U.S. President Barack Obama put the odds for an Iran nuclear deal at only 50-50 in a closed-door White House meeting with Senate Democrats, congressional participants said July 8.
Senator Chris Coons said Obama was uncertain whether the Iranians would go along with some of the tougher conditions being set by the United States and its European allies, making a deal "at best a 50-50 proposition."
Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama indicated that, for his part, Iran must allow all avenues of inspections, including military sites, before he would sign a deal.
Obama "doesn't know whether we'll get an agreement or not, but [said] that he will not bring forward an agreement that does not accomplish those objectives" of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Cardin said.
Obama also stressed that he will not be rushed into signing a weak deal this week, the legislators said.
"He wanted to make it perfectly clear that he is in no rush to an agreement, and that he will walk away from the table if there is no good deal to be reached," said Senator Chris Murphy.
Obama told the senators that "there isn't a deal yet, and so all of these reports about what is in a deal are premature," Murphy said.
The president also urged legislators not to get their information about the deal from statements by Iranian officials, which he complained have misrepresented what is on the negotiating table.
"I think the president is justifiably concerned that some Americans might believe what the Supreme Leader is saying," Cardin said. Obama emphasized "that should not be our source as to what's in the agreement," he said.
"He was urging that we wait to see the actual terms of an agreement, if there is one, and to have confidence that he would not sign a deal he viewed as flawed," Coons said.
If an agreement does come out of intensive negotiations among foreign ministers in Vienna this week, it must be submitted to Congress for a review period that would last 30 days if the deal is completed by July 9. The review period would double to 60 days if a deal comes after that.
Coons, who helped write the law giving Congress the review period, said gaining access to sites for inspection that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to rule out last month will be "vital" if an agreement is to pass muster in Congress.
"There really has to be full access, anytime, to sites where there may be development or production of nuclear weapons," said Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Some powerful legislators are already lining up votes against any deal that comes out of Vienna.
"The longer there is to examine it, the more likely it is, in my view, for people to reject it because it's a bad deal," said Senator John McCain, a influential hawk among Republicans, who hold the majority in both houses.
"As George Shultz and Henry Kissinger wrote, it went from the purpose was to eliminate Iran's capacity for nuclear weapons to delaying it," McCain said.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said he is "disheartened" that Iran, even "with a boot on its neck," has " done just an incredible job of outmaneuvering" western powers in the negotiations.
Democratic senators also were stunned at how well Iran has held its ground against six world powers, including Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and China as well as the United States.
"The imbalance here is dramatic," said Coons. "It is the allied powers of the modern world against one isolated extremist theocracy in the Middle East."
Moreover, if Iran is successful at getting a deal that lifts economic sanctions that have crippled its economyin exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities, "they will get over $100 billion with which to do mischief in the region and a pathway towards being a renewed participant in the global economy," Coons said.
"That's huge for them, and we should hold out for the best deal we can get."