US President Obama speaks in White House Rose Garden 370.
(photo credit: Yuri Gripas / Reuters)
The White House on Saturday 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.
Israel's vice prime minister responded on Sunday, however, saying Israel would welcome any direct talks between the United States and Iran.
"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 said in a statement.
"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."
After the White House denial, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon emphasized that even though there is no agreement on talks, Israel would be prepared to support bilateral meetings.
"(Israel) doesn't oppose this," Yaalon 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 reported.
"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.