Secret US-Iran Talks Paved Way for Nuke Deal

Oman helped broker meetings after hikers' release

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 25, 2013 3:15 AM CST | Updated Nov 25, 2013 7:58 AM CST

(Newser) – The landmark nuclear deal with Iran isn't as sudden a breakthrough as it might seem. Before the Geneva talks, a team of American diplomats hand-picked by President Obama held at least five secret meetings with their Iranian counterparts starting in March, the AP finds. The American delegations were led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden's top foreign policy adviser, sources tell Reuters, describing how meetings in the Gulf nation of Oman were hushed up with the use of military planes and service elevators to conceal the presence of American diplomats.

  • The talks were kept secret until September, when the Obama administration informed Israel, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia that it had made significant progress. In Israel, however, officials say they knew about the talks long before the US told them. "We did not know from the beginning, but we knew, we had intelligence that these meetings were happening," a senior Israeli minister tells Buzzfeed.
  • The US secrecy came at the price of annoying some allies. France balked when talks began, the Wall Street Journal reports, when the US showed up with an almost complete framework that one diplomat called an "American Text."
  • Oman's monarch Sultan Qaboos played a key role in getting the "Great Satan" and an "Axis of Evil" nation to the negotiating table. He offered to help get the two sides together soon after playing a key role in securing the release of three American hikers seized after straying across the Iranian border.
  • At first, American negotiators simply sought a mechanism for continued talks, but diplomacy got a big boost after the June election of Hasan Rouhani.
  • That the talks predated Rouhani's election indicates that he wasn't the real architect of this deal; that would be Ayatollah Khamenei, the New York Times points out. Khamenei indicated in March that he'd be open to talks, and one political adviser to Iranian leaders says he suspects Khamenei "helped bring Mr. Rouhani to power to make the public ready for a policy change."
  • The US' efforts actually reach back before March, the Journal reports; they've been under way for years. John Kerry has been involved since before he even became secretary of state, flying to Oman in December 2011 to lay groundwork. Kerry also quietly met with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this year.
  • The final secret US-Iran meeting yielded the framework of the deal signed early yesterday but the negotiating session in Geneva still went on for so long that it overlapped with Saturday night parties at the city's Intercontinental Hotel, reports the Guardian. As the six-nation group's negotiators hammered out the final details in conference rooms, a raucous country-folk band played a charity ball next door and the frazzled delegates could hear songs including Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
Click here for more details on the nuts and bolts of the deal—and some reactions.

Iranians hold posters of President Hassan Rouhani as they welcome Iranian nuclear negotiators back from Geneva last night.
Iranians hold posters of President Hassan Rouhani as they welcome Iranian nuclear negotiators back from Geneva last night.   (AP Photo/ISNA,Hemmat Khahi)
Iranians wave their national flag as they hold a poster of President Hassan Rouhani while welcoming Iranian nuclear negotiators upon their arrival from Geneva at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran.
Iranians wave their national flag as they hold a poster of President Hassan Rouhani while welcoming Iranian nuclear negotiators upon their arrival from Geneva at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran.   (AP Photo/ISNA,Hemmat Khahi)
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