Washington (CNN)Congress is giving President Barack Obama some breathing room on nuclear talks with Iran, while Obama is appealing directly to Iranians to support a deal facing a deadline at the end of the month.
Congress gives Obama room on Iran
After weeks of contentious maneuvering by the Senate and the White House over a bill that would force the administration to submit any deal to a congressional vote, senators pushing the measure said Thursday they would wait an additional three weeks before bringing the legislation to the floor.
The delay gives U.S. negotiators more time to hammer out an agreement and backers of the bill more time to gather support.
"We have been working together very closely to ensure we have the strongest vote possible," and pushing the vote back to April 14 will provide the best opportunity for that, said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, and Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat, in a joint statement.
Corker had initially indicated that the vote would come next week, but Obama administration officials launched a heavy lobbying effort that appeared to sway some Senate Democrats against it.
The White House has issued a veto threat of the bill, requiring a two-thirds vote to override.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest warned Thursday that the legislation would be unhelpful to the delicate talks. "Passing this kind of legislation would interfere in the negotiations, and it would be a piece of legislation both that we would encourage members of Congress in both parties, frankly, to not support," he said.
Obama, meanwhile, made clear Thursday night that Congress wasn't the only constituency that needed to be courted for the deal to come to fruition.
In a video message to the people of Iran, ostensibly a greeting for the Persian Nowruz holiday, Obama urged individual Iranians to pressure leaders into accepting a deal that would curtail Tehran's nuclear program. He emphasized the potential benefits for ordinary citizens, including more foreign investment and job opportunities for young people.
The White House took pains to ensure that people inside the nation -- who are subject to internet blackouts and censorship -- would be able to view the four-minute clip, including adding Farsi subtitles and posting it to YouTube.
But it wasn't immediately clear how successful the effort was, with scant mention of the spot on Iran's English-language Mehr and Fars websites.
"Our experience has also been that Iranians are tech savvy and have ways of circumventing Iranian government attempts to limit the freedom of information," said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, noting feedback on the video, which had also been broadcast on U.S.-government funded networks Voice of America and Radio Farda, showed it was being seen in Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Obama's video on Twitter, like YouTube a social media platform blocked inside Iran.
"Iranians have already made their choice: Engage with dignity. It's high time for the US and its allies to chose: pressure or agreement," he wrote.
In his message, Obama appealed specifically to younger Iranians, saying "a nuclear deal now can help open the door to a brighter future for you — the Iranian people, who, as heirs to a great civilization, have so much to give to the world."
And he stressed the urgency on the issue, declaring that "this moment may not come again soon."
In a second statement Friday, Obama demanded the release of Americans held or missing in Iran, including Robert Levinson, who disappeared from Iran eight years ago. Levinson's family told CNN last year that he worked for the CIA.
"At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home," Obama wrote.
In Switzerland, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif have been meeting since Monday, the sides recessed Friday saying that the talks have yielded progress on difficult issues but major obstacles remain.
In particular, a Western official told CNN, the pace of sanctions relief is a sticking point for the Iranians. They'd like to see crippling international sanctions ended immediately, while U.S. and European negotiators are pushing for a phased approach over several years, contingent on Iran is meeting its end of the deal.
The delegations are also seeking to bridge disagreements on the number of centrifuges Iran can maintain, the duration of the final agreement and access guarantees for international nuclear inspectors.
As the current round of talks concludes, Kerry is heading to another European city to meet with his European counterparts in the so-called P5+1 negotiating group -- German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. He will then be returning to Washington for previously scheduled meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Zarif is expected to return to Iran to celebrate Nowruz, a holiday marking the start of spring and beginning of a new year in the Persian calendar.
Noting the holiday, Kerry said in a statement Friday, "It is my sincere hope that if Iran's leaders make the right choices -- the necessary choices -- in the ongoing nuclear talks, that this new year and this new Spring will mark a better future both for the Iranian people and for the world."
The two officials are expected to reconvene next week to continue negotiations ahead of the March 31 deadline for a political framework agreement.