The US delegation to the bilateral talks with Iranian officials taking place in Geneva on June 9-10 has been directed by the White House not to leave the table empty-handed. The meeting was initiated for a supreme effort to cover up the fact that the P5+1 negotiations with Iran are at an impasse, with no chance of achieving their goal of a final nuclear accord by the July deadline – or even by the extended timeline of Jan. 15, 2015 (first revealed by debkafile on May 24.), and have something to show for the venture into nuclear diplomacy.
A US official said that the bilateral stage was fitted in ahead of the full-dress round between all six powers and Iran on June 16-20 “to engage in as much active diplomacy a we can to test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program.”
The avowed objective which the negotiations started out with, of a comprehensive agreement finally setting to rest the issues of Iran’s nuclear program, has obviously been dropped from US officialese. But the optimistic comments of “progress” accompanying round after round of failed discussions had to be explained away.
To this end, US President Barack Obama whipped out the undercover team which had been running his back-channel to Tehran from Oman in the past year. It was on that track that the real business was contracted between Washington and Tehran, whereas the P5+1 forum was pretty much a showpiece (as debkafile reported.)
Therefore, for the Geneva meeting starting Monday, US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who headed the back-channel team in Oman, was brought out in the open. He supersedes Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who failed to make any headway in the formal rounds of talks. With him is another team member, Vice President Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan.
President Obama brought the team out for a last-ditch effort to save the day because of four developments:
1. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has forbidden President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif to make any further concessions, especially on uranium enrichment and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, thus foredooming to failure the diplomatic process Obama so cherished. Khamenei dug in his heels after he heard the US president virtually rescinding America’s option against Iran in his West Point speech.
2. Obama and his advisers came to the conclusion that the most the Iranians can be expected to cede – and only then in the second half of 2014 – is an improved version of the interim nuclear accord struck by the six powers and Iran last November.
debkafile’s Washington sources report that William Burns is under orders from the White House to clinch an “improved interim accord” in Geneva. This is vitally important in order to turn the failed nuclear negotiations around and hold them up as a success.
3. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi announced Saturday that Iran would take part in the bilateral talks, but would go straight from the meeting with the US delegation to a separate one with Russian negotiators in Rome on June 11-12.
Tehran has thus provided itself with the option of improving on Washington’s offer by getting a better deal from Moscow. This maneuver also brings to the attention of the Obama administration that Iran means henceforth to line up its Middle East policy and strategy with Moscow.
The American source commented wryly that the two-day Geneva encounter would undoubtedly provide the stage for further US concessions if the delegation wishes to come out with any sort of accord in hand.