White House denies reported U.S., Iran talks on nuclear program
According to a New York Times report, talks were due to begin after the U.S. elections in November; White House says report is 'not true,' but says willing to meet with Iran.
U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks
By HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER
Published: October 20, 2012
WASHINGTON — The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.
Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating.
News of the agreement — a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term — comes at a critical moment in the presidential contest, just two weeks before Election Day and the weekend before the final debate, which is to focus on national security and foreign policy.
It has the potential to help Mr. Obama make the case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough in the decade-long effort by the world’s major powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but it could pose a risk if Iran is seen as using the prospect of the direct talks to buy time.
It is also far from clear that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election. Mr. Romney has repeatedly criticized the president as showing weakness on Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.
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.
There is still a chance the initiative could fall through, even if Mr. Obama is re-elected. Iran has a history of using the promise of diplomacy to ease international pressure on it. In this case, American officials said they were uncertain whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had signed off on the effort. The American understandings have been reached with senior Iranian officials who report to him, an administration official said.
Even if the two sides sit down, American officials worry that Iran could prolong the negotiations to try to forestall military action and enable it to complete critical elements of its nuclear program, particularly at underground sites. Some American officials would like to limit the talks to Iran’s nuclear program, one official said, while Iran has indicated that it wants to broaden the agenda to include Syria, Bahrain and other issues that have bedeviled relations between Iran and the United States since the American hostage crisis in 1979.
“We’ve always seen the nuclear issue as independent,” the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. “We’re not going to allow them to draw a linkage.”
The question of how best to deal with Iran has political ramifications for Mr. Romney as well. While he has accused Mr. Obama of weakness, he has given few specifics about what he would do differently.
Moreover, the prospect of one-on-one negotiations could put Mr. Romney in an awkward spot, since he has opposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium to any level — a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program.
Beyond that, how Mr. Romney responds could signal how he would act if he becomes commander in chief. The danger of opposing such a diplomatic initiative is that it could make him look as if he is willing to risk another American war in the Middle East without exhausting alternatives.
“It would be unconscionable to go to war if we haven’t had such discussions,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who led negotiations with Iran as under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.
Iran’s nuclear program “is the most difficult national security issue facing the United States,” Mr. Burns said, adding: “While we should preserve the use of force as a last resort, negotiating first with Iran makes sense. What are we going to do instead? Drive straight into a brick wall called war in 2013, and not try to talk to them?”
The administration, officials said, has begun an internal review at the State Department, the White House and the Pentagon to determine what the United States’ negotiating stance should be, and what it would put in any offer. One option under consideration is “more for more” — more restrictions on Iran’s enrichment activities in return for more easing of sanctions.
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 weaponsprogram.”
“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.”
Direct talks would also have implications for an existing series of negotiations involving a coalition of major powers, including the United States. These countries have imposed sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes but which Israel and many in the West believe is aimed at producing a weapon.
Dennis B. Ross, who oversaw Iran policy for the White House until early 2012, says one reason direct talks would make sense after the election is that the current major-power negotiations are bogged down in incremental efforts, which may not achieve a solution in time to prevent a military strike.
Mr. Ross said the United States could make Iran an “endgame proposal,” under which Tehran would be allowed to maintain a civil nuclear power industry. Such a deal would resolve, in one stroke, issues like Iran’s enrichment of uranium and the monitoring of its nuclear facilities.
Within the administration, there is debate over just how much uranium the United States would allow Iran to enrich inside the country. Among those involved in the deliberations, an official said, are Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, two of her deputies — William J. Burns and Wendy Sherman — and key White House officials, including the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and two of his lieutenants, Denis R. McDonough and Gary Samore.
Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium bears on another key difference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney: whether to tolerate Iran’s enrichment program short of producing a nuclear weapon, as long as inspectors can keep a close eye on it, versus prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium at all. Obama administration officials say they could imagine some circumstances under which low-level enrichment might be permitted; Mr. Romney has said that would be too risky.
But Mr. Romney’s position has shifted back and forth. In September, he told ABC News that his “red line” on Iran was the same as Mr. Obama’s — that Iran may not have a nuclear weapon. But his campaign later edited its Web site to include the line, “Mitt Romney believes that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess nuclear weapons capability.”
