Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing to trade barbs on foreign policy in the final presidential debate, a WND story about secret nuclear talks with Iran has gotten the world talking and may make its way onto the stage Monday night.
Now sources close to the Romney campaign also report the governor’s inner circle has been briefed on the WND story and is taking it seriously as debate preparations continue.
WND broke the story last week quoting Iranian sources as saying a deal has already been brokered between high-ranking U.S. administration negotiators and a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that calls for Iran to halt part of its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of many U.S. sanctions against the Islamic regime.
The next day, the New York Times followed up with a story reporting Obama administration officials had confirmed the U.S. and Iran had agreed to one-on-one talks in what could be “a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.”
The White House, however, quickly responded with an email denying the reports: “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections.”
Iranian officials have likewise denied the reports of any new negotiations.
“We don’t have any discussions or negotiations with America,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told a news conference, according to Reuters. “The [nuclear] talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of nations. Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States.”
The P5+1 group comprises the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, Great Britain, China, France and Russia, plus Germany.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency reported Salehi suggested Iran would hold talks with the P5+1 “probably in late November.”
Reuters reports a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating the efforts of the P5+1, said, “We hope that we will pick up discussions soon, but there is no date at the moment.”
Yet the Russians have also pegged November as a talking summit between Iran and P5+1.
“It would be realistic to talk about organizing one in November,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, according to the Tehran Times.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu similarly claimed no knowledge of any breakthrough in nuclear talks with Iran but added Iran is likely to use talks as a plot to continue advancing its nuclear program, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Last month, Netanyahu claimed Jerusalem and Washington were talking about pressuring Iran further and advocated setting clear lines that, if crossed, would prompt military action.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, hesitated to set a clear line in the sand, saying negotiations were “by far the best approach.”
“We’re watching very carefully about what they do,” she said, “because it’s always been more about their actions than their words.”
Time, however, may be of the essence.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe-1 Radio today that unspecified experts “have established in an absolutely indisputable way” that Iran has obtained centrifuge technology that “apparently will allow the ability to go toward possession of the nuclear weapon by the first half of next year, the end of the first half.”
While the New York Times reports Iranian officials insist further nuclear talks wait until after the election so Tehran knows with whom they’ll be negotiating, WND sources say one of the enticements for Iran to announce a halt to enrichment now is to assist Barack Obama’s re-election chances. Mitt Romney is seen as less yielding than Obama and a president who will be quick to support Israel.
WND’s source, who remains anonymous for security reasons and is highly placed in Iran’s regime, said that once Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, received a letter from Obama guaranteeing the details of the agreement, he would authorize an announcement by Iran on a solution to the nuclear crisis before the U.S. presidential elections.
The source in Tehran said Khamenei has made it clear that unless he received Obama’s written guarantees, he would not begin the process, which would dramatically boost Obama’s re-election chances. If the guarantees are not given, Khamenei warned, Iran will speed up its nuclear program.
The Iranians, Morris said, may prefer another four years of Obama to the possibility of a Romney presidency.
“I think they feel that Romney would assist Israel in attacking them,” Morris said.
“The Iranians have a real history of intervening in U.S. elections,” Morris said in an appearance Saturday on Fox News. “Bear in mind that in 1980, they did not release the hostages until after the election because they wanted to defeat [President Carter].”
Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a highly regarded expert on Iran, affirms the essence of the WND report: “One-on-one negotiations have been going on for years (most recently, according to my friend ‘Reza Kahlili,’ in Doha, where, he was told, Valerie Jarrett and other American officials recently traveled for the latest talks). The only news here is that the talks would no longer be secret. And the notion that only diplomacy can avert ‘a military strike on Iran’ is fanciful. There are at least two other ways: sanctions may compel the regime to stop its nuclear weapons program, or the Iranian people may find a way to overthrow the regime, thereby (perhaps, at least) rendering military action unnecessary.”
“So what is happening?” Ledeen asks. “The most likely explanation is that Obama is still desperately seeking his grand bargain, the one that would validate his (and the Nobel Committee’s) claim to be a talented peace maker. That deal is not available, because the Iranians don’t want it. But he wants something to show for his efforts, so he settled for a big nothingburger: an agreement to talk some more.”
Ledeen concludes that the story is likely to get bigger in the next few days and possibly be a topic of Monday night’s debate.
Already, talking points are emerging on both sides of the political aisle over nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Fox News today, for example, said the “time for talking is over.”
“We should be demanding transparency and access to their nuclear program,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“There’s a pattern here: We talk, they enrich,” Graham said. “It needs to stop. We need to have red lines coordinated with Israel and end this before it gets out of hand.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., however, told Fox News the latest developments are proof sanctions imposed on Iran are working.
“There’s unrest in the streets of Tehran and the leaders in Iran are feeling it,” Durbin said. “That’s exactly what we want the sanctions program to do.”
He called news of one-on-one talks with Iran “a clear indication that the sanctions regime that President Obama has put together with Israel and many other nations across the world is putting pressure on Iran to sit down and acknowledge that they cannot have a nuclear weapon.”
Watch for WND correspondent Reza Kahlili’s upcoming appearance on “Fox and Friends.”
Media interested in interviewing Kahlili are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.