Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has told the Obama administration Iran is interested in having direct talks about its nuclear program with the United States, a move thought to be orchestrated by Iran's incoming president Hassan Rouhani, The New York Times reports
The Obama administration has long indicated it would be open to direct talks with Iran. But as Rouhani prepares to take office on Aug. 4, the move may be seen as the best opportunity yet to make progress on the issue.
As a possible sign that America wants to forge a positive relationship with Rouhani for the sake of moving ahead on talks, the State and Treasury departments announced Thursday the United States is easing restrictions on medical supplies, agricultural products, and humanitarian aid entering the heavily sanctioned country. Administration officials, however, have not said the action is specifically intended as a peace offering to Rouhani, according to The Wall Street Journal
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pushing for tougher sanctions to be imposed against Iran in the coming weeks, a position that could complicate the administration's strategy efforts to move toward talks.
Until now, President Barack Obama has been forced to take a hard line with Iran. He has pledged that he will not permit the rogue nation to have nuclear weapons and has said that the use of military force is an option to prevent that possibility.
International sanctions have taken a toll on the Iranian economy and have helped bring Iran to the negotiating table. But according to the Journal, even as Iran's oil exports have fallen by as much as 50 percent and the country continues to lose up to $15 billion in oil sales every quarter, little progress has been made in achieving concessions from Tehran on its nuclear program.
It is still uncertain whether direct talks will go ahead, and the State Department has refused to comment on reports of Maliki's offer to help facilitate talks. Even if the talks proceed, experts say the possibility of reaching a breakthrough is slim.
"The establishment of a bilateral channel is a necessary but not sufficient condition for coming to an agreement," Gary Samore, who served as the senior aide on nonproliferation issues at the National Security Council during Obama's first term, told the Times.
"They want a nuclear weapons capability, and we want to deny them a nuclear weapons capability. Finding a compromise between those two objectives is going to be very difficult."
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