Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal.Oman brokered the talks

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  1. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States and Iran secretly engaged in a series of high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year, in a high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration that paved the way for the historic deal sealed early Sunday in Geneva aimed at slowing Tehran's nuclear program, The Associated Press has learned.

    The discussions were kept hidden even from America's closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago, and that may explain how the nuclear accord appeared to come together so quickly after years of stalemate and fierce hostility between Iran and the West.

    But the secrecy of the talks may also explain some of the tensions between the U.S. and France, which earlier this month balked at a proposed deal, and with Israel, which is furious about the agreement and has angrily denounced the diplomatic outreach to Tehran.

    President Barack Obama personally authorized the talks as part of his effort - promised in his first inaugural address - to reach out to a country the State Department designates as the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism.

    The talks were held in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman and elsewhere with only a tight circle of people in the know, the AP learned. Since March, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden's top foreign policy adviser, have met at least five times with Iranian officials.

    The last four clandestine meetings, held since Iran's reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani was inaugurated in August, produced much of the agreement later formally hammered out in negotiations in Geneva among the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran, said three senior administration officials. All spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss by name the highly sensitive diplomatic effort.

    The AP was tipped to the first U.S.-Iranian meeting in March shortly after it occurred, but the White House and State Department disputed elements of the account and the AP could not confirm the meeting. The AP learned of further indications of secret diplomacy in the fall and pressed the White House and other officials further. As the Geneva talks appeared to be reaching their conclusion, senior administration officials confirmed to the AP the details of the extensive outreach.

    The Geneva deal provides Iran with about $7 billion in relief from international sanctions in exchange for Iranian curbs on uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity. All parties pledged to work toward a final accord next year that would remove remaining suspicions in the West that Tehran is trying to assemble an atomic weapons arsenal.

    Iran insists its nuclear interest is only in peaceful energy production and medical research.

    The diplomatic gamble with Iran, if the interim agreement holds up and leads to a final pact preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, could avert years of threats of U.S. or Israeli military intervention. It could also prove a turning point in decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran - and become a crowning foreign policy achievement of Obama's presidency.

    But if the deal collapses, or if Iran covertly races ahead with development of a nuclear weapon, Obama will face the consequences of failure, both at home and abroad. His gamble opens him to criticism that he has left Israel vulnerable to a country bent on its destruction and that he has made a deal with a state sponsor of terrorism.

    The U.S. and Iran cut off diplomatic ties in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year. But Obama has expressed a willingness since becoming president to meet with the Iranians without conditions.

    At the president's direction, the United States began a tentative outreach shortly after his inauguration in January 2009. Obama and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exchanged letters, but the engagement yielded no results.

    That outreach was hampered by Iran's hardline former president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, whose re-election in a disputed vote in June of that year led to a violent crackdown on opposition protesters. The next month, relations seemed at another low when Iran detained three American hikers who had strayed across the Iranian border from Iraq.

    Ironically, efforts to win the release of the hikers turned out to be instrumental in making the clandestine diplomacy possible.

    Oman's Sultan Qaboos was a key player, facilitating the eventual release of the hikers - the last two of whom returned to the United States in 2011 - and then offering himself as a mediator for a U.S.-Iran rapprochement. The secret informal discussions between mid-level officials in Washington and Tehran began.

    Officials described those early contacts as exploratory discussions focused on the logistics of setting up higher-level talks. The discussions happened through numerous channels, officials said, including face-to-face talks at undisclosed locations. They included exchanges between then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, now Obama's national security adviser, and Iran's envoy to the world body, the officials said. National Security Council aide Puneet Talwar was also involved, the officials said.

    The talks took on added weight eight months ago, when Obama dispatched the deputy secretary of state Burns, the top aide Sullivan and five other officials to meet with their Iranian counterparts in the Omani capital of Muscat. Obama dispatched the group shortly after the six powers opened a new round of nuclear talks with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in late February.

    At the time, those main nuclear negotiations were making little progress, and the Iranians had little interest in holding bilateral talks with the United States on the sidelines of the meeting out of fear that the discussions would become public, the U.S. officials said.

