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Source: NY Post

Jun 14, 2023

Biden administration quietly revives talks with Iran

By Ryan King

The White House has restarted talks with Iran in an effort to win the release of US detainees and limit Tehran’s nuclear program.

Biden administration officials have traveled to Oman for indirect discussions with their Iranian counterparts at least three times since December, when senior US and Iranian diplomats made contact in New York, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

A month earlier, President Biden told a group of Iranian American protesters in California that the 2015 nuclear deal among the US, Iran and five other world powers was “dead, but we are not going to announce it.

Weeks after that, Robert Malley, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, conferred with Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations, according to the Journal.

Between February and May, Omani officials reportedly relayed correspondence between Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s top official dealing with the Middle East and North Africa, and Ali Bagheri-Kani, Iran’s top negotiator on nuclear matters. Malley traveled to Oman during that time as well, according to the Journal.

In addition, Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran late last month.

Iran is seeking to regain access to billions of dollars that have been frozen by US sanctions, potentially in exchange for concessions on its American prisoners and nuclear ambitions.

In recent weeks, the US approved the payment of roughly $2.7 billion to Iran by Iraq for electricity and gas imports, according to the Journal — though Washington officials say the transfer was not connected to the revived talks.

Iran has also sought access to $7 billion in funds holed up in South Korea, the outlet reported.

Relations between Iran and the US have grown increasingly tense over the last year as Tehran captured oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and supplied Russia with drones for use in its invasion of Ukraine.

Last fall, the US joined a chorus of foreign nations vehemently condemning Iran as it cracked down on mass protests in response to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her detention by the country’s notorious morality police.

Iran is believed to have ramped up its nuclear activity after the Trump administration began tightening sanctions back in 2018. This includes amassing sufficient nuclear material to construct weapons, according to US officials.

Biden is facing domestic political pressure as the 2024 election cycle heats up not to appear weak against foreign adversaries such as Iran.

Internationally, Biden also has to contend with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has kept the use of military force to respond to a nuclear Iran on the table.

Netanyahu has also reportedly acknowledged the US ambition for a “mini-deal” with Iran and downplayed the ramifications of such a breakthrough, underscoring that it “isn’t the deal we knew” that was brokered in 2015.

“What’s on the agenda at the moment between Washington and Tehran is not a nuclear deal, it’s a mini-deal,” Netanyahu said this week, according to Hebrew media. “We will be able to handle it.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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