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Source: CNN

Aug 12, 2023

Possible deal to free American prisoners in Iran called for shuttle diplomacy – from hotel to hotel

By Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

Closing in on a deal to free five Americans detained in Iran, US and Iranian delegations gathered in separate hotels in Doha – within sight of each other, but not within earshot – as Qatari diplomats shuttled back and forth trying feverishly to broker an elusive agreement between the two.

None of the conversation played out in face-to-face meetings between the US and Iran over more than a year of on-and-off hotel meetings in the Qatari capital, a US official familiar with the negotiations told CNN.

Instead, Qatari officials relayed messages back and forth, with some of the logistical work happening in the most discreet way possible, according to a US official familiar with the negotiations – via text thread between the Qataris and the US diplomats.

The indirect talks were part of a two-year process that brought about the deal announced this week, a potential diplomatic breakthrough between bitter adversaries who don’t even talk to each other.

The overall contours of the deal’s roadmap began to crystallize in Doha about six months ago, after two-and-a-half years of intensive on-and-off indirect discussions between Washington and Tehran. And on Thursday, those intense efforts yielded the first sign of payoff, when Iran released four Americans who had been detained in the notorious Evin Prison and moved them into house arrest.

“It’s a positive step that they were released from prison and sent to home detention. But this is just the beginning of a process that I hope and expect will lead to their return home to the United States,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after the transfer was announced.

If that plays out as agreed, the intricate diplomacy will have produced a momentous agreement between long-time adversaries whose relationship has been strained by Iran’s growing nuclear program and its alleged human rights abuses.

Befitting the relationship, the path has been thorny, according to accounts shared with CNN by several sources familiar with the talks. The United States and Iran don’t have diplomatic relations, and public overtures by Washington to engage directly with Tehran on the matter were rebuffed.

Instead, the US had to pursue indirect avenues, relying on partners in the Middle East and Europe including Qatar, Oman, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, all of whom served as interlocutors for the two sides over the course of the past two and a half years.

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