PARIS — Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday said it would be more difficult to reach a deal with Iran curbing its ability to build nuclear weapons if negotiations extend beyond a Nov. 24 deadline.
“I want to get this done,” Kerry said during a series of meetings in which the Iranian negotiations figured prominently. “And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done.”
Kerry said Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program for civilian, not military, use.
“They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb,” Kerry said. “We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful.”
Asked what impact a GOP Senate majority might have on the negotiations, Kerry demurred, saying he is no longer a politician.
Kerry is in Paris on the first leg of a three-country trip that includes a stop in Muscat, Oman, for talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Negotiations began years ago but took on a new urgency after last year’s election of President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate.
Now, negotiators from the United States and five other world powers are facing a looming deadline to forge a groundbreaking deal with Iran to reduce and limit its nuclear capacity. In return, the West is prepared to ease and ultimately lift sanctions against the economically strapped country.
“We think a deal is possible,” said a Western diplomat with knowledge of the talks. “But it’s going to be very difficult.”
A pact with the pariah nation could produce a lasting legacy for Obama. But an extended deadline may embolden skeptics, including members of Congress suspicious that Iran’s intentions aren’t peaceful. Sentiment in Congress is strong for even more sanctions on Iran.
The Iran talks are taking a bite out of Kerry’s week-long trip. The administration has been trying to devote more attention and resources to Asia, a region with opportunities for ties that foster economic growth and security agreements. But crises in the Middle East and Europe keep interrupting the diplomatic agenda.
In Ukraine, the government in Kiev has ordered reinforcements for its troops fighting pro-Russian rebels in the east, while Moscow sends more troops to the border. Kerry said he had urged Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, to “take the high road” and not respond to Russia’s provocations.
Kerry also met with Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, who said Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel on Wednesday to protest Israeli actions in Jerusalem and its holy sites.
“We have sent repeated messages to Israel directly and indirectly that Jerusalem is a red line,” Judeh said, citing “continuous violations and incursions, and stopping people from worshipping freely.”
Kerry condemned as terrorism an incident in Jerusalem on Wednesday, when a Palestinian drove a car into a crowd, killing at least one person. He also expressed frustration with Israel’s settlement planning and said Wednesday’s violence highlights the need to negotiate a permanent settlement.