Roundup: Obama to dine with Miss Israel; Iran's man in Iraq

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White House denies report that US and Iran agreed to direct talks

The White House on Saturday denied a report in the New York Times that the United States and Iran had agreed to hold one–on-one talks on Iran’s nuclear program after the US presidential elections next month. But the White House reiterated that the Obama administration has “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”

And a Washington Iran analyst told Al-Monitor that it is his understanding that a senior US arms control official has held authorized talks with an Iranian official posted to Turkey.

“It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement Saturday. “We continue to work with the P5+1 on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister also issued a statement Sunday denying direct talks with the United States. “Talks are ongoing with the P5+1 group of nations,” Ali Akbar Salehi said at a press conference Sunday. “Other than that, we have no discussions with the United States.”

The Iran analyst, who asked not to be named, told Al-Monitor that it is his understanding White House WMD coordinator Gary Samore has had talks with an Iranian official posted as a diplomat to Turkey. The Iranian official was not identified.

US officials did not respond to requests for guidance from Al-Monitor late Saturday on the allegation a US official has had talks with an Iranian official or in what capacity.

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Report: Iran Qods chief Soleimani meets with Iraqi Kurdish leaders

Iran Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani has held meetings with Iraqi Kurdish officials in Erbil this week, Rudaw reports:

The commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, visited Erbil this week and met with top officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), among them Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

A source from the Erbil International Airport told Rudaw on condition of anonymity that Soleimani’s plane arrived from Sulaimani where the Iranian commander had met with officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Barzani’s press secretary told the media that the PM has received an official invitation to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“The prime minister received an invitation from the Islamic Republic to visit Tehran and meet with top Iranian officials, but he has not set a date for his visit yet,” Sami Argushi, the PM’s press secretary said.

Political analysts believe this visit by Major General Soleimani, who commands an important wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, alongside other visits between Iranian and Kurdish officials, is a sign of strengthening relations between Iran and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

According to Argushi, the prime minister’s visit will be to “strengthen mutual relations between Kurdistan and the Islamic Republic.” Continue reading