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.
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His assessment, delivered at the close of a Latin American summit in Colombia, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday had said the US 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."
Ashton and Jalili in Istanbul (Photo: MCT)
Still, in a news conference here, Obama warned to Iran, "The clock's ticking."
Winding down his three-day trip in the port city of Cartagena, Obama also sought to offer hope for fresh start with Cuba, saying the US would welcome the communist-run island's transition to democracy. There could be an opportunity for such a shift in the coming years, Obama said.
As Obama met with Latin American leaders, negotiators from the US 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.
On Saturday, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said Tehran needed to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity for peaceful purposes.
"Any right which is indicated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty should be respected," Jalili told a news conference after his country's first talks with six world powers in more than a year.
"Enrichment of uranium is one of these rights that every individual member state should benefit from and enjoy for peaceful purposes," he said.
"The next talks should be based on confidence-building measures, which would build the confidence of Iranians," Jalili said, adding an Iranian request for lifting of sanctions should be one of the issues included.
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