AFP: The United States on Monday denied a British press report of back-channel talks between Washington and Iran on Tehran's controversial nuclear program.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Monday denied a British press report of back-channel talks between Washington and Iran on Tehran's controversial nuclear program.
In London, The Independent newspaper reported Monday that a group of former US diplomats and foreign policy experts had been holding talks for the past five years with Iranian academics and policy advisers, in hopes of reaching a breakthrough on the diplomatic impasse.
But a White House official on Monday, speaking anonymously, said "clear channels" exist for communication with Iran, and that the approach described in the Independent article "isn't one of them."
The daily quoted former US undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering as saying that the United States had pursued five years of talks with Iran, despite decades of tense relations publicly, and amid continuing strife over the Islamic Republic's failure to heed international ultimatums that it suspend uranium enrichment.
The US State Department was equally emphatic that the talks described in the article were "not a government activity," but instead "a set of private discussions."
"It is not a channel for negotiation. It is not a channel to pass messages. It has no official standing whatsoever," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman.
Casey said however that the United States was not indisposed to the talks going ahead.
"It is a set of private discussions by private individuals and we are happy to see those move forward. But no one should mistake that for any kind of formal, informal or any kind of channel. Period."
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported last week that the Bush administration has launched "an interagency assessment of what is known about Iranian activities and intentions, how to combat them and how to capitalize on them."
The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980, after Iranian students seized the US embassy and held hundreds of US diplomats captive in the aftermath of its revolution, and the two countries have had tense relations ever since.