Israel Hayom Reports: Israel Radio reported that the Israeli response to the news had shifted overnight: At first Israeli officials voiced hesitant support for bilateral U.S.-Iranian talks, with one official saying, “Israel doesn’t care how the Iranian nuclear program is stopped, as long as it is stopped.”
But later, the official response shifted to marked concern that this was merely another Iranian attempt to buy time, in the face of growing economic hardships brought on by global sanctions. Officials are convinced that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons and therefore any additional negotiations would be futile. But Jerusalem sources also voiced hope that the diplomatic efforts would bear fruit and obviate the need for a military attack.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon confirmed that the U.S. was in fact in contact with Iran, but not directly. In an interview with Israel Radio, Ya’alon said, “There have been attempts to take advantage of the fact that U.S. representatives meet with Iranian officials during world power gatherings. But [Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei is opposed to such direct contact.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that while he hoped the New York Times report was not true, he believed potential talks would only serve as an Iranian ploy to further deceive the West.
Lieberman was among the first Israeli politicians to respond to the report, telling Army Radio Sunday that “no one in Israel knew. The only thing we noticed was something on the Russian Foreign Ministry website along the same lines as the New York Times report, suggesting possible talks immediately after the elections.”
“We hope that this [report] is unsubstantiated,” Lieberman said. “I want to believe the denial issued by the White House; they have a lot of experience. The negotiations with Iran did not begin yesterday, and not the day before. There are 10 years of cumulative experience and the Iranians have deceived the Security Council and the P5+1 time and time again.”
Homefront Defense Minister Avi Dichter also addressed the report, telling Israel Radio on Sunday, “Any type of dialogue is the preferred course of action, and I presume the prime minister agrees. The problem is that we can’t go by a report in The New York Times. We need an official confirmation.”
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said, “What I know is that Israel has won a significant diplomatic victory in imposing the nearly strangling sanctions on the Iranian economy, which is on the verge of collapse. I don’t envy the Iranian finance minister; the situation there is worse than in Europe. The U.S. is a sovereign country and it can decide its policy on its own. But both [U.S. President Barack] Obama and [Republican presidential challenger Mitt] Romney clearly understand that the U.S. cannot contain a nuclear Iran.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also denied the New York Times report, telling reporters in Dubai that “we are holding no discussions or negotiations with the U.S.” but adding that talks on the issue with the West were ongoing.