six world powers go into the final stretch of negotiations, which are set to expire before the end of the month. Global powers wrestling to hammer out a ground-breaking deal with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions are moving complex talks into high gear with a “critical” three weeks left for an accord.
The US has indicated readiness for an agreement that leaves Iran with some of its uranium enrichment capabilities. Israel has urged the dismantling of Iran’s entire “military nuclear” capacity. The differing positions are one of the key points of ongoing friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government.
The main players — Kerry, his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and outgoing EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton — will crisscross the globe ahead of the November 24 deadline seeking to narrow the gaps.
Ashton will first meet in Vienna on November 7 with political directors from the so-called P5+1 world powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States as well as Germany — her spokesman Michael Mann said.
She will then fly to Oman to meet with Kerry and Zarif in closed meetings, in the country that first hosted secret talks between old foes Iran and the United States.
Those meetings between the two nations, which still do not have diplomatic ties, are credited with bringing Tehran back to the stop-start negotiations.
Kerry has warned the coming weeks will finally reveal whether the Islamic Republic is truly prepared to make the tough decisions needed to curb its suspect nuclear program and win a lifting of international sanctions.
“We have critical weeks ahead of us,” Kerry told PBS television.
“The stakes for the world are enormous. I hope the Iranians will not get stuck in a tree of their own making, on one demand or another, in order to try to find a way together.
“I’m hopeful, but it’s a very tough negotiation,” he said.