For years, Iran has rejected one-on-one talks with the United States, reflecting what experts say are internal power struggles. A key tug of war is between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator and now the chairman of the Parliament.
Iran, which views its nuclear program as a vital national interest, has also shied away from direct negotiations because the ruling mullahs did not want to appear as if they were sitting down with a country they have long demonized as the Great Satan.
But economic pressure may be forcing their hand. In June, when the major powers met in Moscow, American officials say that Iran was desperate to stave off a crippling European oil embargo. After that failed, these officials now say, Iranian officials delivered a message that Tehran would be willing to hold direct talks.
In New York in September, Mr. Ahmadinejad hinted at the reasoning. “Experience has shown that important and key decisions are not made in the U.S. leading up to the national elections,” he said.
A senior American official said that the prospect of direct talks is why there has not been another meeting of the major-powers group on Iran.
In the meantime, pain from the sanctions has deepened. Iran’s currency, the rial, plummeted 40 percent in early October.
WASHINGTON — The White House says it is prepared to talk one-on-one with Iran to find a diplomatic settlement to the impasse over Tehran’s reported pursuit of nuclear weapons, but there’s no agreement now to meet.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Saturday that President Barack Obama has made clear that he will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and will do whatever’s necessary to prevent that from happening. Vietor said Iran must come in line with its obligations, or else faced increased pressure.
“The onus is on the Iranians to do so, otherwise they will continue to face crippling sanctions and increased pressure,” Vietor said in a statement. He noted that efforts to get Iran back to the table with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany — the so-called “P5+1” — continue.
Iran has been a recurring issue in the presidential election campaign and Vietor’s statement was released shortly after The New York Times reported Saturday that the U.S. and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to negotiations. The paper said Iran has insisted the talks wait until after the Nov. 6 election.
Vietor, however, denied that any such 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,” he said. We continue to work with the P5+1 on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”
Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will meet Monday night in a debate focusing on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear ambitions will likely be a topic. Obama has said he’ll prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He hopes sanctions alongside negotiations can get Iran to halt uranium enrichment. But the strategy, which began during President George W. Bush’s administration, hasn’t worked yet. Obama holds out the threat of military action as a last resort. Romney has accused Obama of being weak on Iran and says the U.S. needs to present a greater military threat.
Despite unprecedented global penalties, Iran’s nuclear program is advancing as it continues to defy international pressure, including four rounds of sanctions from the U.N. Security Council, to prove that its atomic intentions are peaceful.
Those sanctions, coupled with tough measures imposed by the United States and European nations are taking their toll, particularly on Iran’s economy. Iranian authorities have in recent weeks been forced to quell protests over the plummeting value of the country’s currency, the rial. The rial lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in a week in early October, but has since slightly rebounded.
U.S. officials say they are hopeful that pressure from the sanctions may be pushing Iran’s leaders toward concessions, including direct talks with the United States. But several said on Saturday that they did not believe such discussions would happen any time soon.
U.S. says willing to meet with Iran on nukes but no talks set
(Reuters) - The New York Times reported on Saturday that the United States and Iran have agreed in principle to hold one-on-one negotiations on Iran's nuclear program but the White House quickly denied that any talks had been set.
The Times, quoting unnamed Obama administration officials, said earlier on Saturday the two sides had agreed to bilateral negotiations after secret exchanges between U.S. and Iranian officials. The newspaper later said the agreement was "in principle."
The White House quickly denied the report, which came two days before President Barack Obama is due to face Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in a debate focused on foreign policy.
"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 on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally."
The P5+1 group is composed of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia - plus Germany.
Iran had insisted the talks with Washington not begin until after the November 6 U.S. election determines whether Obama will serve a second term or whether Romney will succeed him, the Times said.
The New York Times report looked likely to fan campaign debate over foreign policy, where Romney has been hitting Obama with charges that he has been an ineffective leader who has left the country vulnerable.
The Obama administration counters that it has pressed hard on all major security challenges while at the same time winding down unpopular and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But tensions with Iran continue to simmer, leading many analysts to say it is the largest security issue facing the United States and a potential flashpoint for broader conflict in the Middle East.
TWO TRACKS, FEW RESULTS
The United States has been working with the P5+1 to pressure Iran on its nuclear program but with few results. 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 but has in the past had differences with Washington over when Tehran would actually cross the "red line" to nuclear capability.
