Obama says Iran must show ‘political will’ at talks

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama said an extension in nuclear talks with Iran was unlikely and that an agreement depended on the “political will” of Iran’s government.

“I don’t see a further extension being useful if they have not agreed to the basic formulation and the bottom line that the world requires,” Obama said Monday at a joint news conference with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

Germany and the United States, together with Britain, Russia, France and China, are the major powers in talks with Iran aimed at swapping sanctions relief for guarantees Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama praised the Iranians for abiding by the agreement governing the talks, including limiting uranium enrichment, but added that the technical issues were now more or less settled and it was time to meet agreement deadlines, twice delayed since late 2013, when the sides agreed to talk.

“We now know enough that the issues are no longer technical, the issues are does Iran have the political will and the desire to get a deal done,” Obama said.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, said Sunday in a speech to Iranian air force officials that Iran was ready to accept a “good” deal.

“This means that one side would not end up getting all it wants,” he said, according to Reuters.

The speech was seen by analysts as aligning Khamenei, the real power in Iran, with President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, against hard-liners in the security establishment and in parliament.

Obama in his news conference acknowledged differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran.

“I don’t want to be coy, the prime minister and I have a very real differences around Iran, Iran sanctions,” he said.

Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on March 3 to make his case that the talks are headed for a bad deal. Like most Republicans and some Democrats, Netanyahu wants the United States to increase sanctions on Iran. Obama has said he will veto them.

Separately, Obama told Vox, an online magazine, that the United States had a special responsibility to assist Israel.

“It’s our strongest ally in the region,” he said. “Our people-to-people ties are unmatched. And partly because of world history, the vulnerabilities of a Jewish population in the midst of a really hostile neighborhood create a special obligation for us to help them.”

He also referred in passing to the attack last month on a kosher supermarket in Paris that left four shoppers dead, all Jewish.

“It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” he said when asked if the media overinflated some issues, including terrorism.