Volume. 12234
U.S. may use secret team to cinch Iran nuclear deal: WSJ
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TEHRAN – The Obama administration may reopen a bilateral negotiating channel with Iran in an effort to cinch a final agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program by this summer, the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday quoted U.S. and European officials involved in the diplomacy as saying.
The Wall Street Journal claimed that the White House secretly used this bilateral track last year to reach an interim deal with Iran in November that froze parts of its nuclear activities in return for a temporary easing of Western economic sanctions.
The stealth American team was purportedly led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Jake Sullivan, national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden. Their meetings with Iranian negotiators took place in Oman, New York, and Geneva, without the knowledge of the U.S.’s closest Middle East allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Negotiations to reach a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program are currently taking place in Vienna. They involve Tehran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, a diplomatic bloc known as the P5+1.
The U.S.’s lead negotiator is Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman.
U.S. and Iranian diplomats are planning for a frenzied two months of negotiations in a bid to make a soft July 20 deadline that Tehran and the P5+1 set to forge a final nuclear agreement. Both sides concede there remain large gaps between their positions, particularly on the issue of the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
U.S. and European officials said it was possible, if not likely, Messrs. Burns and Sullivan could re-engage in the diplomatic process with Iran in a final push to get the agreement over the line. They stressed that no final decision has been made.
Both men are held in high esteem by President Barack Obama, said these officials, and Iran might need to see the White House’s direct commitment to the final agreement. Negotiations through the P5+1 format can also be unwieldy due to the sometimes competing interests of the Western powers and Russia and China.
“I think, ultimately, we’ll need to return to the bilateral track,” said a senior U.S. official, noting that any agreement in Vienna will likely boil down to the positions of Tehran and Washington. Iran is demanding the rollback of vast U.S. financial sanctions as part of the deal.
American and European diplomats said it was unlikely any negotiations involving Messrs. Burns and Sullivan would require the secrecy displayed last year. Ms. Sherman and her negotiating team now regularly meet directly with their Iranian counterparts, including holding a three-hour session in Vienna last week.
Messrs. Burns and Sullivan have both indicated they’re preparing to leave the Obama administration by the end of the year, according to U.S. officials. But both men are expected to remain in their positions through the duration of the Iran talks.

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