President Barack Obama has said he sees less than a 50-50 chance that the Iran nuclear negotiations will conclude with a deal, according to Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
Obama’s comments, made Tuesday evening during a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, inched back his guesstimate of a successful outcome after months during which he has consistently pegged the odds at 50-50 even as both sides narrowed their differences to a few remaining issues.
“He said in the course of the negotiations, he’s been more optimistic, less optimistic, and he said that the chances at this point are below 50-50,” Durbin told reporters Wednesday.
The president spoke before he was updated on the talks by Secretary of State John Kerry and so the outlook may have changed, Durbin added.
Obama also reiterated that he won’t accept “a weak or bad deal,” said Durbin. “He knows what’s at as stake here.”
Obama’s critics, including many Republican lawmakers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have said he’s making too many concessions to the Iranians in order to gain a legacy foreign policy success.
The president’s private comments to the lawmakers, now made public, also could serve as a signal to Iran’s leaders not to overestimate how much he’s willing to concede as negotiators in Vienna head toward their latest deadline on Friday.
While much of an accord and its technical annexes have been agreed on provisionally, a final set of difficult issues remain to be resolved.
The biggest remaining disputes are over Iranian demands for the lifting of a United Nations arms embargo and agreement on a mechanism that would allow the renewal of sanctions if Iran violates the deal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters this week. Iran also is seeking “snap-back” arrangements so it can resume uranium enrichment if the other side breaks its promises.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday refused to give any details of what Obama discussed with Senate Democrats at the White House on Tuesday night.
Other lawmakers at the meeting said Iran was discussed only briefly at the end of the session, which focused on other topics such as climate change and funding for federal transportation projects.
Earnest said Obama gave the senators an update on the “current status of the talks in Vienna,” but it was not a “whole lot different” from what the administration has said publicly. The discussion was focused on “legislative priorities,” he said.
The Republican-led Congress is already gearing up to question any deal the U.S. and five other nations may reach with Iran. Republican Representative Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has scheduled a hearing on Thursday “to examine the implications” of a nuclear agreement. Three of the four scheduled witness are on the record criticizing a prospective accord.