Obama sees window for diplomacy on Iran
Washington - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he will renew efforts for a diplomatic resolution to Iran's suspected attempt to build a nuclear weapon, but denied that any talks with Tehran were imminent.
Obama told a news conference that reports that emerged before his re-election on November 6 of impending US talks with Iran were “not true and... are not true as of today”. But he said diplomacy remains his preferred option.
“I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and - not just us but the international community - to see if we can get this thing resolved,” he said.
“We're not going let Iran get a nuclear weapon, but I think there is still a window of time for us to resolve this diplomatically,” added Obama.
“I can't promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through, but that would be very much the preferable option,” he said.
Tehran denies US and Israeli allegations it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, saying its programme is entirely peaceful. But United Nations inspectors suspect past, and perhaps ongoing, military-related nuclear work is geared toward building a bomb.
Obama said tough economic sanctions imposed by Western nations were hurting Iran's economy and he believed Iranians could find a way to use nuclear energy peacefully while assuring the world that it is not trying to build a weapon.
In another sign diplomacy between Iran and major powers may be poised to resume, diplomats in Washington said officials from five major world powers and Germany planned to meet next week, possibly in Brussels, to chart strategy for a new round of talks with Iran.
The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany - a group collectively known as the P5+1 - planned to send their foreign ministry political directors to the talks.
In October, diplomats had said they were considering asking Iran for stricter limits on its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions in a long-shot approach aimed at yielding a solution that has eluded them for more than a decade.
One option could be for each side to put more on the table - both in terms of demands and possible rewards - than in previous meetings in a bid to break the stalemate despite deep scepticism about the chances of a breakthrough any time soon.
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to submit its next quarterly Iran report to member states on Friday, 10 days after Obama's re-election raised hope of a revival of diplomacy after hawkish campaign talk and speculation that Israel might strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
The report is expected to show a defiant Iran pressing ahead with expanding its controversial nuclear program, despite harsh Western sanctions targeting its vital oil sector, and continuing to sanitise a military site the IAEA wants to visit.
On the crisis in Syria, Obama welcomed the recent formation of an umbrella group for the Syrian opposition fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, but he stopped short of recognising it as a government in exile.
“I'm encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they've had in the past,” said the president.
“We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people. We're not yet prepared to recognise them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think that it is a broad-based representative group,” he said.
Obama said he also shares Israel's concern about the movement of chemical weapons in Syria during the current fighting and turmoil. - Reuters
VIENNA: Iran is believed to have increased the number of centrifuges in an underground nuclear plant by nearly a third in three months, diplomats say, underlining the tough task facing major powers pressing Tehran to curb its atomic activity.
But despite a major expansion of its capacity to refine uranium at the Fordow facility, buried deep inside a mountain, Iran does not appear to have switched on its newly installed enrichment centrifuges yet, although this could happen soon, they said.
A UN report on Iran’s nuclear program is also likely to show this week that it continues to use some of its most sensitive material for reactor fuel, at least temporarily making it unavailable for any quick atom bomb bid.
This could help in “buying more time for dialogue”, a Western diplomat said, referring to international efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the decade-old dispute and avert the threat of a new Middle East war.
It may also explain why Israel, assumed to be the region’s only nuclear-armed state, recently signaled that an attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites was not imminent, after months of speculation that it might be.
But another Western envoy said the fact that Iran was converting some of its higher-grade uranium gas, a short technical step from weapons-grade material, into oxide powder for fuel should not distract from its bigger nuclear defiance.
“They haven’t addressed the (UN nuclear agency’s) questions, they haven’t suspended their enrichment as required by the UN Security Council, so anything else they are doing around the margin is beside the point,” this diplomat said.
The conversion of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent into fuel is also reversible as long as it has not been introduced into a working reactor, although it would take a few months to turn it back into gas form, security experts say.
Tehran denies US and Israeli allegations that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, saying its program is entirely peaceful. But UN inspectors suspect past, and possibly ongoing, military-related nuclear work.
Iran sending signal?
The question of when and how quickly Iran might be able to assemble a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so is hotly debated in the West because it could influence any decision by Israel to launch military strikes against the country.
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to submit its next quarterly Iran report to member states on Friday, 10 days after US President Barack Obama’s re-election raised hope of a revival of diplomacy on the issue.
It is expected to show a defiant Iran pressing ahead with expanding its controversial nuclear program, despite harsh Western sanctions targeting its vital oil sector, and continuing to sanitise a military site the IAEA wants to visit.
Iran’s rial has slid against the US dollar over the past year as sanctions on oil exports have slashed dollar-denominated sales, but experts say there is no sign as yet that this has changed the leadership’s position on the nuclear program.
At talks in Tehran next month, the Vienna-based IAEA will make a new attempt to persuade Iran to let it resume a long-stalled investigation into suspicions that it may have worked on developing a nuclear-armed missile.
At Fordow, located under rock and soil to protect it against any enemy attacks, diplomats say Iran has now put in place the nearly 2,800 centrifuges it was built for, up from about 2,140 in the previous IAEA report issued in late August.
It is unclear whether the necessary piping and other infrastructure have been completed for all of them. It is also not known why Iran may be holding back from expanding output there, even though the equipment for doing that is installed.
“It is politically driven but to what end is still a big mystery,” a third diplomat in the Austrian capital said. “It is not necessarily a sign that there is a solution to be reached.”
Iran started producing uranium enriched to 20 per cent fissile purity at Fordow, compared with the 3.5 per cent level needed for nuclear energy plants, in late 2011 and has been operating 700 centrifuges there since January this year.
