Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday denied knowledge of an agreement in
principle for direct talks between the US and Iran, but said any such talks – if
they did take place – would only be used by Iran to buy time.
doesn’t know about these contacts and I can’t confirm that they’ve actually
taken place,” Netanyahu said, adding that in talks Tehran has held with the P5+1
– the US, China, Russia, Germany, Britain and France – Iran dragged its feet to
gain time and advance its nuclear program.
“In the last year alone, in
the course of these talks [with the P5+1], Iran has enriched thousands of
kilograms of uranium in its nuclear program. And I don’t see any reason why they
wouldn’t continue in that same way if they open up talks with the US,” he
In a story over the weekend swiftly denied by both Washington and
, The New York Times
reported that the two countries agreed in principle
to one-on-one negotiations. According to the report, the Iranians want the talks
to wait until after the November 6 US presidential election.
said that the agreement was the result of intense, secret exchanges between the
two sides dating back to almost the beginning of the Obama
Israeli officials said they did not know whether there was
anything to the report.
The story came out two days before the third and
final debate between US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney, a debate that will focus on foreign policy. The timing
led to speculation that the information was strategically leaked by the
administration to dull Romney’s criticism of the president’s Iran
Tommy Vietor, the White House spokesman, denied the
“It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to
one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections,” he
Vietor said that the US continued to work with the P5+1, “and have
said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”
also denied the story.
“We don’t have any discussions or negotiations
with America,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a news
conference on Sunday. “The [nuclear] talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of
Other than that, we have no discussions with the United
The P5+1 has met with Iran three times since April, but those
talks have made no progress.
Netanyahu said the international community
needs to set very clear demands on Iran: that it halt all uranium enrichment,
remove all enriched uranium, and dismantle the underground installation in
“I think that the best chance to succeed in halting Iran’s nuclear
program diplomatically is a combination of very sharp sanctions and a credible
military option,” he said. “In any event, I can say that as long as I am the
prime minister of Israel, Israel will not allow Iran to reach a military nuclear
Netanyahu, at the weekly cabinet meeting, asked his
ministers not to comment on the report.
His request came after a number
of ministers had already discussed the matter on the airwaves.
Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio that he hoped the report was not
“I want to believe the denial issued by the White House,” he said.
“The negotiations with Iran did not begin yesterday or the day before. There are
10 years of cumulative experience and the Iranians have time and again deceived
everyone, the Security Council, the P5+1, the whole international system that
was set up to carry out negotiations.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe
Ya’alon told Israel Radio that Jerusalem would be the first to welcome a US-Iran
agreement that would lead to Tehran halting its nuclear arms
But, he added, he believed the White House denial because Iran’s
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was opposed to direct contact with
Ya’alon said it was no secret that there were US-Iranian
contacts through indirect channels, but that Iran had consistently refused
one-on-one talks with the US.
“I don’t know of any change in that
position, and certainly not of any agreement [to negotiate],” he
Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said that every time
the Iranians found themselves under heavy sanctions pressure they tried to buy
time through negotiations.
“I don’t think we should fall into this trap,”
he told Israel Radio. “The international community is satiated with Iran’s