PM ‘knows nothing’ of Iran-US talks agreement

'New York Times' reported US, Iran agreed to nuclear talks; Netanyahu warns Iran would use negotiations to buy time.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
“Israel 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 said.
In a story over the weekend swiftly denied by both Washington and Tehran, 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.
The report said that the agreement was the result of intense, secret exchanges between the two sides dating back to almost the beginning of the Obama presidency.
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 policy.
Tommy Vietor, the White House spokesman, denied the report.
“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 said.
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.”
Iran 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 nations.
Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States.”
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 Qom.
“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 capability.”
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.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio that he hoped the report was not true.
“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 program.
But, he added, he believed the White House denial because Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was opposed to direct contact with Washington.
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 said.
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 broken promises.”