President Obama: 'Significant' Gaps Remain in Talks Over Iran Nuke Program

Former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, third left, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, rear center, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, second right, wait for the start of closedPlayRonald Zak/AP Photo
WATCH President Obama: 'Significant' Gaps in Talks Over Iran Nuke Program

President Barack Obama said just days before the deadline for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program that the gaps in the talks remain "significant" and that it was too soon to tell whether the parties could reach an agreement by Monday.

"The good news is that the interim deal that we entered into has definitely stopped Iran's nuclear program from advancing. .... So it's been successful," Obama told "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview. "Now the question is, can we get to a more permanent deal? And the gaps are still significant."

Obama said if an agreement is reached, he was confident he could convince a skeptical Congress of its strength in preventing Iran from creating a nuclear weapon, even as members of the incoming Republican majority insist they'll impose additional sanctions on Iran if they don't like the deal.

"I'm confident that if we reach a deal that is verifiable and ensures that Iran does not have breakout capacity, that not only can I persuade Congress, but I can persuade the American people that it's the right thing to do," Obama told Stephanopoulos Friday.

While skeptics of the negotiations say they agree with the administration's goal for the talks -- a rollback of Iran's nuclear program -- many disagree with the idea of allowing Iran to have any nuclear capability, even for what Tehran contends is a peaceful civilian program.

In an interview on “This Week” Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “it’s important that there won’t be a bad deal,” saying any agreement that would allow Iran to potentially still have nuclear capacity could be a “historic mistake.”

“I think the key principle is this: Don’t dismantle sanctions before you dismantle Iran’s capacity to make a nuclear bomb. And as I understand it, the Iranians are nowhere near to accepting that,” Netanyahu told Stephanopoulos. “And if, for any reason, the United States and the other powers agree to leave Iran with that capacity to break out, I think that would be a historic mistake – not only because it endangers my country, Israel, that Iran’s ruler, the Ayatollah Khamenei, vows to annihilate, because – but also because I think it would endanger the entire Middle East and the world.”

But Obama laid out a more targeted objective than simply eradicating Iran's nuclear program completely.

"Our goal is to solve a particular problem here, which is making sure Iran doesn't trigger a nuclear arms race, can't threaten the United States, can't threaten allies like Israel," Obama said.

"What a deal would do is take a big piece of business off the table and perhaps begin a long process in which the relationship not just between Iran and us but the relationship between Iran and the world, and the region, begins to change," he added.

The United States and the five other world powers involved in the talks in Vienna are still deadlocked with Iran over several key issues, including the scope of Iran's ability to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, the length of the deal, and the way in which the current sanctions on Iran get phased out.

Iran wants all the sanctions rolled back immediately if a deal is reached, while the western negotiators say they should be phased out over time.

Obama said the position on sanctions was non-negotiable.

"I think Iran would love to see the sanctions end immediately, and then to still have some avenues that might not be completely closed, and we can't do that," he said.

The interview took place as negotiators remain camped out in Vienna. Secretary of State John Kerry met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Saturday afternoon, and also tweeted that he spent the morning making phone calls to international partners, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.