The White House is denying a report in the New York Times claiming that they will conduct one-on-one talks with Iran over their nuclear program. The bilateral negotiations, the fruit of a secret back-channel process according to the Times, would not occur until after the Presidential election, at the Iranian’s request, so they can have a sense of the identity of their negotiating partner.
But the White House fairly categorically denied it.
The White House denied that a final agreement had been reached. “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said Saturday evening. He added, however, that the administration was open to such talks, and has “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”
Reports of the agreement have circulated among a small group of diplomats involved with Iran.
Obviously this will get viewed in the context of the Presidential election, with the final debate, focused on national security, set for tomorrow. The Obama Administration is not being nearly as shameless as, say, the 1972 Nixon campaign, which announced “peace is at hand” in late October, amid an announcement of negotiations with the North Vietnamese.
We’re not in a military situation with Iran, but there are elements of a war footing. The sanctions (which in the lexicon of Washington are always called “crippling sanctions”) have significantly harmed the Iranian people by causing hyperinflation and shortages. Oil exports have dropped significantly, and the public are feeling the bite. When you talk about sanctions, it’s basically a euphemistic way of talking about starving out a population. The US has justified this with over-hyping of the Iranian nuclear program and rumors of cyberwarfare.
The talks would focus on the nuclear program, though Iran wants to broaden them out to incorporate the troubled situations in Syria and Bahrain. Iran has already engaged in negotiations with the United States on a multilateral basis. The P5 + 1, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (The US, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany, negotiated with the Iranians over the nuclear issue on several occasions. And in a separate agreement brokered by Turkey and Brazil, the Iranians agreed to the framework of demands, the main element being a swap of enriched uranium to a third party in exchange for use in Iran for nuclear power, as is permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But the US and the West rejected the proposal.
Iran has no nuclear weapons program, according to the consensus opinion of the US intelligence community. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has banned nuclear weapons as antithetical to Islamic law.
The Israelis did not react favorably:
Israeli officials initially expressed an awareness of, and openness to, a diplomatic initiative. But when asked for a response on Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, said the administration had not informed Israel, and that the Israeli government feared Iran would use new talks to “advance their nuclear weapons program.”
“We do not think Iran should be rewarded with direct talks,” Mr. Oren said, “rather that sanctions and all other possible pressures on Iran must be increased.”
Israel and the United States appear to have different red lines for the Iranian nuclear program, and Mitt Romney has stood with the Israelis on this. They put the divider at a nuclear “capability,” meaning basically any uranium enrichment, whereas the US Administration red line, for the moment, is an actual weapon.
UPDATE: We should not discount the possibility that this was a hostile leak designed to shut down ongoing talks.