President Barack Obama and his administration have repeatedly asserted that the final deadline for a framework nuclear agreement with Iran was set in stone.

“We very much believe we can get this done by the 31st,” a senior official aboard Secretary of State John Kerry’s plane told reporters last week. “We see a path to do that.” According to multiple reports, however, the prospect of intractable differences leading to the failure of the latest round of negotiations remained a distinct possibility.

“In Iran talks, failure is an option,” Politico reported on Monday. “Officials and officials still worry that the nuclear talks might fall apart before a final deal is sealed, with dangerous and unpredictable results.”

For many, including congressional Republicans, this adherence to a firm March 31 deadline for a framework has made little sense. An interim arrangement with Iran remains in place until June, when the final terms of a new deal are supposed to be completed. With Iran talks entering the final stages and no clear resolution to a variety of unresolved sticking points on the horizon, P5+1 negotiators in Switzerland are conceding that talks might continue past the March 31 deadline and into April.

On Tuesday, White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest again reminded the press corps that military action against Iranian nuclear facilities remains an option if Iran proceeds with its nuclear program in the absence of an international accord. Well, it looks like Iran has taken Earnest at his word.

While negotiations between Iran and a variety of major powers continued in Europe, CNN is reporting that an Iranian military aircraft performed a provocative maneuver near an American Navy helicopter in the Persian Gulf.

“The incident, which has not been publicly disclosed, troubled U.S. military officials because the unsafe maneuver could have triggered a serious incident,” CNN’s Barbara Starr reported.

It also surprised U.S. commanders because in recent months Iranian forces have conducted exercises and operations in the region in a professional manner, one U.S. military official told CNN.

“We think this might have been locally ordered,” the official said.

The Navy MH-60R armed helicopter was flying from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson on a routine patrol in international airspace, the official said.

An unarmed Iranian observation Y-12 aircraft approached. The Iranian aircraft made two passes at the helicopter, coming within 50 yards, before the helicopter moved off, according to the official.

When a Russian fighter aircraft made a series of provocative passes over an American destroyer in the Black Sea almost one year ago, American officials failed to press the issue out of the fear that it might instigate the Russians. That cautious approach yielded no benefits for Western powers vis-à-vis the conflict in Ukraine. Expect American officials to make the same mistake twice.