    So, with the assistance of Sultan Qaboos, officials in both countries began quietly making plans to meet in Oman. Burns, Sullivan and a small team of U.S. technical experts arrived on a military plane in mid-March for the meeting with the Iranians.

    The senior administration officials who spoke to the AP would not say who Burns and Sullivan met with but characterized the Iranian attendees as career diplomats, national security aides and experts on the nuclear issue who were likely to remain key players even after the country's elections this summer.

    The goal on the American side, the U.S. officials said, was simply at that point to see if the U.S. and Iran could successfully arrange bilateral talks - a low bar that underscored the sour state of relations between the two nations.

    Beyond nuclear issues, the officials said the U.S. team at the March Oman meeting also raised concerns about Iranian involvement in Syria, Tehran's threats to close the strategically important Strait of Hormuz and the status of Robert Levinson, a missing former FBI agent who the U.S. believes was abducted in Iran, as well as two other Americans detained in the country.

    Hoping to keep the channel open, Secretary of State John Kerry then visited Oman in May on a trip ostensibly to push a military deal with the sultanate but secretly focused on maintaining that country's key mediation role, particularly after the Iranian election scheduled for the next month, the officials said.

    Rouhani's election in June on a platform of easing sanctions crippling Iran's economy and stated willingness to engage with the West gave a new spark to the U.S. effort, the officials said.

    Two secret meetings were organized immediately after Rouhani took office in August, with the specific goal of advancing the stalled nuclear talks with world powers. Another pair of meetings took place in October.

    Burns and Sullivan led the U.S. delegation at each of those sessions, and were joined at the final secret meeting by chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman.

    The Iranian delegation was a mix of officials the Americans had met in March in Oman and others who were new to the talks, administration officials said. All of the Iranians were fluent English speakers.

    U.S. officials said the meetings happened in multiple locations, but would not confirm the exact spots, saying they did not want to jeopardize their ability to use the same locations in the future. But at least some of the talks are believed to have taken place in Oman.

    The private meetings coincided with a public easing of U.S.-Iranian discord. In early August, Obama sent Rouhani a letter congratulating him on his election. The Iranian leader's response was viewed positively by the White House, which quickly laid the groundwork for the additional secret talks. The U.S. officials said they were convinced that the outreach had the blessing of Ayatollah Khameni, but would not elaborate.

    As negotiators continued to talk behind the scenes, public speculation swirled over a possible meeting between Obama and Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, which both attended in September in New York. Burns and Sullivan sought to arrange face-to-face talks, but the meeting never happened largely due to Iranian concerns, the officials said. Two days later, though, Obama and Rouhani spoke by phone - the first direct contact between a U.S. and Iranian leader in more than 30 years.

    It was only after that Obama-Rouhani phone call that the U.S. began informing allies of the secret talks with Iran, the U.S. officials said.

    Obama handled the most sensitive conversation himself, briefing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Sept. 30 meeting at the White House. He informed Netanyahu only about the two summer meetings, not the March talks, in keeping with the White House's promise only to tell allies about any discussions with Iran that were substantive.

    The U.S. officials would not describe Netanyahu's reaction. But the next day, he delivered his General Assembly speech, blasting Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and warning the U.S. against mistaking a change in Iran's tone with an actual change in nuclear ambitions. The Israeli leader has subsequently denounced the potential nuclear agreement as the "deal of the century" for Iran.

    After telling Netanyahu about the secret talks, the United States then briefed the other members of the six-nation negotiating team, the U.S. officials said.

    The last secret gatherings between the U.S. and Iran took place shortly after the General Assembly, according to the officials.

    There, the deal finally reached by the parties on Sunday began to take its final shape.

    At this month's larger formal nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran in Geneva, Burns and Sullivan showed up as well, but the State Department went to great lengths to conceal their involvement, leaving their names off of the official delegation list.

    They were housed at a different hotel than the rest of the team, used back entrances to come and go from meeting venues and were whisked into negotiating sessions from service elevators or unused corridors only after photographers left.

    ___

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  3. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Re: Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal.Oman brokered the tal

    Something that over the years I've said that India should have used its relations with Iran and US to broker a deal between the two.We missed it. It was in our own interests to do that wrt to Pak.Had India attempted this 3-4 years back leading to rapproachment between US and Iran, the war in AfPak would have taken a turn for the better and more decisive
     
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  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Re: Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal.Oman brokered the tal

    Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal

    GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal early on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.

    Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was clinched after more than four days of tortuous negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

    Halting Iran's most sensitive nuclear work, it was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the spectre of a Middle East war over Tehran's nuclear aspirations.

    But Iran's arch foe Israel denounced it as a "bad deal" and said it would not be bound by it.

    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said it created time and space for talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the dispute.

    "This is only a first step," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a news conference. "We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past."

    Hard-pressed by sanctions, many Iranians were elated by the easing of tensions and prospect of economic improvement.
    U.S. President Barack Obama said that if Iran did not meet its commitments during a six-month period, the United States would turn off sanctions relief and "ratchet up the pressure".

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warmly welcomed the interim agreement and urged the governments concerned "to do everything possible to build on this encouraging start".

    But Israel was unhappy. "This is a bad deal. It grants Iran exactly what it wanted - both a significant easing in sanctions and preservation of the most significant parts of its nuclear programme," an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu's office said.

    Israeli officials however stopped short of threatening unilateral military action that could further isolate the Jewish state and imperil its alliance with Washington, saying more time was needed to assess the agreement.

    The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies that, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful energy project.

    The United States said the agreement halted progress on Iran's nuclear programme, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it could yield potential bomb material.

    It would neutralise Iran's stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is a close step away from the level needed for weapons, and calls for intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections, a senior U.S. official said.

    Iran has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5 percent, a U.S. fact sheet said.

    Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants - Iran's stated goal - but also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if refined much further.

    REVERSIBLE SANCTIONS RELIEF

    Diplomacy with Iran was stepped up after the June landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing bellicose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Rouhani's policy of "constructive engagement" with the outside world aims to get sanctions lifted. He has the crucial backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeping powerful hardline critics at bay.

    On a Twitter account widely recognised as representing Rouhani, a message said: "Iranian people's vote for moderation & constructive engagement + tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons."

    "Ultimately, it is the Iranian people and the American people who deserve the most credit. Both are responsible for this initial victory by rejecting defeatists who said that a brighter future was not possible (and) diplomacy could not succeed," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) think-tank.

    But many obstacles remain, he said. "Hardliners in both countries will work harder than ever to sabotage this pivot towards a diplomatic path. Those whose only currency is confrontation will search for any opportunities they can find to undermine and sabotage this interim deal."

    For now though, many Iranians were joyful. A post in Farsi by Zarif announcing the deal on his Facebook page received 47,979 "likes" in two hours.

    There was an outpouring of gratitude and many described him as a "national hero".

    "Dear Doctor Zarif ... Your efforts have filled the hearts of the whole nation with happiness," wrote Shayrin Shamshirband.

    "I am writing this comment with my eyes filled with tears. Thank you for everything ... After many years, you have returned happiness to the people. You have restored hope in our hearts and pride in my country," commented Mehrnoosh Mohebi.

    The Geneva deal does not recognise an Iranian right to enrich uranium and sanctions would still be enforced, the U.S. official said.

    But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran's enrichment programme had been officially recognised.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement would make it harder for Iran to make a dash to build a nuclear weapon and would make Israel and other U.S. allies safer.

    Kerry also told a news conference that while Obama would not take off the table the possible use of force against Iran, he believed it was necessary first to exhaust diplomacy.

    He said the limited sanctions relief could be reversible.

    After Ashton read out a statement on the deal at the United Nations office in Geneva, ministers appeared elated.

    Ashton and Kerry hugged each other, and Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shook hands. Minutes later, as the Iranian delegation posed for photos, Zarif and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius embraced.

    - Potential access to $1.5 billion in revenue from trade in gold and precious metals and the suspension of some sanctions on Iran's auto sector, and its petrochemical exports.

    - Allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels. "$4.2 billion from these sales will be allowed to be transferred in instalments if, and as, Iran fulfils its commitments," the fact sheet said.

    - License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines.

    Most of the sanctions, Kerry said, would remain in place.

    "The approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place," the White House said. "The vast majority of Iran's approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted."

    Kerry and the foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the negotiations with Iran early on Saturday as the two sides appeared to be edging closer to a long-sought preliminary agreement.

    British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Twitter message that it was an "important and encouraging" first-stage agreement with Iran, whose nuclear programme "won't move forward for 6 months and parts rolled back".

    France's Fabius said: "After years of blockages, the agreement in Geneva on Iran's nuclear programme is an important step to preserving security and peace."

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  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Re: Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal.Oman brokered the tal

    Israel denounces Iranian nuclear deal, says assessing options

    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government denounced world powers' nuclear agreement with Iran on Sunday as a "bad deal" to which Israel would not be bound.

    Yet Israeli officials stopped short of explicitly threatening military action that could further isolate the Jewish state and imperil its alliance with Washington, saying more time was needed to assess the accord.

    "This is a bad deal. It grants Iran exactly what it wanted - both a significant easing in sanctions and preservation of the most significant parts of its nuclear programme," an official in Netanyahu's office said.

    "The economic pressure on Iran could have brought about a much better deal which would have dismantled Iran's nuclear capabilities."

    Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

    The West and Israel fear that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful energy project.

    The United States said the agreement halted progress on Iran's nuclear programme, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it can yield potential bomb material.

    It would neutralise Iran's stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is a close step away from the level needed for weapons, and calls for intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections, a senior U.S. official said.

    The Islamic Republic has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5 percent, a U.S. fact sheet said. {ID:nL2N0J907M]
    But that still appeared to fall far short of Netanyahu's demand for a total rollback of the Iranian nuclear programme.

    "You stand and shout out until you're blue in the face, and you try to understand why they're not listening. The world wanted an agreement," Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a member of Netanyahu's security cabinet, told Israel's Army Radio.

    "GOD'S IN THE DETAILS"

    "We also said that a diplomatic accord would be good. A diplomatic accord is certainly better than war, a diplomatic accord is better than a situation of permanent confrontation - just not this agreement," Lapid added.

    He said Israel had to pore over the deal: "For example, we still don't understand exactly what stepping up the monitoring (on Iran's facilities) means. This is a detailed matter. God really is in the small details."

    In Washington, a senior U.S. official said President Barack Obama would discuss Israel's misgivings with Netanyahu on Sunday.

    "Ultimately we understand and appreciate how Israel is particularly sceptical about Iran. Given the threats that have been made about Israel from Tehran we understand why Israel will want to make sure that this is the best deal possible," the official said.

    "I would say that what we have now is a six-month period to test whether the new leadership in Iran continues to follow through their commitment to move Iran on a new path. What we will know after six months is whether there can be a solution."

    Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, another security cabinet member, said the Netanyahu government could act unilaterally.

    "Israel does not see itself as bound by this bad, this very bad agreement that has been signed," Bennett told Army Radio in a separate interview. "If the State of Israel sees that Iran is endangering it, the State of Israel is permitted to defend itself and is capable of defending itself."

    But he hedged when asked whether Israel might attack Iran even as Western allies tried to hammer down a permanent nuclear deal in the coming months, saying: "Israel is not keen to jump ahead on this matter. The nuclear problem is the whole world's problem."

    Widely assumed to have the Middle East's sole atomic arsenal, Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal danger and has long issued veiled threats to launch a preemptive war against its arch-foe.

    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Geneva deal was Iran's "greatest diplomatic triumph" since its 1979 Islamic revolution, and predicted an arms race could result among Sunni Arabs who also feel wary of the Persian Shi'ites.

    The Netanyahu government has therefore to conducted a strategic review of its options, Lieberman told Israel Radio.

    He played down any rift with the United States, which led the Geneva talks. Asked if he felt betrayed by Israel's most important ally, Lieberman said: "Heaven forbid."

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  6. kseeker

    kseeker Retired

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    Re: Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal.Oman brokered the tal

    Arabs would be fuming :mad: right now by hearing this news; especially, Saauudi's :D
     
  7. SajeevJino

    SajeevJino Long walk Elite Member

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    Re: Secret US-Iran talks set stage for nuke deal.Oman brokered the tal



    Israel acts alone If needed ..!!

    Don't worry arabs
     

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