Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei turned down the US offer of one-on-one talks on its nuclear program Thursday, Feb. 7, just 24 hours after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that due to budgetary constraints, the US could only keep one, not two, US aircraft carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf, and had cancelled the departure of a second carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman.
On Saturday, US Vice-President Joe Biden suggested direct talks – separate from the wider international discussions scheduled for Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. No previous negotiations in this format over the years have ever produced a breakthrough.
Biden said Washington was prepared for direct talks with Iran “when the Iranian leadership, supreme leader, is serious”. “That offer stands,” he said later, “but it must be real and tangible and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise,” he said.
The cancellation of the Harry Truman’s departure for the Gulf leaves a single US aircraft carrier in the vast naval region of the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean and southern part of the Indian Ocean bordering on Africa, debkafile’s military sources report, and no US fleet presence opposite Syria.
Khamenei did not say so specifically, but his rejection of dialogue with Washington was undoubtedly influenced by President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to Israel. By the metaphor of “holding a gun against Iran,” the Iranian leader was not just reacting to the new sanctions; he was also hitting back at the White House announcement’s stress that the president’s talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would focus on Iran and Syria – as debkafile reported Wednesday.
The expectation is that Obama and Netanyahu will confer on the military option both governments have reserved for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
Khamenei’s rejection of face-to-face talks does not cancel the international negotiations scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan. It does, however, render them more pointless than ever.
Full article: Ali Khamenei shuts door on direct nuclear talks with US (DEBKAfile)