(CNSNews.com) – In the final presidential debate, President Obama dismissed reports about an agreement to hold one-on-one talks with Iranian officials after the election, but now, two weeks later, fresh claims have emerged on the eve of Tuesday’s election, this time tying senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to alleged secret talks with representatives of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Israel’s mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot newspaper cited unidentified Israeli officials as saying the talks had been led by the Iranian-born Jarrett, were held in Bahrain, and had taken place over “several months.”
Mideast expert Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel, said the “story should be taken very seriously.” He noted that it was reported by the Israeli paper’s defense correspondent, Alex Fishman, “considered to be a reliable reporter with good sources in the Israeli government.”
Attempts to get White House reaction to the claims late Monday were unsuccessful.
This is the second time in recent weeks that Jarrett’s name has been linked to alleged discussions with Iran. Last month, a former CIA operative who worked in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Reza Kahlili, cited Iranian regime sources as saying Jarrett had held secret talks with senior Iranians in Qatar.
According to Kahlili’s reports, which appeared in World Net Daily, attempts were made to reach agreement on the announcement of a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff before the Nov. 6 U.S. election.
Kahlili said the Iranian team was headed by Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister. Velayati is a special advisor to the supreme leader on foreign affairs, and a potential candidate in next year’s Iranian presidential election. He is also wanted by Argentinian prosecutors in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Jarrett was born to American parents in Shiraz, Iran, where her father worked as a physician. A Chicago lawyer close to Barack and Michelle Obama, she is a senior adviser to the president and heads the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Last July, she took part in a White House roundtable with Iranian-American organizations, including the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that advocates “strategic engagement” with Tehran.
CNSNews.com asked NIAC spokesman Jamal Abdi late Monday whether negotiations with Iran had come up during the roundtable discussions.
“A majority of Iranian Americans support U.S.-Iran diplomacy as the best way to prevent war and address human rights, so the issue was raised at the White House event, but in very broad terms,” he replied. “There was nothing specific discussed about negotiations and not with Ms. Jarrett.”
Abdi voiced skepticism about the latest claim of secret talks.
“I would take these reports with a grain of salt, particularly given the improbability of Bahrain as the location,” he said.
At the same time, Abdi was supportive of the need for negotiations, and saw value in holding them out of the public eye.
“Direct talks are certainly a better course than war and sanctions on innocent people. We will need real diplomacy to resolve security concerns about Iran's nuclear work, seriously address human rights abuses in Iran, and put an end to inhumane sanctions,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”
“Political nonsense on all sides has derailed the few public negotiations that have held over the past few years, so talks outside of the spotlight may be a good thing,” Abdi added.
‘Intense, secret exchanges’
In a front page story on October 21, the New York Times reported that “The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials.”
It said the agreement was “a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term.”
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor at the time denied that an agreement had been reached but added that the administration had “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”
The Iranian foreign ministry also denied the report, and the next day, during the Oct. 22 debate with Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama said reports of a deal were “not true.” (Several minutes later, he confirmed having a policy of “potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”)
The New York Times stood by its story; Executive Editor Jill Abramson said that the White House was “hair-splitting” in its denial that there was an agreement.
While campaigning for the presidency, then Sen. Obama was asked during a Jul. 2007 presidential primary debate whether as president he would meet with the leaders of Iran (as well as those of Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea) “in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries.”
He replied that he would, adding that “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them – which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this [George W. Bush] administration – is ridiculous.”
After he took office Obama offered to engage with Iranian leaders who were willing to “unclench their fist” and in a March 2009 Nowruz (Persian new year) message called for “a new beginning” in relations.
A year later, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hotly-disputed re-election, a violent crackdown and continuing nuclear defiance, Obama in a Nowruz 2010 message told Tehran again that “our offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands.”
Iran hid its nuclear program from the international community for almost two decades before it was exposed by opponents of the regime in 2002. Over the drawn-out standoff with the international community ever since it has consistently maintained that the activities are peaceful, despite the growing concerns of Western governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late last month that Iran’s opportunities to resolve the nuclear dispute diplomatically were running out.
“The window remains open to resolve the international community’s concerns about your nuclear program diplomatically and to relieve your isolation, but that window cannot remain open indefinitely,” she said after talks with European Union foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton. “Therefore, we hope that there can be serious, good-faith negotiations commenced soon.”