President Obama and Mitt Romney will debate foreign policy tonight amid questions over the prospect of direct U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks.
The New York Times reported Saturday that the United States and Iran "have agreed in principle" to one-on-one negotiations in an effort to dissuade the Iranians from pursuing the means to make nuclear weapons -- but only after the presidential election Nov. 6.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said, "It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections."
In a statement, Vietor said the U.S. continues to work with allies "on a diplomatic solution," but "we have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally."
The Times reported that the potential talks "could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran."
Iran's nuclear ambitions will likely be a topic at the last scheduled presidential debate between Obama and Romney today at 9 p.m. ET at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
On the campaign trail, the Republican presidential nominee has said Obama has been ineffective in efforts to block Iran from obtaining the means to make a nuclear weapon.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Romney ally, told Fox News Sunday that reports of one-on-one talks are "a ploy" by Iran to "take advantage of our election cycle."
"The time for talking is over," Graham said, and "we should be demanding transparency and access to the (Iranian) nuclear program."
Obama and aides have said global sanctions are working, leading to food shortages and currency problems in Iran and forcing its leader to reconsider its nuclear strategy.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., an Obama backer, told the Fox show that unrest in Iran is a sign that sanctions are working, and "putting pressure" on the nation's leaders "to sit down and finally acknowledge that they cannot have a nuclear weapon, I think it is a positive step forward."
Israeli officials have discussed the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is only for peaceful, energy-producing purposes.
Direct talks between the United States and Iran would be less likely if Romney won the U.S. election. In addition, the Times story noted, "There is still a chance the initiative could fall through, even if Obama is re-elected. Iran has a history of using the promise of diplomacy to ease international pressure on it."
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