The only real action at the resumed nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers in Istanbul Saturday, April 14, was played out on the sidelines. The Obama administration’s intense effort to put relations with Tehran on a new, more amicable footing, was thrown back in its face by the head of the Iranian delegation, Saeed Jalili, who gave the senior US delegate, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, a humiliating runaround after she was reported in Tehran as having invited him to a bilateral meeting during the lunch break.
First, Iranian officials first announced there would be no meeting. Next, third-party efforts, especially by Russian and Turkish officials, to arrange one were spurned. Then, the American side publicized Sherman’s invitation to Jalili, calculating that the Iranian delegation leader could hardly break every rule of diplomatic propriety by turning her down. Nonetheless, after issuing conflicting reports – some claiming Jalili had accepted the US delegate’s invitation – the official Iranian news agency IRNA announced: "The Iranian delegation rejected the request of Wendy Sherman, the representative of the American delegation, for a bilateral meeting."
To drive the snub home, Tehran played up Jalili’s meetings with heads of the Russian and European delegations. According to some diplomatic sources, Tehran took it amiss that Sherman is junior in rank to Jalili who is head of Iran’s National Security Council and therefore decided against the meeting.
The session ended with May 23 being set as the date for the next round of talks. They will take place in Baghdad. Accepting this venue was another American concession for the sake of keeping up a friendly dialogue with Tehran.
debkafile summed up the opening session of the nuclear talks with Iran in an earlier report April 14.
At Istanbul, US puts better ties with Iran ahead of nuclear issues
European diplomats close to the nuclear negotiations which Iran and six world powers launched in Istanbul Saturday, April 14 praised the first session as “constructive” because all the participants agreed that it laid the ground for a follow-up meeting in a month or six weeks. debkafile: For this modest "concession," Tehran won its first advantage, time for advancing its nuclear weapons program and a substantial delay for any US or Israel military action to preempt this advance – up until mid-summer.
At around the same time, in July, President Barack Obama is committed to declare the next round of sanctions against Iran – a tight clampdown on its banks and oil exports.
It is doubtful if then Tehran will consent to go back to the “everything is on the table” policy it pursued surprisingly for the first time in Turkey. Until now, the Iranians refused to allow its nuclear activities, especially in the military field, to be aired at international forums. Yet at the Saturday session, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator avoided mention of sanctions and, as debkafile predicted on April 11, did not demand the lifting of penalties as a precondition for negotiations.
His statement to the meeting was not released. European diplomatic sources only quoted him as saying generally that he was ready “to seriously engage on the Iranian nuclear issue.”
US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is quoted as saying that “relations between Washington and Tehran need not be so bad.”
During the break for lunch, when informal meetings traditionally take place among the delegates, Sherman is reported by Western sources to have asked to talk to Jalili, but whether or not they met was not stated. Shortly after, sources in Tehran denied that the US and Iranian delegation leaders had met separately but later said Jalili had accepted her invitation.
Diplomatic circles in the West including Israel were surprised at the choice of Wendy Sherman as US delegation leader. She is reputed to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s closest and most influential adviser. This is taken as a signal from Washington to Tehran that the Obama administration is more interested in improving the climate of relations with Iran at the diplomatic level than reaching understandings on the nuclear issue.
On April 7, debkafile’s Washington sources disclosed that this goal was underscored in the message from President Obama to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan delivered on March 29.
The president expressed the hope that Iranian leaders would abandon their hostile rhetoric and stop referring to the United States as their enemy. Erdogan was directed to inform the supreme leader that statements from Tehran crediting Obama’s policy for this improvement in tone would be welcomed, for example, Khamenei’s remark on March 8 in which he welcomed comments by US President Barack for “for pushing forward diplomacy and not war as a solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambition.”
This initial US approach and the absence from the American delegation of any important expert on Iran’s nuclear program have raised concern among some of America’s Western allies as well as Israel about the prospects of the Istanbul talks getting anywhere in their avowed objective of reining in Iran’s nuclear aspirations.