Some U.S. politicians are less than thrilled about Secretary of State John Kerry's Monday announcement that nuclear negotiations with Iran will be extended until June.
Almost immediately after Kerry's announcement, lawmakers critical of a nuclear deal with Iran began communicating their doubts about the extension, which is not the first. The two sides decided to give themselves more time when they did not reach a deal by late November of last year, and they pushed the deadline back again this July. But as this week's deadline approached, Kerry reported that "serious gaps" remained between the two sides.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R.-Ill., a vocal critic of the administration's Iran policy, said Monday that U.S. officials shouldn't continue to provide Iran with sanctions relief as negotiations continue. "Now, more than ever, it's critical that Congress enacts sanctions that give Iran's mullahs no choice but to dismantle their illicit nuclear program and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency full and unfettered access to assure the international community's security," Kirk said in an emailed statement.
Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the same message Monday afternoon. "This seven-month extension should be used to tighten the economic vice on Tehran—already suffering from falling energy prices—to force the concessions that Iran has been resisting," the Republican from California said in a statement.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Congress should be involved in any final U.S. deal with Iran. "Congress must have the opportunity to weigh in before implementation of any final agreement and begin preparing alternatives, including tougher sanctions, should negotiations fail," the chairman said in a statement.
Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte also said that sanctions should be increased and that any potential deal be put in front of Congress, according to a joint statement.
The deadline extension will likely give skeptics in Congress renewed energy to push back against a deal they don't consider restrictive enough. A new crop of Republicans set to arrive in January would likely come in handy. There are several ways Congress could try to block a deal: It could impose additional sanctions, make it difficult to roll back existing sanctions, or try to withhold funding for any deal the two sides might eventually reach.
Hard-liners in the Iranian government can also use the extra seven months to derail the process from the other end. But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he was optimistic about an agreement. "Today or tomorrow, these negotiations will come to a final agreement," Rouhani said on Iranian state TV. Later, on Twitter, he pushed back against the idea that Iran will be brought to the table by more sanctions. "Most important achievement of #IranTalksVienna: common understanding that negotiations are the only way to a final deal, not exerting pressure," he wrote.
On the same day the extension was announced, a confidential United Nations report indicated that Iran is in accordance with the terms of the interim agreement. Iranian negotiators plan to sit down with the United States and its five partners—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—for the next round of talks in early December.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Sen. Bob Corker is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is the ranking member.