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US and Iran deny talks

October 21, 2012

The US and Iran have denied a report that they have agreed to one-on-one talks about Tehran's nuclear program. The news comes at a pivotal time for President Barack Obama, just before the presidential election.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during an inspection at the Natanz nuclear plant in central Iran in 2007. (EPA/Iran's presdiency office handout/dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The White House and Iranian officials are denying that secret negotiations between Washington and Tehran have led to an agreement to hold nuclear talks, as reported in The New York Times on Saturday. The report cited officials within the Obama administration.

"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 P-5 [five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany] on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally."

The Iranian foreign minister, Ali-Akbar Salehi, played down the report on Sunday´: "we have no plan for bilateral talks with the US because, as far as the nuclear discussions are concerned, we want to continue with the 5+1 group."

Western nations have accused Iran of trying to develop a nuclear bomb. The country claims its nuclear energy program is purely for civilian purposes.

The New York Times reported that Iran wants to hold off on the talks until after the November 6 presidential election, as Tehran would like to know beforehand who the next US president will be.

Timely topic

Iran's nuclear program has been a fiery topic in the US presidential campaign.

News of the possible talks comes just as Obama gets set to face off with Republican rival Mitt Romney in Florida for the third and final campaign debate on Monday. The debate will focus on foreign policy.

Romney has repeatedly accused Obama of being weak on the Iran issue. The Republican candidate has said he supports the same "red line" as Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity.

Israel reacts

The news of potential talks was not well received in Israel.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told The New York Times that the administration had not yet informed his country of any agreement on talks. And he said he was opposed to one-on-one talks.

"We do not think Iran should be rewarded with direct talks," Oren said.

Negotiations between global powers and Tehran over its nuclear program have stalled in recent months.

tm, hc/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa)