Citing unnamed senior Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported this weekend that American and Iranian officials have agreed to hold direct nuclear talks, although both the White House and Iran have denied the story.
While Romney has never directly addressed whether or not he would engage in one-on-one talks with the country, Romney's surrogates dismissed Iran's willingness to talk on the Sunday talk shows.
Sen. John Barrasso discusses Romney's position on Iran on Starting Point this morning, asserting that the candidate "would do anything he could to make sure that Iran does not receive nuclear weapons."
Sen. Barrasso also responds to recent newspaper endorsements of Obama and discusses the president's track record.
This morning on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," Romney Campaign Senior Communications Advisor Tara Wall says there's a 'clear difference' between the foreign policy plans of her candidate and President Obama.
"Americans need to understand there is a clear and distinct choice between these candidates, relative to their approaches to foreign policy and how we lead, how we have led, how this president has led, how this president failed to lead it in a large degree, even just recently," Wall says.
Soledad points out that Romney's foreign policy plan is very similar to President Obama's, and pushes Wall for details on those differences.
"I'm sure you can find similarities in a number of positions with leaders on a number of different issues," Wall adds. "There are those clear differences that have been spelled out, that we do spell out. and the approach that this governor takes and plans to take relative to cracking down on terrorists and enemies and those who are out to harm us and out to harm our allies."
The conversation became heated when Soledad asks Wall about Romney's position on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Soledad notes the contradicting points from a secret video tape released earlier this year, where Romney says "I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. And that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." Soledad compares that to Romney's upcoming foreign policy speech today, where excerpts say he will "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
"We will stand side-by-side with Israel, and the Governor has made that clear," Wall says. "I'm not going to get into a big foreign policy debate with you here...that's not my position, not my role. If you want to talk about that I suggest you put on a couple of foreign affairs experts and let them go at it and pick this apart in the way you'd like to have it picked apart. But I think we've clearly stated what our position is."
A cameraman traveling with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York last week was able to make a covert getaway from the delegation. He contacted American officials and is now seeking asylum in the U.S. The man, identified as Hassan Gol Khanban, has allegedly been part of Ahmadinejad’s inner circle for several years, sparking speculations that Khanban could be a major intelligence loss for the Iranian government. Khanban’s attorney, Paul O’Dwyer, explains on "Starting Point" that Khanban no longer wishes to be a part of the Iranian regime because he is offended by how the regime “treats the Iranian people.”
On Friday, President Obama is expected to make a very important phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The phone call follows a week of heavy criticism against the president for not meeting with Netanyahu in person and yet making time for several TV appearances and campaign stops. Thursday, the Israeli Prime Minister met with Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton for more than an hour, which included an "in depth discussion on Iran." That meeting followed Netanyahu’s blistering speech to the United Nations General Assembly where he made it clear Israel would demand a "red line" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon - literally drawing that line in front of the audience. Mark Regev is the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and joins “Starting Point” today to discuss
Regev says the American position has been consistent with Israel calls to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Our position and the United States’ position are almost identical and we have to continue talking to see what we can do to prevent the Iranians from achieving a nuclear bomb.”
On Tuesday, a top Israeli official wrote in The Times of Israel article that while Fmr. President Clinton “made us feel like he had our back…President Obama doesn’t give us the same sense that he’d be there.” Regev disagrees – saying, “I don’t believe that’s an official who’s in the loop with what’s going on between Jerusalem and Washington today.” Regev adds, “I think there’s a common understanding that the Iranian regime simply can not be allowed to achieve a nuclear weapon.”
The spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister says despite the fact Obama chose not to meet with Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister did not feel insulted. “We came here to New York… because of the Jewish holidays we only arrived yesterday. The President was here only at the beginning of the week. We’ve got a good dialogue. We will continue to discuss the issue and the most important things to stop Iranian nuclear enrichment.”
Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to deliver his U.N. speech later today at the U.N. general assembly. the Iranian president follows president Obama’s speech in which he laid out clear opposition to any encroachment on a nuclear Iran. co-chair, Obama campaign national security advisory committee, Michele Flournoy speaks to John Berman and Christine Romans on “starting point” about Obama’s speech.
