Back channel US-Iran talks preceded nuclear deal

Back channel US-Iran talks preceded nuclear deal
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations Palais in Geneva

WASHINGTON - US and Iranian envoys held secret bilateral meetings ahead of Saturday's landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, a senior US official told reporters.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that after Hassan Rouhani was elected Iran's president in June contacts were established and series of meetings held.

The eventual deal was signed by Iran and the P5+1 group of powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - after discussions in Geneva.

But the official, confirming a detailed report on the specialist Middle East news website Al-Monitor, said that UN envoys had met privately beforehand with Iranian negotiators.

"Any discussions we have with the Iranians on a bilateral basis, were meant to reinforce and ultimately to being part of the P5+1 negotiations," he said.

He noted that US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke briefly to their Iranian counterparts at the time of the UN General Assembly.

"In addition to that, we also had a small number of bilateral discussions with the Iranians since President Rouhani's election, with the aim of discussing ideas that could then be merged into the P5+1 negotiations," he said.

"So over the course of the last few months of very intensive diplomacy, in September, October and November this year, we had some limited bilateral discussions with the Iranians in addition to the P5+1 discussions."

According to Al-Monitor the contacts date to June and were led by diplomat William Burns, a senior State Department official and former chief US negotiator on the Iran dossier.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1979 in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution and the subsequent storming of the US embassy by radical students.

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