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.
Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their US counterparts that they want to know which American president they would be negotiating with.
News of the agreement — a result of intense, secret exchanges between US 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 a day before the final debate, which is to focus on national security and foreign policy.
It has the potential to help 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 also pose a risk if Iran is seen as using the prospect of the direct talks to buy more time.
It is also far from clear that Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election. Romney has repeatedly criticized the president as showing weakness toward Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.
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