Top Ministers: Israel Knows Nothing of Breakthrough in Iran-U.S. Nuclear Talks

New York Times cites U.S. officials as saying that Tehran, Washington agree to direct talks following secret negotiations; Ya'alon: Secret talks take place, without results.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel didn't receive any information concerning a reported breakthrough in secret nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran, senior government ministers said on Sunday, amid reports of Iran's agreement to hold direct talks with the United States.

On Saturday, the New York Times cited U.S. officials as saying that Washington and Tehran had agreed for the first time to launch one-on-one negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, a result of secret talks between top American officials and aides to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to the report, the sides agreed to hold a meeting immediately after the identity of the next U.S. president is determined in the November 6 presidential elections. The White House was quick to deny the report, saying that no such meeting was set.

However, according to a report by NBC news earlier Sunday, senior officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration confirmed that back-door talks had taken place, adding that a meeting has yet to be set.

Speaking to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, the U.S. officials added that Israel, as well as the other nations involved in Iran talks – Russia, China, Germany, Britain, and France – were all updated on the talks.

Later on Sunday, Iran denied the report, with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi saying: "We don't have any discussions or negotiations with America."

"The [nuclear] talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of nations. Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States," he added.

Despite these reports, however, a string of top Israeli officials indicated that Israel had no knowledge of secret talks, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman telling Army Radio that he knew nothing of the matter and that Israel wasn't updated.

Lieberman also attacked the idea of renewing negotiations with Iran or of lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Tehran, saying that the international community must instead increase economic measures against the Islamic Republic.

Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon also denied the report, saying he wasn't aware of any information concerning any direct talks between Washington and Tehran planned to take place following the election.

"It's no secret that clandestine contacts between the Americans and the Iranians had taken place, and that there had been attempts to take advantage of the fact that the United States is part of the talks the six powers are holding with the Iranians in order to advance direct negotiations," Ya'alon said, adding that "Iran has consistently refused to hold above-board talks with the United States."

In addition, aides to Defense Minister Ehud Barak emphasized that the information published in the New York Times report was not known to defense establishment officials.

Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told the New York Times that Israel wasn't told of talks with Iran, if such negotiations did in fact take place.

Despite these comments, the Prime Minister's Office refused to comment on the report, and it was not yet clear if Netanyahu would refer to the New York Times piece in the traditional photo-op opening the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.

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The Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Credit: AP

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