World powers want Iran to halt the 20 per cent enrichment, close down Fordow and ship out its stockpile of the material.
Iran has signaled it may be ready to suspend the higher-grade enrichment but says sanctions imposed on the major oil producer must be lifted in return, a demand the West rejects.
Russia nuclear envoy makes snap visit to Iran
TEHRAN — Russia's representative in international talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear programme, Sergei Ryabkov, met Tehran's top negotiator on a surprise visit on Wednesday, news agencies reported.
Ryabkov, who is also deputy foreign minister, met Saeed Jalili, who said Tehran "hopes for a swift return of the P5+1 countries to the negotiating table," the official news agency IRNA reported.
The recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium "cannot be a precondition for talks but will be one of the topics of discussion," Ryabkov said, according to ISNA, another Iranian agency.
Ryabkov's visit came three days after he was quoted as telling Britain's Financial Times newspaper that Moscow would support direct talks between Iran and the United States on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.
However, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi responded Monday by saying any "decision on comprehensive, bilateral political talks between the two countries... is up to the supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
US President Barack Obama, whose re-election Iran welcomed with caution, said on Wednesday there was still a "window of time" to end the standoff and promised further diplomatic efforts.
"With respect to Iran, I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem," Obama told a White House press conference.
"I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and not just us, but the international community, to see if we can get this thing resolved."
Salehi, meanwhile, expressed hope that negotiations on its nuclear programme with the so-called P5+1 -- the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany -- would resume soon.
The P5+1 has for years sought through negotiations with Iran to defuse an international crisis over Tehran's atomic ambitions, which the West believes has military aims despite repeated denials by the Islamic republic.
The last high-level talks, which all but failed, were held in Moscow in June.
According to Salehi, Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the world powers in the talks, are to hold a telephone conversation "to decide on a venue and date".
The UN atomic watchdog has said it will hold a new round of talks in Tehran on December 13.
The Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on the Islamic regime, which coupled with unilateral Western restrictions on its oil sector and banks, have begun to cause major problems for its economy.
Two women in Petraeus sex scandal lose security clearance
Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley / Getty
WASHINGTON The military has suspended U.S. Army security clearance for former CIA director David Petraeus' mistress as well as the Air Force base pass of the Tampa socialite who sparked the ongoing sex scandal that led to his resignation.
CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports that biographer Paula Broadwell, a former Army intelligence officer, had her security clearance removed. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Warren told The Associated Press the decision to indefinitely suspend Jill Kelley's pass to MacDill Air Force Base was made in the last couple of days.
Kelley's complaints about threatening emails triggered the FBI investigation that led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus and a probe into communications between her and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Petraeus had resigned on Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair with Broadwell, his biographer.
- Timeline: The Petraeus affair
- Feinstein: Petraeus willing to testify on Benghazi
- Obama: No evidence classified info compromised in Petraeus scandal
Jill Kelley: New details on her role in scandal
Threatened by news van camped outside her stately home since the scandal broke, she tried to use her credentials to get diplomatic protection. In a phone call to 911, she complained that media had descended on her two-story, five-bedroom brick home overlooking Tampa Bay, which was purchased in 2004 for $1.5 million.
"You know, I don't know if by any chance, because I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property," she told the 911 dispatcher Monday. "I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well.
Kelley was also appointed honorary consul for South Korea for the city of Tampa several months ago, and still holds that position, said Kristen Smith, executive assistant at the South Korean consulate in Atlanta, which also covers Florida. Smith didn't know how Kelley got the honor and did not know specifically what she did on behalf of South Korea.
Nearly all lines in the tangled sex scandal involving Petraeus lead back to Kelley, whose complaint about anonymous, threatening emails triggered the FBI investigation that led to the general's downfall as director of the CIA and the uncovering of his affair with Broadwell. And now Kelley is in the middle of an investigation of the Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, over alleged "inappropriate communications" between the two.
A senior official told CBS News correspondent David Martin the vast majority of the emails between Allen and Kelly were "completely innocuous" and the general believes many of the 20-30,000 pages under scrutiny are duplicates.
Kelley would write things like, "saw you on television and you were terrific," and Allen was respond, "thanks, sweetheart." The official said the two never discussed sex and that Allen had never been alone with Kelley.
Nonetheless, Pentagon and FBI sources told CBS News correspondent Bob Orr the communications are "potentially inappropriate" and "flirtations," and another source said they were likely more than just innocent exchanges - noting that the Pentagon's Inspector General is involved for a reason.
Sources tell CBS News that investigators are focusing on an anonymous e-mail from several months ago that is believed to have come from Broadwell, Petraeus' mistress. Broadwell allegedly warned Gen. Allen that Kelly was "a seductress."
Broadwell allegedly sent similar warning to other military officers at the U.S. Central Command.
Both Kelly and Allen deny having an affair or any physical relationship.
Obama: No evidence Petraeus scandal hurt national security
At a news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama said he has seen no evidence to suggest that classified information was compromised because of the scandal. Obama said Petraeus did not meet his own standards to serve as CIA director because of his improper relationship with Broadwell.
Court documents obtained by The Associated Press also detail financial troubles for the Kelleys and Jill Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam, who lived with the couple.
Chase Bank sued Scott Kelley in 2010 over a $25,880 unpaid credit card bill, and an investment by the Kelleys in a Tampa office building turned into a dispute with the tenant over $28,000-a-month rent. The couple didn't pay the mortgage and entered into foreclosure.
Attorney Barry Cohen represented the Kelleys in the case, but they turned around and sued him over legal fees, claiming he overcharged them by $5,000. The suit was dismissed, but court documents did not say what happened.
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.