DETROIT — Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said on Friday that he will likely support an extension to the nuclear talks between the six world powers and Iran, and called on his colleagues to resist trying to impose additional sanctions on Iran during that time.
Negotiations in Vienna this week between the United States, the U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — and Iran shifted from trying to reach a final agreement over Iran’s disputed nuclear program by the July 20 deadline to a possible extension of the talks. While no formal declaration has yet been made as to whether all sides have agreed on an extension, discussion of whether support such a move has made its way to Washington.
“I am certainly predisposed to support an extension,” Murphy said at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit. “It’s unclear what the alternative is right now. And I think there has been small but important progress made in the first round of the negotiations. So if there is a request to extend the negotiations, I’ll likely be supportive of it.”
Murphy — who has been a top champion in the Senate for U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran — predicted that some Members of Congress will use the extension as a pretext to try to blow up the negotiations.
“Clearly the request for an extension is going to provide room for those that want a new round of sanctions. That was a bad idea six months ago and it’s just as bad an idea today,” he said, referring to the sanctions push in the Senate just after the interim agreement was reached last November. A handful of Democratic co-sponsors of that bill ended up withdrawing support after experts and the Obama administration argued that such a move would have scuttled the entire process.
“It was potentially catastrophic to negotiations several months ago to insert into the discussion a crippling new sanctions bill that would have strengthened the hand of hardliners who say this isn’t really about honest negotiation for the Americans. This is just about trying to crater our economy so as to enact regime change,” Murphy said on Friday.
Murphy’s view appears to be adding to the consensus in Washington and beyond as editorials from some of the nation’s top newspapers, including the New York Times, the Washington Post — which has been traditionally hawkish on Iran, and the Los Angeles Times, all came out in favor of extending the negotiations should the parities not reach a final deal by July 20.
Iran watchers and non-proliferation experts agree.
“The terms of the extension of the November 2013 interim agreement that are being discussed in Vienna will likely be consistent with the balanced, proportional terms of the original agreement,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told ThinkProgress in an email. “An extension agreement would prolong the pause of Iranian nuclear activities of greatest proliferation concern, maintain additional IAEA monitoring measures, and provide the negotiators with the time, the incentives, and pressure necessary to reach a comprehensive agreement in the near future.”
Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, said if the diplomats need more time, that time should be granted.
“A final deal now would be nice, but talking for a few more months to close the remaining gaps is certainly better than letting the talks collapse,” he said. “The goal was to reach a final deal by July 20. Negotiators are close, but not quite there yet. A short extension of the talks is a win-win: Iran’s nuclear program will remain frozen in place, as it has been since the negotiations began, and on-site inspections of their facilities will continue.”
At Netroots on Friday, Murphy also predicted that the possible terms of any extension — including continuing mild sanctions relief to the Iranians — “will provide rationale for some people who want to scuttle negotiations to say that we shouldn’t be willing to give them additional sanctions relief above and beyond what we already extended.
“It unfortunately stands to reason that if the Iranians are going to continue to freeze their program and to continue to allow inspections, they would ask for a deal that looked similar if not exact to the deal that we got over the first period of time. So we will need to convince our colleagues that they should support a small new ability for the Iranians to gather previously frozen assets,” he said.
Diplomats from the P5+1 and Iran are expected to announce an agreement on an extension by Sunday.
“It’s clear to me that we’ve made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward,” President Obama said this week. But “there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran. And we have more work to do.”