The Times story quoted an unnamed senior administration official as saying the United States had reached the agreement for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials who report to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the White House said the Obama administration was intent on its current "two-track" course, which involves both diplomatic engagement and a tightening network of international sanctions to pressure Iran.
"The president has made clear that he will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and we will do what we must to achieve that," Vietor's statement said.
"It has always been our goal for sanctions to pressure Iran to come in line with its obligations. The onus is on the Iranians to do so, otherwise they will continue to face crippling sanctions and increased pressure."
"NON-STARTERS" THUS FAR
The P5+1 has held a series of inconclusive meetings with Iranian officials in the past year. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tehran's proposals to date had been "non-starters."
While Western officials say there is still time to negotiate, they also have been ratcheting up sanctions, which are contributing to mounting economic problems in Iran.
The United States has expressed a willingness for talks narrowly focused on specific issues, preferably on the sidelines of multilateral negotiations. But Iran has been pressing for broader direct negotiations that include other regional issues including Syria and Bahrain - something the United States opposes.
read more at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/21/us-usa-iran-nuclear-whitehouse-idUSBRE89J0HE20121021
The United States and Iran have agreed for the first time for one-on-one negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, the New York Times reported today, citing President Obama's administration officials.
With just 16 days left before the U.S. presidential election, President Obama plays another trick in American voters.
The Myth of “Surgical Strikes” on Iran
U.N. nuclear chief rejects Iran "saboteurs" accusation
(Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear chief dismissed Iran's allegation his agency may have been infiltrated by saboteurs and voiced concern about "intensive activities" at the Parchin military installation that his inspectors want to examine.
Years of diplomacy and sanctions have failed to resolve a stand-off between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, raising fears of last-resort Israeli military action and a new Middle East war destabilizing to the global economy.
Yukiya Amano, who is seeking to unblock a long-stalled investigation into suspected nuclear weapons research in the Islamic state, also said on Wednesday he hoped for a new high-level meeting with Tehran soon but no date had been set.
His agency's relations with Iran have become testy in recent months. Iran's nuclear energy chief said in Vienna last month the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency may have been infiltrated by "terrorists and saboteurs".
Western diplomats have dismissed the Iranian allegations against the IAEA as a maneuver to divert attention from Tehran's stonewalling of its inquiry.
"Sometimes it is not useful to dignify these claims by providing an official answer," Amano said in London when asked about the saboteur accusation - apparently based on Iranian perceptions that inspectors pass on their findings to Western intelligence agencies.
But, the veteran Japanese diplomat said, "this is baseless ... We are not involved in these activities."
His comments about Parchin will likely reinforce suspicions among Western diplomats, first voiced early this year, that Iran is still trying to remove any evidence of illicit nuclear-related activity at the facility southeast of Tehran.
Asked whether Iran was continuing to dismantle a site that is part of the Parchin complex, which U.N. inspectors can now only monitor via satellite imagery, Amano told Reuters: "Yes."
Addressing London's Chatham House think-tank, he later said: "They are undertaking quite intensive activities at Parchin."
Iran has dismissed allegations of a cover-up aired about Parchin, which it says is a conventional military facility.
The U.N. nuclear agency believes Iran, possibly a decade ago, may have carried out explosives tests relevant for nuclear weapons development in a steel chamber at Parchin.
IRAN UNDER PRESSURE
In Vienna, a Western diplomat said the suspected clean-up work at Parchin "hasn't abated".
Amano said in June satellite images indicated buildings were being demolished and soil removed at Parchin.
A U.S.-based think-tank published new satellite imagery of Parchin on Wednesday which it said showed "a further phase of activity" and that Iran appeared to be removing tarpaulin covers placed earlier on two buildings at the site, including one where the suspected tests may have taken place.
"Alterations to the site for all intents and purposes have to be seen as clean-up operations with the intent to degrade or eliminate the IAEA's ability to examine the site," the Institute for Science and International Security said.
The IAEA, a Vienna-based U.N. agency tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear arms in the world, is trying to revive its bomb research investigation that has made no substantive headway for four years because of Iranian non-cooperation.
Amano said the IAEA was committed to dialogue with the Islamic Republic, which says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and only aimed at producing electricity.
