One-on-One Talks: U.S. and Iran, on Iran’s Nuclear Program?

The New York Times has a scoop in the Sunday paper: “U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks.”

The dispatch, datelined Washington, says there have been “intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term” in 2009.  Helen Cooper and Mark Landler write that talks, after America’s Election Day, “could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.”

[The White House, on Saturday night, issued a denial: “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 from the National Security Council spokesman adds that, while efforts for “a diplomatic solution” continue through the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council + Germany), the Obama Administration has “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”]

Several Iranian dissidents living in exile have claimed, in recent weeks, that a deal has already been reached — for Iran to freeze or suspend its uranium enrichment in some verifiable way, in exchange for a cancellation of the harshest economic sanctions against Iran.

One of those Iranians, using the false name Reza Kahlili, says he was a Revolutionary Guards member who spied inside his native country for the CIA.  (U.S. officials do not dispute the essence of the story in his book, A Time to Betray.)

“Kahlili” has been distributing an on-line article he wrote that suggests Iran could soon announce it is stopping uranium enrichment — in an effort to ensure an election victory for Barack Obama.  This, he said, was the result of secret talks in an Arabian Gulf country.  [Saturday night, in an e-mail, Kahlili said the Times story is confirmation of what he has been writing.]

Kahlili’s prediction of an October Surprise has not seemed to pick up much traction among think-tank scholars and others who track Western efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

At an appearance this past week at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Peace in Washington, a former chief of Israel’s foreign intelligence service — the Mossad — said the West should be talking with Iran.  Efraim Halevy, the Mossad director from 1998 to 2002, said the best wars are the ones that are won without firing a shot. Halevy suggested that Iran’s leaders must be persuaded that having nuclear weapons would be “more dangerous to them” than to anyone else.

Halevy suggested that “red lines,” demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are not conducive to diplomacy.  He also said Iran should not be told repeatedly that its nuclear ambitions are an “existential threat” to Israel — because then you are telling your enemy that if he sticks with his current plan, he will be able to defeat you.

Halevy, 78, expressed confidence that Israel will find solutions and countermeasures to whatever a hostile Iran may develop.

An official response to the report that direct talks are being planned came from Israel’s ambassador in Washington — Michael Oren — who told The New York Times that Israel has not been informed of any negotiations in the works.  Oren also expressed concern that Iran would use talks to “advance their nuclear weapons program.”


October 21, 2012

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