With the presidential election potentially riding on Monday’s foreign policy debate, the White House is denying a New York Times
report that the Obama administration has for the first time agreed to one-on-one talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement that the White House is open to talking 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.
"It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections," the statement said. "We continue to work with the P-5 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council) on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally."
Meanwhile, Iran also denied the report on Sunday that it had plans for direct talks with the United States over its disputed nuclear program.
"We don't have any discussions or negotiations with America," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a news conference. "The (nuclear) talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of nations. Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States."
The Iranian nuclear threat has been a recurring theme in the presidential campaign with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney accusing President Barack Obama of being weak on Iran.
The New York Times cited Obama administration officials on Saturday as saying that the agreement "in principle" was the result of intense, secret exchanges between the two countries that date back to the beginning of President Obama’s presidency.
The report is almost certain to be a topic of discussion at Monday's third and final presidential debate dealing with foreign policy in Boca Raton, Fla., according to political analysts, who tell Newsmax that the race was already likely to come down to a referendum on the president's foreign policy.
Republican strategist Bradley A. Blakeman tells Newsmax that if true, the U.S.-Iranian negotiations marks another stain on Obama's foreign policy record and runs counter to Israel's position concerning one-on-one negotiations.
"This tells me that Iran would like nothing better than to have another four years of Barack Obama," he said. By entering into negotations with the U.S., Iran would potentially gain more time to "continue through with their aim for a nuclear weapon and to continue their mischief in the region," he said.
The Times' article noted that some U.S. officials have expressed similar concerns and that Iranian officials have also sought to broaden the discussion to include the Syrian uprising and other issues.
“We’ve always seen the nuclear issue as independent,” an unnamed administration official told the Times. “We’re not going to allow them to draw a linkage.”
It was unclear how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the report, but in his Sept. 27 speech to the U.N., Netanyahu warned that Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb by next summer.
He called on the world to draw a clear "red line" to stop Iran and he referred to a diagram showing the progress Iran has made, adding that "Nothing could imperil the world more than a nuclear-armed Iran."
Netanyahu has repeatedly argued that time is running out to stop the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear power and the threat of force must be seriously considered.
Vietor said Saturday that 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 face increased pressure.
"The onus is on the Iranians to do so, otherwise they will continue to face crippling sanctions and increased pressure," Vietor's statement said.
Despite unprecedented global penalties, Iran's nuclear program is advancing. Western nations fear the Islamic republic is determined to develop nuclear weapons and fundamentally reshape the balance of power in the Middle East. That would pose a grave threat to Israel. Iran says its program is for peaceful energy and research purposes.
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 hasn't worked yet. Obama holds out the threat of military action as a last resort.
Several rounds of talks this year between Iran and world powers, dubbed the P5+1, have failed to yield a breakthrough.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report.
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