U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks
UPDATE: Found in comments from Au Auric
NYTimes caught editing Iran Story after WH denials
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.
|Why hello-o-o-o October surprise...|
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.
|Waiting on a little, um, flexibility...|
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.
|Just a coincidence, of course...|
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.
|Champ would never use one of the most sensitive diplomatic issues of our day just for crass political purposes. Nope, not a chance...|
The White House publicly denied the report on Saturday evening. "It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections," said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. 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.
|Note the weasel words: 'after the elections'. Next Monday would be just fine...|
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.
|None of whom will allow themselves to be named in a NYT article, of course...|
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.
|Thus Khamenei has the convenient out if he wants to use it...|
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 could, for example, spend a few weeks arguing over the color of the tablecloth...|
"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.
|You might not, but Champ is getting desperate...|
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.
|He doesn't have to, and it's better if he doesn't. Remember that Reagan told the Iranians to take Carter's deal as it was the best one they'd ever get. That was exactly the right way to handle it while Carter was still president.|
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.
|Romney won't say a word about this at the debate or before the election. After the election he will, as President-Elect, have more options, but he'll still be smart not to say anything publicly. The campaign can put generic statements out there about not politicizing sensitive foreign policy issues just before the election. The American people will get it; they'll understand that this is nothing more than Champ making a desperate swing at the fences. They'll judge accordingly...|
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 weapons program."
|Iran is allowed by international law -- as a signer of the IAEA -- to enrich up to five percent for peaceful purposes. In return they're supposed to make their entire processing and enrichment system open to the IAEA. That's what we have to demand, and we don't negotiate over that. Let them enrich for the purposes of generating electricity, but demand complete compliance with the treaty that they themselves signed.|
"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, Thomas E. Donilon, and two of his lieutenants, Denis R. McDonough and Gary Samore.
|As I was just saying, but Iran will respond that it's already allowed to do that. The key here is that Iran, as a regional bully, wants MORE from us in return for them agreeing to follow the treaty that they previously signed. Then they'll break their word by hiding parts of their program (that part which goes kaboom) and we'll have to have another round of negotiations. See North Korea for how this works. You fix this by reminding Iran that they MUST comply with the IAEA rules, and that there will be NO 'negotiations' over this point.|
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."
|Mr. Romney recognizes that Iran wants bombs and is willing to cheat as much as is required to have them.|
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.
|That's not a shift, that's just another way of saying the same thing.|
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.
|Which means we're in the driver's seat, or would be if Champ wasn't so desperate...|
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.
|As a wise old man once said, "stay the course".|
Posted by: Steve White 2012-10-21