WASHINGTON

IFTIKHAR ALI

Obama administration officials are secretly conducting behind-the-scenes talks with Israel, the United States’ closest ally with huge influence over American policies,   in a bid to reassure Tel Aviv that Washington is not falling for Iran’s charm offensive, the New York Times reported Saturday.

According to the report, in private talks American officials have expressed that the White House is still suspicious of Iran’s nuclear programme and has promised Israel that the US will judge Iran by its action and not just by the soothing works of its moderate president, Hassan Rohani, who has been trying to ally concerns over the programme which Iran’s says is for peaceful purposes.

Nonetheless, in the meantime, the newspaper reported that the US also informed Israel that America is committed to seriously considering the new Iranian attitude, supporting direct talks.

White House national security spokesperson Ben Rhodes warned on Friday that diplomatic overtures from Iranian President Hassan Rohani, while welcome, are not enough for it to consider loosening sanctions aimed at Tehran’s nuclear programme. He further said President Barack Obama has no plans to meet Rohani at the UN General Assembly next week, and would maintain pressure on Iran when he addresses the body.

“We’ve always made clear that we’ll make judgements based on the actions of the Iranian government not just on their words,” Rhodes said.

“I note that there have been some positive developments in terms of prisoners and some of the comments made by President Rohani, but those are clearly not sufficient in the eyes of the international community.”We don’t have a meeting scheduled with President Rohani at the UN General Assembly.”

Rhodes said the United States had made it clear “that we do have a preference for resolving this issue diplomatically” but warned: “We want to make clear that there’s not an open-ended window for diplomacy.”French President Francois Hollande, another champion of tough sanctions, is to meet Rohani at the General Assembly in New York, and there has been mounting speculation that Obama might engineer a brief encounter nonetheless.

On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rohani urged world leaders on Thursday to “seize the opportunity” presented by his election to engage Iran in constructive dialogue and said his country was ready to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.

In the wake of the publicized correspondence between Obama and Rohani, and in anticipation of pending nuclear talks, Rohani penned an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on Thursday in advance of the UN General Assembly annual meeting next week, in which he said nations needed to seek “win-win outcomes” instead of using “brute force” to combat terrorism, extremism, cybercrime and other challenges.

“Gone is the age of blood feuds,” he wrote. “World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.”

The piece appeared to be Rohani’s latest charge in Rohani’s charm offensive in a attempt to thaw relations with the United States and other Western nations, which believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons and have imposed economic sanctions that have damaged Iran’s economy.

In an interview to NBC News, the Iranian president branded Israel an “occupier” that “does injustice ... and has brought instability to the region with its warmongering policies.”

The Israel Prime Minister’s Office responded to the pronouncement made by Iranian president Hassan Rohani, who said that Tehran “will never develop nuclear weapons.”

“The Iranians are putting on the media spin in order to keep the centrifuges rotating,” the office of Benjamin Netanyahu said in its statement. “This same Rohani boasted in the past how he deceived the international community in nuclear talks, while Iran continued its nuclear programme.”