Exposing a rift with Israel, President Barack Obama on Sunday insisted that the United States has not “given anything away” in new talks with Iran as he defended his continued push for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Obama said he refused to let the talks turn into a “stalling process,” but believed there was still time for diplomacy, according to The Associated Press.
His assessment, delivered at the close of a Latin American summit in Colombia, came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday had said the U.S. and world powers gave Tehran a “freebie” by agreeing to hold more talks next month.
Obama shot back: “The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something. In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don't take advantage of these talks.”
Standing alongside Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Obama warned Iran that “the clock’s ticking.”
As Obama met with Latin American leaders, negotiators from the U.S. and five other world powers were in Turkey for a fresh round of nuclear talks with Iran.
While previous talks have done little to dissuade Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program, diplomats called the latest negotiations constructive and useful. Both sides agreed to hold more talks in Baghdad at the end of May.
The Israeli prime minister balked at the announcement of more talks, saying the intervening five weeks would simply give Iran more time to continue enriching uranium without restrictions. Netanyahu has said Iran uses diplomatic negotiations as a diversion while it continues to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Monday that Iran will not give up its right to enrich uranium, but hinted the level of enrichment is open to discussion.
“(The world powers) have reached a conclusion that they cannot turn a blind eye to Iran’s capability and that Iran will not give up this right,” Salehi told Iranian state satellite channel Jam-e Jam, according to AFP.
“Enrichment covers a wide range, from natural uranium to 100 percent enrichment, so one can talk with in this spectrum... it is too soon to talk about this issue and it is up to Baghdad meeting and I will not get into details,” he said, referring to the next round of scheduled talks.
“We hope... that it will get us our right and their concerns will be addressed,” added Salehi, who used to head Iran’s atomic energy organization.
Israel has raised the prospect of a preemptive military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Obama administration has urgently sought to hold off Israeli military action, which would probably result in the U.S. being pulled into a conflict as well. The U.S. believes a combination of diplomacy and crippling economic sanctions could push Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Obama reaffirmed his commitment to that approach Sunday, saying it was “absolutely the right thing to do.”
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and says it does not seek a bomb.