‘Geneva talks a facade, US-Iran worked secretly on deal for past year’

White House denies report Obama team has been negotiating terms with Tehran, didn’t fully coordinate with Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Geneva negotiations between the so-called P5+1 powers and Iran are a mere “facade,” because the terms of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program have been negotiated in talks between a top adviser to President Barack Obama and a leading Iranian nuclear official that have continued in secret for more than a year, Israeli television reported Sunday.

Despite ostensible full coordination between the US and Israel over strategies for thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons drive, the administration did not keep Israel fully informed on those talks, Channel 10 news reported, but Jerusalem nonetheless has a pretty clear picture of what has been going on in the secret channel.

White House spokesman Bernadette Meehan was quoted by Haaretz as saying that the report was “absolutely, 100 percent false.”

The report, which relied on unnamed senior Israeli officials, said the US team to the secret talks was led by Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. Her primary interlocutor, the report said, was the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi. The talks have been taking place in various Gulf states.

In the course of the talks, the report said, the Americans offered the Iranians a series of “confidence-building measures,” which underlined American readiness to conclude a deal and undercut sanctions pressure.

It was the deal discussed in these secret talks, the report said, that the Americans then brought to Geneva earlier this month, where it was largely adopted by the P5+1 nations — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany.

France has indicated that it raised objections to the proposed terms, while US Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal was so “tough” that the Iranians had to return to Tehran to take a decision on whether to sign it. The Geneva talks are set to resume on Wednesday.

Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to US President Barack Obama (photo credit: public domain via Wikipedia)
Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to US President Barack Obama (photo credit: public domain via Wikipedia)

According to Channel 10, the secret channel marginalized Kerry, and was overseen by the president. The idea had been for Kerry merely to fly to Geneva, as he did last Friday, to sign a deal in which he had been a bit player. In the event, factors such as the French stance, and Israel’s very public objections, derailed this plan, and the talks broke up last Saturday without an agreement.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly fumed at the terms that were offered to Iran at Geneva, including an easing of non-core sanctions under an arrangements whereby Iran would still be permitted to enrich uranium to 3.5%. Netanyahu wants all sanctions retained, and all enrichment to be frozen, as a first step toward the dismantling of Iran’s entire “military nuclear” program.

Nevertheless, the expectation in Jerusalem is that a deal is on the way in the near future. Kerry, with whom Netanyahu has been engaged in a public sniping match in recent days, is due back in Israel at the end of this week, after the Geneva talks resume.

Sunday’s Channel 10 report was not the first to assert a secret US-Iran channel involving Obama aide Jarrett. In November of 2012, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth said Jarrett — a Chicago lawyer born in Shiraz, Iran, to American parents, and good friend of Obama’s — was “a key figure in secret contacts the White House is conducting with the Iranian regime.”

That report said “Jarrett served as the personal and direct emissary of the president to secret meetings with the Iranians, which are understood to have taken place in one of the Gulf principalities.”

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