Washington (CNN)Republicans on Wednesday rebuked President Barack Obama for refusing to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran after negotiators in Switzerland missed a key deadline.
Republicans slap Obama over Iran talks extension
The Obama administration said earlier in the day that talks would be extended for a second time, to Thursday, after world powers haggling with Iran failed to conclude a political framework agreement by Tuesday's target date.
Republicans are seizing on the delay as a new line of attack in their argument that Obama is willing to sign onto a bad deal and displaying weak leadership. But the delay could prove a fleeting political moment that soon ends in an agreement, as negotiators continue to point to signs of progress.
The GOP critics also suggested that the extension was a worrying sign that Tehran may have the upper hand in the talks.
"Deadlines have to mean something. When you are negotiating and you have deadlines, you have to show that you are serious and then walk away from the table and then come back in a position of strength, not a position of weakness," Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Cotton accused the administration of making "very dangerous" concessions on Tehran's stocks of enriched uranium and future enrichment activity, and charged that the White House was "kicking the can down the road" and allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon in "slow motion."
Cotton orchestrated a letter from Republican senators last month that warned Iran's leaders that any nuclear deal could be rejected by Congress or a future U.S. president.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who like Cotton are deeply skeptical of the talks, said Wednesday that the omens were good.
"It is clear the negotiations are not going well. At every step, the Iranians appear intent on retaining the capacity to achieve a nuclear weapon. "Without significant change, we have little confidence the negotiations will end well," the two Republicans said in a statement.
The White House, however, said that as long as progress was being made in the talks in Switzerland, it would be wrong to "arbitrarily or abruptly end them."
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that "if we are in a situation where we sense that the talks have stalled, then, yes, the United States and the international community is prepared to walk away."
But for now at least the waiting game will go on, with no deal for at least another day.
"We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. "Therefore, Secretary Kerry will remain in Lausanne until at least Thursday morning to continue the negotiations."
While it remained unclear exactly what was going on behind closed doors in the talks, comments by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hinted at the high stakes and possible acrimony.
"There are obviously problems that have prevented us from reaching the first stage and finding a solution, and I certainly hope that our colleagues will recognize the fact that this is a unique opportunity that will not be repeated," Zarif said. "They need to take advantage of this opportunity,".
A State Department official said that "some serious issues remain unresolved. It is still totally unclear when this might happen, if it happens at all."
While the focus has been on Tuesday's lapsed deadline, the hard end date for a final agreement with all technical details resolved is June 30.
Tuesday's deadline was seen in many quarters as an artificial date put forward by the U.S. so that Obama could show some tangible progress to skeptical Democrats, who are threatening to join Republicans in Congress in a bid to scupper the diplomacy.
The main points at issue are believed to be the pace at which U.N. sanctions on Iran will be lifted, how much nuclear research and development Iran will be able to maintain and whether Iran will ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country for reprocessing into a safer form.