Iran and the United States have both rejected a press contention that they had decided to pursue bilateral discussions in an effort to defuse a long-running standoff over Tehran's atomic activities, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
Obama insiders described the purported plan as an unprecedented result of elaborate, undisclosed dialogue carried out by the sides over most of President Obama's time in office, according to a Saturday report by the Times. However, the Obama administration said there was no conclusive agreement on the matter, and the Saturday report also received a brush-off from Tehran.
The alleged deal is a probable focus of a scheduled Monday debate between Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the newspaper said.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for skepticism over any agreement by Tehran to join Washington in bilateral discussions. “I think this is a ploy by the Iranians” to buy time for their nuclear program and divide the international coalition," the lawmaker told "Fox News Sunday."
Iran denies international suspicions that its atomic activities are geared toward development of a nuclear-weapon capability.
Separately, high-level Iranian diplomats next month could hold a fourth 2012 meeting with counterparts from six major powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- in a bid to address global concerns over Tehran's atomic aims, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said.
"There is not fixed date yet" for the discussions, the top Iranian diplomat added.
The anticipated timing of the potential talks received backing from European Union and U.S. government personnel, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
Tehran has indicated it could discuss its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium in return for international acknowledgement of its legal entitlement to generate less highly enriched atomic material as well as the phased removal of international economic penalties targeting Iran, the Associated Press reported on Sunday. Such proposals have reportedly gained little traction to date in the United States.
Washington and other governments fear Iran's growing stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium could enable faster preparation of bomb-capable material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent. However, the Middle Eastern nation has said the higher-enriched uranium is intended to fuel a medical reactor in Tehran.
"Absolutely indisputable data" indicates Iran is on track to acquire a nuclear-weapon capability in the first six months of 2013, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said without elaborating.
One-time Israeli intelligence head Efraim Halevy has said Obama's "hands are tied" in efforts to diplomatically engage Iran "because he cannot appear soft on Israel’s security" during the presidential race, al-Monitor reported on Sunday.
"Negotiating with Iran is perceived as a sign of beginning to forsake Israel. That is where I think the basic difference is between Romney and Obama," Halevy said. "What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. Therefore when (he recently) said, he doesn’t think there should be a war with Iran, this does not ring true. It is not consistent with other things he has said."
Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry Public Council head Igor Korotchenko said neither U.N. Security Council sanctions nor unilateral measures can limit arms transfers to Iran by his country, Tehran's Press TV reported on Saturday.
Elsewhere, a second atomic system is scheduled for completion next March at Iran's Bushehr nuclear energy station, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Monday.