Iran and US can agree on one thing: There are no direct talks planned

Iran's foreign minister echoed White House denials that the two countries are scheduled to have direct bilateral negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Franklin Reyes/AP/File
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to a gathering at the University of Havana, in Havana, Cuba, in January. The White House and the Iranian government say they are prepared to talk one-on-one to find a diplomatic settlement to the impasse over Tehran's reported pursuit of nuclear weapons, but there's no specific meeting date right now.

Iran followed the United States on Sunday in denying that the two countries had scheduled direct bilateral negotiations on Iran's controversial nuclear program.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed US administration officials, had said on Saturday that secret exchanges between US and Iranian officials had yielded agreement "in principle" to hold one-on-one talks.

"We don't have any discussions or negotiations with America," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told 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 P5+1 group comprises the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, China, France, and Russia - plus Germany.

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 allege that the program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran says it is purely peaceful.

White house denies

The White House also denied the newspaper report, which came two days before President Barack Obama faces Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in a televised foreign policy debate.

"It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections," US 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."

Salehi said on Sunday it was planned that Iran would hold talks with the P5+1, "probably in late November," according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA).

P5+1: 'No Date' 

But a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating the efforts of the P5+1, said that "we hope that we will pick up discussions soon, but there is no date at the moment".

The P5+1 has held a series of inconclusive meetings with Iranian officials in the past year. 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 New York Times said Iran had insisted that its direct talks with Washington should not begin until after the US election on Nov. 6, which will determine whether Obama serves a second term or is succeeded by Romney.

Debate fodder

The report looked likely to fan campaign debate over foreign policy, where Romney has been accusing Obama of being an ineffective leader who has left his country vulnerable.

He has also accused Obama of failing to give adequate support to Israel, which sees the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence and has tried in vain to persuade Obama to spell out at what point the United States would use force to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran has repeatedly denied Israel's right to exist.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander was quoted on Sunday as praising the launch of a drone into Israeli airspace by the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah this month.

"This issue showed that the Zionists [Israelis] and Americans must know that no place is safe for them anymore," Mohsen Kazemini was quoted as saying by Fars.

Separately, the Guards' top commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on Sunday he saw no chance of a military strike on Iran, ISNA reported.

Jafari's comments were in contrast to a statement last month in which he said he expected Israel eventually to go beyond threats and attack Iran.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.