Flournoy who also served as the Under Secy. of Defense for Policy in the Obama Administration says the president has imposed “the most crippling sanctions ever imposed on any country.” Flournoy adds that Obama’s option to apply the use of force if necessary is “very real,” adding however that “we should still give diplomacy time to work.”
Flournoy says the president has been “consistently clear” in his determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been urging the U.S. to set a “red line” for Iran. The former Under Secy of defense says a red line has been laid out to prevent Iran from getting a weapon. Flournoy adds that the Obama administration has “worked very closely in a number of areas on diplomacy and on sanctions to try and further isolate Iran and get them to change their decision making calculus and give up the quest for making a bomb.”
Flournoy says the international community still has time to sort things out with Iran because their facilities are monitored under IEA safeguards and “there’s a lot that [the U.S.] would see if they were to start to dash towards a bomb.”
On Wednesday, Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will deliver his final address to the U.N. General Assembly as president of Iran. World leaders await the speech, which follow Ahmadinejad’s recent comments on eliminating Israel from the Middle East and “there will be a new world order free of American bullying.” CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott joins CNN’s “Starting Point” with a preview of Ahmadinejad's speech.
Labott says expect to hear "more of the same" in Ahmadinejad's U.N. speech where she believes he will “double down and up the ante.” Adding that, "Ahmadinejad is “very sidelined at home, not very strong right now” and “likes to use the world stage as a bullying pulpit.” Labott says that the Iranian president’s fiery comments, such as those on “a new world order” have an audience amongst leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. Labott adds that Ahmadinejad new world order comments carry “a lot of residence with…some of these countries that do feel that the United States and the Western countries… call all the shots.”
Labott says there has been a lot of talk about Iran’s nuclear program, “but I think [Ahmadinejad’s] going to go in the opposite direction.”
On the ground in Tehran, Shirzad Bozorgmehr reports protests at Swiss Embassy in Iran against the US were peaceful.
Romney Campaign Foreign Policy Advisor Amb. Richard Williamson on how Mitt Romney would handle Iran if he were president.
Transcript available after the jump.
The United Nations is pressing the U.S. to accept Iran into the talks about the violence in Syria. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon believes Iran should be part of the broad discussion about the country and the fate of the President Bashar al-Assad. Iran has previously been sanctioned by the United Nations.
Ban's comments came after President Obama and Russian President Putin came down in tense fashion talking about the Syrian conflict. Russia has blocked the U.N. Security Council resolutions against Assad's regime. The Two leaders insist progress was made during the talk and they agreed to work with all "interested parties."
This morning on "Starting Point," fmr. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte weighs in on whether bringing Iran into Syria talks makes sense, what role Russia should be playing in discussions and if the Obama Administration is to blame for failing to take a lead on quelling the violence.
U.S. investigators are trying to get to the bottom of what is a pretty intricate plan to try to take out American diplomats and their families by Iran. According to "The Washington Post," the plot involves snipers with silencer-equipped rifles and a car bomb.
Among the targets of the alleged plot: U.S. embassy staff and family members in Azerbaijan. That's Iran's neighbor to the north.
CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend talks with Soledad and the panel this morning about the report. She's also a member of the external advisory boards for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security as well. She explains that Iran has discussed these types of plots in the past.
"Iran does not want a full-on military conflict with the United States," Townsend explains. "What they prefer are these small-scale one-off attacks. We saw it, frankly, the most egregious up to this report was the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here. And so, we do see the Iranians using these sorts of tactics, these methods as provocation without going so far as to launch a military attack."
Townsend goes on to explain that these plots could have serious consequences for Iran.
"This debate really first came up where there was the announcement of the plot against the Saudi ambassador, an attack on a diplomat on U.S. soil," Townsend says. "This is just an extension, frankly, of that debate that started then. So any attack against an American official, whether it's in the U.S. or someplace around the world really does constitute an act of war. When all that really means is, what then? Which tools does the United States choose to use to retaliate against it? Does it use military force? Probably not, because it would be a single attack. But it could."
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