Both the White House and Iran have denied a report in the New York Times that said the Obama administration had agreed to one-on-one talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
"It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor stated Saturday.
"We continue to work with the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally."
Iran also denied the report Sunday, with the country's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi saying "We don't have any discussions or negotiations with America."
Speaking at a news conference, he added: "The (nuclear) talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of nations. Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that Israel was unaware of any prospective nuclear talks between the United States and Iran.
Netanyahu reiterated that the only way to stop Iran's nuclear progress was through a combination of sanctions backed up by a credible military threat, and urged the international community to put very clear demands on the Iranian regime.
He warned that Iran would use future talks to buy more time as it had in the past.Israel's vice prime minister also responded on Sunday, saying Israel would welcome any direct talks between the United States and Iran.
Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon emphasized that even though there is no agreement on talks, Israel would be prepared to support bilateral meetings. "(Israel) doesn't oppose this," he said of the prospect of talks. "If Iran stops its military nuclear project as a result of direct contacts with the United States, we will be the first to welcome this."
But he added that as far as Israel was aware, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposed direct talks with Washington. "I believe the White House denial," Yaalon said.
The report cited Obama administration officials saying the talks will take place some time after the November 6 US presidential election, as Iran insists on knowing who the American president will be at the time.
The Times reported that the agreement was the culmination of years-long intense back-channel communications between Iranian and US officials.
The paper stated that while the announcement may enable US President Barack Obama to make a case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, it may also allow the Iranians to buy time to continue their nuclear progress.
In this respect, the Times
warned that there is still a chance that the initiative could fall through, even in the event Obama is re-elected. Specifically, American officials told the paper they were uncertain whether Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had signed off on the deal, although the American understandings reportedly have been reached with senior Iranian officials who report to him.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren also responded to the report, saying that the Obama administration had not informed Israel of such an agreement,and that the the Israel government feared Iran would use new talks to "advance their nuclear weapons program," the Times
"We do not think Iran should be rewarded with direct talks,” Oren said, “rather that sanctions and all other possible pressures on Iran must be increased.”
The United States and other Western powers have charged that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists the program is for peaceful purposes. Israel has said it would use military force to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has attacked Obama for failing to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. The two candidates will meet on Monday in their final debate, which will focus on foreign policy.