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May 28, 2017

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Iran, US deny report of new nuclear talks

TEHRAN/JERUSALEM -- Iran on Sunday denied a New York Times report that it was engaged in direct bilateral talks with the United States over its disputed nuclear program.

"We are not involved in such a thing right now," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters when asked about the newspaper's article.

The White House on Saturday also denied the report that cited unnamed officials in President Barack Obama's administration as claiming the U.S. and Iran had agreed in secret talks to one-on-one negotiations on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

The New York Times said Iran had insisted that the negotiations not begin until after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6.

Salehi, meanwhile, did not exclude a resumption of talks between Tehran and the P5+1 group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — after the election.

"In the latest negotiations, it was decided that the next meeting would be held in late November. But no date or venue has been set yet," Salehi said.

The talks with Tehran are being pursued by the West, in addition to a series of sanctions imposed by Europe, the United States and the U.N. Security Council, with the aim of pressuring Iran to curb its program of uranium enrichment.

But those talks have stalled for years, with the latest round collapsing in Moscow in June.

Salehi's announcement confirms a statement by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov who said on Thursday that new talks were possible in November between Tehran and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1 in the talks.

"It would be realistic to talk about organizing one in November," Ryabkov said while refusing to speculate where such a meeting might take place.

Western powers accuse Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, a charge which Iran has repeatedly denied, saying its nuclear energy program is purely for peaceful purposes.

Israel's deputy premier said on Sunday that while he was aware of U.S. attempts to directly negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, he did not believe such talks had actually taken place.

"It's no secret that there were attempts to use the fact the United States participated in the P5+1 talks and met Iranians in these meetings to also create direct contact with Iran," senior cabinet minister Moshe Yaalon said.

His remarks came after the New York Times reported that Washington and Tehran had agreed to one-on-one negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

Speaking to Israel public radio, Yaalon said that Iran was, "in principle, against this, up to this moment."

"I believe the White House denial at this point."

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