Israel Questions Possible US-Iran Talks

Amidst reports and denials that the US and Iran have agreed to bilateral talks on Tehran’s nuclear program, Israel has expressed skepticism regarding Iranian intentions. The New York Times reported late last week that US officials said America and the Islamic Republic had reached an arrangement in principle following secret discussions.

The New York Times claimed Israeli officials had showed an “openness” to a diplomatic move with Iran. However, the paper also cited White House spokesman Tommy Vietor as denying such a US-Iran deal had actually been reached and Israel has denied knowledge of the talks as well. NBC later reported Iran and the US have been talking, but there’s not yet an agreement on direct negotiations.

Numerous details, including the eventual US negotiating proposal and allowed limits on Iranian uranium enrichment, are reportedly still unsettled. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also unsettled by the prospect.

“Israel doesn’t know about these contacts and I can’t confirm that they’ve actually taken place. I can say that Iran used the talks and negotiations with the Five Powers to drag its feet and to gain time to advance its nuclear weapons program,” said Netanyahu, referring to stalled negotiations between Iran and the five superpowers—the US, France, the UK, Russia and China, plus Germany, also known as the P5 +1.

“In the last year alone, in the course of these talks, Iran has enriched thousands of kilograms of uranium in its nuclear program. And I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t continue in that same way if they open up talks with the US.”

In the comments released by Netanyahu’s office on Sunday, the Israeli leader said the international community needed to set “very clear demands” on Iran: “halting uranium enrichment, removing all enriched uranium and dismantling” the Fordo underground enrichment facility.

“I think that the best chance to succeed in halting Iran’s nuclear program diplomatically is a combination of very sharp sanctions and a credible military option,” said Netanyahu. “In any event, I can say that as long as I am the Prime Minister of Israel, Israel will not allow Iran to reach a military nuclear capability.”

The US and Israel have gone back and forth over red lines on Iran’s nuclear program, although there was a report from Foreign Policy earlier this month that the two nations had grown closer on the Iranian matter.

It remains to be seen if the talks reported by The New York Times will actually take place. The article itself said it was unclear if Iran had given final approval. Publicly, Tehran is denying the report.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in a press conference on Sunday, rejected the Times’ claims. He was quoted by Fars as saying, “We do not have anything called negotiations with the US.”

PressTV reported that Salehi did say Iran could meet with the P5+1 powers in late November, although exact plans had not been settled yet.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, October 21, 2012)