The U.S. and Iran have quietly agreed to hold their first one-on-one negotiations over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, say Helene Cooper and Mark Landler at The New York Times, a development that could have a major impact on the presidential race as President Obama and Mitt Romney prepare for a third and final debate that will focus on foreign policy. The White House is publicly denying the report, but Romney has long attacked Obama for being soft on Iran, and the latest news is sure to be welcomed by the GOP candidate, say Ben Smith and Zeke Miller at BuzzFeed:
Iran... is one arena in which Republicans believe they have a strong case to make. Neither Obama's early, extended hand, nor his later push toward sanctions, appear to have stopped the country's nuclear program, which Iran asserts — to international skepticism — is peaceful.
Romney's campaign had no comment Saturday, but Republicans said they expect Iran, and Saturday's news, to take center stage in the final debate of the presidential cycle Monday, which will focus on foreign policy.
"This whole thing should be a gift for Mitt," said a Republican operative who works on foreign policy. "It's an embarrassing reminder of how little progress they've made on Iran and it comes on the eve of the foreign policy debate."
Indeed, the very notion of negotiations could make Obama look naive, since Iran has long used diplomatic overtures as a way to stall for time. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin makes the case at The Washington Post:
Iran promising to talk to the United States is nothing new. It has been playing rope-a-dope with President Obama and his team for almost four years. It agrees to talks or to have talks about talks, all the while moving closer to a nuclear weapons capability. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (and a Romney adviser and surrogate) John Bolton told me, “Iran has always been prepared to negotiate — when it suits them. That is the history of the last 10 years.”
However, negotiations with Iran could also be seen as a major diplomatic breakthrough, and evidence that crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies have worked, says Brian Knowlton at The New York Times:
Supporters of President Obama, in the meantime, said that the tough international sanctions that the president helped marshal against Iran may be bearing fruit exactly as hoped — that Tehran was finally blinking…
David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, said he had no knowledge about possible United States-Iranian talks.
“But here is what I do know,” he said on Meet the Press. “For two years, the president traveled the world putting together a withering international coalition, and now, the sanctions that they agreed on are bringing the Iranian economy to its knees.”
And the American public isn't eager to plunge into yet another war in the Middle East. Military action can only be a last resort, says The Jerusalem Post in an editorial:
Negotiations should be given “one last chance,” particularly unprecedented direct talks between Iran and the U.S. This should be done not because we have faith such talks really have a chance of succeeding. Rather, it should be done for the sake of the American people, and of the citizens of other Western countries.
As sanctions continue to take their toll and a military strike becomes more likely, Americans and citizens of other Western countries should know that every option for a peaceful resolution to the dispute with Iran has truly been exhausted.
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