"We have offered that we are willing to meet with them in the very near future ... That (will) be a high-level meeting and I hope we can have a meeting quite soon," he said.
A senior IAEA team has held a series of meetings with Iran since January, but they have yet to yield concrete results. The last round of discussions took place in August.
Another Western diplomat in the Austrian capital said the IAEA had "really been pushing Iran to set a date" for a new meeting, but Tehran had so far declined to do so. "The delay is coming from the Iranian side," the envoy said.
Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs. But its refusal to curb activity that can have both civilian and military purposes has drawn increasingly tough Western sanctions.
Satellite photos of Iran military site bring questions of explosives testing
Published October 18, 2012
New satellite imagery released by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) shows some changes at a military site of great interest to the UN nuclear watchdog.
The watchdog, or IAEA, suspects that Iran carried out explosives tests at the Parchin site back in the early part of the decade, tests consistent with the construction of a nuclear weapon. Iran denies that its nuclear program has a military dimension, but it will not let inspectors into Parchin.
In a satellite photo from August released by ISIS, visible is the structure where the explosives tests were believed to have been carried out, covered by a tarpaulin. In a September photograph, released today, the tarpaulin is off. The photograph is not evidence of an explosives test, but it is suspicious, given the IAEA has been asking for access to Parchin, and Iran will not let its inspectors in.
According to ISIS, the activity at Parchin has been going on for months. “It is difficult to determine the scope and nature of the ongoing activity. Alterations to this site, for all intents and purposes, have to be seen as clean-up operations with the intent to degrade or eliminate the IAEA’s ability to examine the site.”
David Albright, head of ISIS, says that given the tests took place so long ago, the Iranians would have had plenty of time to sanitize the site, making the recent flurry of activity all the more curious.
Yesterday, speaking at Chatham House in London, Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, noted that there has been intensive activity at the site, but Parchin is not the only problem.
“We have identified 12 areas that we need clarification. We cannot draw conclusions at this stage, but it is very obvious for us: We need to seek clarification from Iran, and as Iran continues to say that all the activities are of a peaceful purpose, it should be in the interest of Iran itself.”
Parchin is one of those 12 areas. The others include issues about procurement of materials that could be used for a nuclear weapon, documents about warhead design, and various other experiments believed to have gone on, most of them many years back, consistent with nuclear weapons work.
Amano and his inspectors have had many discussions with their Iranian counterparts to come up with a way to get those questions answered.
They agreed on some sort of formula, but the Iranians now are refusing to go forward.
Amano was asked how long the world has to get the answers it needs. He would not be drawn, saying there were all sorts of different estimates and that it is not his job to do those sorts of calculations.
Meanwhile, at ISIS, officials are concerned that at least the story of what happened at Parchin will never be known. The text accompanying the photographs states, “It is increasingly difficult to believe that an IAEA visit will yield any significant breakthrough in the inspectors’ efforts to find answers to the military dimensions of Iran’s program.”
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/10/18/new-satellite-imagery-appears-to-show-clean-up-at-iranian-military-site/#ixzz29toxPYuE
Parchin High Explosives Test Site Activity Still Ongoing
by David Albright and Robert Avagyan
October 17, 2012
The latest commercial imagery from September 19, 2012 shows the roofs of both buildings previously covered no longer under tarps. By comparing the latest imagery with previous imagery from July 25 showing the buildings without covers (figure 3), in the case of the northern building, the pink tarpaulin appears rolled up on the roof. It is unclear if the sides of the northern building are still behind the cover. Part of the tarp on the building holding the suspected high explosive test chamber also appears to have been removed, revealing its roof. The building’s sides can still be seen to be behind the tarpaulin cover.
Judging by the number of vehicles in the confines of the site, it appears that there is still considerable activity. It is difficult to fully determine the scope and nature of the ongoing activity. Alterations to the site for all intents and purposes have to be seen as cleanup operations with the intent to degrade or eliminate the IAEA’s ability to examine the site. It is increasingly difficult to believe that an IAEA visit will yield any significant breakthrough in the inspectors’ effort to find answers to questions about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs.
The IAEA is legally justified to ask Iran for access to this site in order to fulfill its mandate. The question for the IAEA’s Director General and the Board of Governors is: what should now be done about Iran’s continued refusal of a legitimate request for access combined with its alterations of the site?