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Obama advised Netanyahu of Iran talks in September
New AP report reveals long road to Geneva agreement, including number of high-level clandestine meetings by US, Iranian officials. Report claims Netanyahu knew talks, negotiations were being held before Obama-Rohani phone call
On a warm day in Washington this fall, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled in the White House, each flanked by a handful of top advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden.

 

Just three days earlier, Obama had held an historic phone call with Iran's new President Hassan Rohani, the leader of a country Israel sees as a threat to its very existence.

 

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In the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Sept. 30, just after the high Jewish holidays, Obama revealed to Netanyahu that his administration had been engaged in secret, high-level diplomatic talks with the mortal enemy of the Jewish state.

 

Netanyahu's immediate public reaction betrayed no surprise, but a day later he launched a full-frontal attack on Iran, delivering a blistering speech at the UN General Assembly in which he said the Islamic republic was bent on Israel's destruction and accused Rohani of being a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

 

The White House meeting had been scheduled for about an hour, but continued on for 30 more minutes, leaving American and Israeli journalists crowded onto the portico outside the Oval Office to speculate about the discussions underway inside. Yet In statements after the meeting, both leaders tried to display unity rather than airing their differences on Iran in public.

 

Neither mentioned Rohani by name. Obama vowed to keep all options, including military action, on the table in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And Netanyahu said he welcomed Obama's assurances that Iran's "conciliatory words" must be matched by its actions.

 

As they finished speaking, Obama turned to Netanyahu and said: "Are you hungry? I am. Let's go eat." The two leaders, along with Biden, then retreated to Obama's private dining room for a working lunch.

 

Media reports now suggest that Israel's intelligence services were already aware of Obama's clandestine outreach to Iran, which had begun some seven months earlier, but senior US officials have told The Associated Press that this was the first time America's closest Mideast ally had been formally notified that it was underway.

 

In fact, at that point, and at Obama's personal direction, senior US officials had met three times with Iranian officials in a high-stakes bid to address concerns about the country's nuclear program and explore possibilities for improved ties. Israel, Netanyahu has said, fundamentally disagrees with the administration's tactics.

 

On Sunday, just hours after Netanyahu denounced as a "historic mistake" an agreement forged between world powers and Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, Obama called the Israeli leader to reassure him of his vow not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu again expressed his unease and was unconvinced. He urged the West to reconsider.

 

The two sides agreed to stay in close touch about their ultimate goal: To rid Iran of the threat of nuclear weapons.

 

No apologies

Before Rohani's election, while former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in power, a tense US-Iran relationship seemed unavoidable.

 

But Obama was determined to test that. In March, a small hand-picked group of officials led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Jake Sullivan, Biden's top foreign policy adviser, boarded a military plane for Oman to meet Iranian counterparts.

 

Their travel plans were not on any public itineraries. No reception greeted them as they landed.

 

It was at this first high-level gathering at a secure location in the Omani capital of Muscat, famous for its souk filled with frankincense and myrrh, that the Obama administration began laying the groundwork for this weekend's historic nuclear pact between world powers and Iran, The Associated Press has learned.

 

The AP has learned that at least five secret meetings have occurred between top Obama administration and Iranian officials since March.

 

Burns and Sullivan led each US delegation. At the most recent face-to-face talks, they were joined by chief US nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman.

 

It was at the final get-together that the two sides ultimately agreed on the contours of the pact signed before dawn Sunday by the so-called P5+1 group of nations and Iran, three senior administration officials told the AP. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to be quoted by name talking about the sensitive diplomacy.

 

With low expectations, mid-level American officials began in 2011 meeting their Iranian counterparts in Muscat, one of the Arab world's most tranquil if overlooked metropolises.

 

The process was guided by Sultan Qaboos, Oman's diminutive but wily monarch, who has cultivated decades of good relations with the United States and his region's two rivals: Sunni-controlled Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran.

 

Qaboos had endeared himself to the Obama administration after three American hikers were arrested in 2009 for straying across Iraq's border into Iran. As a mediator he was able to secure their freedom over the next two years, prompting US officials to wonder whether the diplomatic opportunity was worth further exploring.

 

Expectations were kept low for the initial US-Iranian discussions. The officials skirted the big issues and focused primarily on the logistics for setting up higher-level talks. For the US, the big question was whether Iran's leaders would be willing to secretly negotiate matters of substance with a country they call the "Great Satan."

 

The private talks were also a gamble for the United States, which cut off diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution and the taking of 52 American hostages held for 444 days after rebels stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. To this day the State Department considers Iran the biggest state supporter of terrorism in the world.

 

 

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פרסום ראשון: 11.25.13, 12:04
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