The New York Times is reporting that the rumors were true, the Obama administration has been secretly negotiating with Iran.
The United States and Iran have agreed 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.
In an exclusive report in Sunday’s New York Times, Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, citing Obama administration officials, write that Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election so that they know which American president they would be dealing with.
News of the agreement comes at a critical moment in the presidential contest. It has the potential to help President Obama make a case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough in the effort 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. It is also far from clear that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election.
It has the potential to help Mr. Obama make a 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.
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 toward Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.
Reports of the agreement have circulated among a small group of diplomats involved with Iran.
There is still a chance the initiative could fall through, even if Mr. Obama is re-elected. Iran has a long history of using the promise of diplomacy to ease international pressure on it. In this case, American officials said they were uncertain whether Iran’s opaque supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had signed off. The American understandings have been reached with senior Iranian officials who report to him, an administration official said.
There’s many ways to read this news, but one thing is sure is that it will change things for Monday’s debate.
Update: The White House is denying the report.