|U.S. and Iran are edging toward direct talks: Los Angeles Times||
TEHRAN – Signaling a possible thaw in long-frozen relations, the Obama administration and the new leadership in Iran are communicating about Syria and are moving behind the scenes toward direct talks that both governments hope can ease the escalating confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear program, the Los Angeles Times said in an article published on Wednesday.
President Obama reportedly reached out to Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rohani, through an exchange of letters in recent weeks. The pragmatist cleric is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, and U.S. officials say it is possible they will meet with Rohani on the sidelines.
Beyond that, U.S. and Iranian officials are tentatively laying the groundwork for potential face-to-face talks between the two governments, the first in the rancorous 34 years since the foundation of the Islamic Republic.
Both governments have issued conciliatory public statements in recent days that suggest a new willingness to scale back the tension.
Obama suggested in four TV interviews this week, for example, that Iran had played a constructive role in pushing Syrian President Bashar Assad to refrain from using chemical weapons.
“You know, one reason that this may have a chance of success is that even Syria’s allies, like Iran, detest chemical weapons,” Obama told CNN. “Iran, you know, unfortunately was the target of chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein back during the Iraq-Iran War.”
Washington and Tehran have exchanged private messages about the civil war in Syria, according to Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, although he did not reveal the substance.
Zarif’s prominent role marks a clear shift in Tehran. The graduate of San Francisco State University and the University of Denver, and a popular diplomat when he was Iran’s envoy to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007, has been named to lead Iran’s nuclear negotiating team.
White House officials said Wednesday that they would not confirm or comment on Obama’s private correspondence. But Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the administration was ready to talk if Iran was serious.
Meehan said, “Should this new government choose to engage substantially and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this (nuclear) issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States.”
Reportedly, Obama in his letter proposed to “turn a new page” in relations, and held out a potential loosening of the economic sanctions that have negatively affected Iran’s economy as part of an effort to persuade Iran to give up nuclear development.
Obama urged Tehran to comply with the demands of the six world powers that have sought, unsuccessfully, to negotiate strict curbs on Iran’s production of enriched uranium. Iran denies it is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Obama’s letter was passed to Iranian officials in the final week of August, when Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman visited Tehran and met with Iranian officials, the reports said. Oman is close to both countries, and Qaboos has been eager to act as a mediator.
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