Iranian officials say they won’t be pushed into opening talks with US

Iranian officials say they won’t be pushed into opening talks with US

Analyst says election victory gives Obama a wider mandate to coax Tehran to the negotiating table

Outside the former US Embassy in Tehran. (photo credit:  CC BY Örlygur Hnefill, Flickr)
Outside the former US Embassy in Tehran. (photo credit: CC BY Örlygur Hnefill, Flickr)

Iran won’t be pressured into engaging in bilateral talks with the US over its nuclear program, a top Tehran official said Wednesday, in a message seemingly aimed at tempering hopes for progress in the wake of US President Barack Obama’s reelection.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of Iran’s human rights council, told the semi-official Mehr News that Tehran would only come to the negotiating table on its own terms and only if it benefited the Islamic Republic, according to a report by the state-run Fars news agency.

His comments came hours after Obama secured a second term in the Oval Office. Reports had surfaced several weeks ago that the US and Iran had held secret talks to open a new diplomatic channel and that Iran was awaiting the results of the election to make a decision. Both countries denied the reports at the time.

“Negotiations with the US due to pressure is not acceptable to us,” Larijani said during a speech in the northern Iranian city of Anzali. “Negotiations with the US should [be contemplated] while having the country’s interests in mind.”

His comments were echoed by his brother, judiciary head Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani. (A third brother, Ali Larijani, heads the country’s parliament.)

“Relations with the US are not easy and after all the US pressures and crimes against the Iranian people, such relations are not possible overnight,” Amoli Larijani said Wednesday, according to Fars. “The Americans should not imagine that they can blackmail our nation by sitting at the negotiating table with Iran.”

Though the White House denied it had held talks with Iran over establishing bilateral negotiations over its nuclear program, it said an offer to Iran to open talks had been on the table since Obama took office in 2009.

The US and much of Europe have levied heavy economic sanctions against Iran as a means of pushing the country to the negotiating table and to abandon its nuclear program, which is widely believed to be for military purposes.

Officials in Jerusalem, which believes time is running low to stop Iran from reaching nuclear weapons capability, say they would support bilateral talks with Tehran, though they harbor few hopes for its success.

“If the US decides to talk with Iran over a limited and relatively short period just to see if it is possible to get it to stop its nuclear program, we would have nothing to say about this,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 10 news on Wednesday. He added that Iranian attempts to drag out the talks, as Israel says the country has done with the six world powers engaged in several rounds of negotiations over the last few years, could lead to new tensions.

Talks between Iran and the five United Nations Security Council countries and Germany, known as the P5+1, are expected to resume in the next two months, though they have so far failed to yield any progress.

Some analysts believe Obama’s reelection may offer the Iranians a chance to advance negotiations and back down before Israel or the US decide to act militarily.

“The chances of getting negotiations up and running are much better with Obama, and he’s likely to go for that,” an unnamed Western diplomat based in Tehran told Reuters. “The clock is ticking and we need to get it sorted. If the Iranians are looking for a way to climb down, this is a good chance.”

Last month Israeli daily Maariv reported that Obama had offered Iran a wide-ranging incentive package that would involve reopening full diplomatic ties with Tehran, in a bid to pull the country back from its nuclear program.

Gary Sick, an Iran expert and former US national security official, told Reuters that by securing four more years in Washington, Obama now had a wider mandate to coax Iran to the negotiating table.

“Obama has prepared the ground very carefully and has the option of trying to cut some kind of a deal on the nuclear issue, and that’s worth a lot to him,” he said.

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