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Khamenei approval required for direct US talks: Salehi
by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Nov 12, 2012


Israel official at White House for Syria, Iran talks
Washington (AFP) Nov 12, 2012 - President Barack Obama's national security advisor met Monday with his Israeli counterpart at the White House for talks on the conflict in Syria and Iran's nuclear program, officials said.

The meeting was the first high-level dialogue between US and Israeli officials at the White House since Obama was re-elected on November 6, and at a time when tensions between Israel and both Syria and the Gaza Strip are rising.

"National Security Advisor Tom Donilon hosted a delegation of senior Israeli officials on November 12 for consultations on Iran, Syria, and a range of other regional security issues," Donilon's spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

The Israeli delegation was led by Yaakov Amidror, the head of Israel's National Security Council.

The meetings "were the latest in a series of regular, high-level consultations between the United States and Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security," Vietor said in a statement.

The Israeli army said Monday that it had fired tank shells into Syria, confirming "direct hits" on the source of a mortar round that struck the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Also on Monday, the Jewish state was weighing up possible responses to a spike in violence over the border between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

On Sunday, Obama told Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas he remained opposed to a Palestinian bid for non-state membership of the United Nations.

The US president spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, two days after his re-election.

Netanyahu, whose job will be on the line in early elections called for January, was taken to task by former premier Ehud Olmert, who said Netanyahu had backed Obama's Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

Iran stressed on Monday that any decision to hold direct talks with the United States on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme would have to be taken by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The two arch-foes have previously held indirect discussions within regional forums on subjects such as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq but holding direct bilateral talks would be "different," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters.

"A decision on comprehensive, bilateral political talks between the two countries ... is up to the supreme leader," Salehi said when asked about Russia's expressed backing of any one-on-one meetings between Tehran and Washington.

Deputy Russian foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Financial Times at the weekend that Russia would support direct US-Iran talks.

"We will not have a word against this. Of course, we would hope we would be informed on the content of these arrangements," Ryabkov said.

"We want something that will bring everyone out of this morass," he said.

Speculation about possible direct talks between Tehran and Washington surfaced after Iran, reeling from international sanctions over its nuclear programme, found itself facing four more years with Barack Obama as leader of the United States.

Iran has not ruled out direct talks with Washington but says these will not come overnight.

Salehi on Monday also expressed hope that negotiations on its nuclear programme with the P5+1 -- the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany -- would resume soon.

"In a way, we are in contact with the US through negotiations with the P5+1," Salehi said.

"We hope the (next) meeting will soon happen ... We are prepared for the resumption of talks so each side can achieve satisfactory results," Salehi said.

The P5+1 has for years sought through negotiations with Iran to defuse an international crisis over Tehran's atomic ambitions, which the West believes has military aims despite repeated denials by the Islamic republic.

The last high-level talks, which all but failed, were held in Moscow in June.

According to Salehi, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the world powers in the talks, are to hold a telephone conversation before November 21 "to decide on a venue and date."

The UN Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on the Islamic regime, which coupled with unilateral Western restrictions on its oil sector and banks, have begun to cause major problems for its economy.

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