The negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program will continue past their latest July 9 deadline, US Secretary of State John Kerry said from the talks in Vienna on Thursday evening.
“Some tough issues remain unresolved,” Kerry told reporters, adding that “we will not rush and we will not be rushed.”
“All that we are focused on is the quality of the agreement,” he said.
Kerry did not specify an end date during his brief statement outside of the Vienna hotel where the negotiations are taking place, but stated that the negotiations were “not open-ended.” He said that the president had made that “very clear to me last night.”
“If the tough decisions don’t get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process,” Kerry warned.
US President Barack Obama reportedly believes that there is only a 50-50 chance of reaching an agreement.
The White House later appeared to echo Kerry’s warning that the Americans would walk away from the talks, with spokesman Josh Earnest referring to a final timeframe of weeks.
“The fact that we’ve been very clear about our expectations for a final agreement makes it unlikely that the talks will drag on for many more weeks. But, again, I wouldn’t speculate on the outcome,” said Earnest.
Striking a less definitive note, Kerry’s Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday evening that Iran would “stay as long as necessary” at the talks.
Two deadlines to reach an accord have already elapsed in the talks, which stretched into their 13th day Thursday. US lawmakers have also set a midnight Washington deadline to be given a copy of any text to review.
The talks remain beset with problems but are going in the right direction, France’s foreign minister said Thursday, adding that negotiations would continue into the night.
“Things are, however, going in the right directions. Under the circumstances I have decided to stay tonight and tomorrow,” Laurent Fabius told reporters in Vienna.
“I hope that we are going to manage the final meters but there is still work to do. In a marathon the final 100 meters are the hardest… I repeat that there are good things but that difficult issues remain to be resolved,” he told reporters.
Warning that “difficult decisions don’t become easier over time,” Kerry said that, “one way or another, those decisions must be taken very soon.”
The US delegation and their counterparts will “continue to push through on the tough issues and ultimately see whether or not the good deal that we have been working for so hard is possible to achieve,” he said.
The deal has to be presented to US lawmakers by early morning Friday Vienna time, otherwise the approval process becomes longer and riskier.
Kerry did not specify how long the extension would last; however, reports in Iranian media said negotiators were given four additional days to finalize a deal.
— Fars News Agency (@EnglishFars) July 9, 2015
Even if a final agreement is reached, the extended deadline could complicate the US’s ability to implement its terms. Under American law, the seven nations negotiating in Vienna have to complete the accord before the end of Thursday in Washington to avoid invoking a 60-day congressional review period during which the Obama administration cannot waive sanctions on Iran. If they meet the target, the review would only be 30 days.
The extended time period is significant as Iran is demanding prompt easing of economic penalties for nuclear concessions. The longer world powers cannot make good on their promises, the longer they’ll have to wait for the Iranians.
AP and AFP contributed to this report