Israeli Intel Revealed Secret U.S.-Iran Talks, Months Before Obama Briefed Netanyahu

Israel found out about secret talks at beginning of summer, senior official tells Haaretz.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel found out about the existence of secret talks between the United States and Iran months before they were officially informed of the negotiations by the U.S. government, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. The Israeli government learned of the secret negotiations sometime near the beginning of the summer through intelligence it managed to obtain.

The existence of the secret channel between Iran and the United States was revealed publicly for the first time only on Sunday by the Associated Press and by blogger Laura Rozen on the Al-Monitor news website. The two reports appeared simultaneously, right after Iran and world powers signed an agreement in Geneva.

The back door contact was set up even before Iran's June presidential election, the two reports said. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns led the talks on the American side and the first meeting was held in March, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still president, according to the Associated Press.

Four more sessions were held after Hassan Rohani was elected president - two in August and two in October. Most of the meetings were held in the Gulf state of Oman. The talks were also kept secret from most U.S. allies - including Israel. It was only after the Obama-Rohani phone call that the United States began informing allies of secret talks with Iran.

Senior Israeli cabinet ministers said in media briefings over the past few months that the United States had a secret and direct channel to the regime in Iran, but they did not provide any details of who was involved in these talks. The ministers said the contacts between Iran and the P5 + 1 powers of Germany, the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain, were only a cover for the real talks going on between the United States and Iran. The White House repeatedly denied reports of a secret channel when probed by Israeli reporters.

Israel was officially informed of the existence of these secret talks only two months ago, the Associated Press reported - a full six months after the talks had began.

Obama told Netanyahu of the secret channel two months ago during a meeting at the White House. The United States tipped off the other governments involved in the talks about the existence of the secret channel only after updating Israel, according to the Associated Press. A day after Obama brought Netanyahu into the loop, the Israeli premier delivered a harsh address lambasting Iran at the UN General Assembly.

Obama notified Netanyahu of only about two of the meetings with the Iranians, which took place after Rohani’s election, and made no mention of the first set of talks held in March. This was part of the promise made by the Americans to Iran, according to the Associated Press.

Rohani’s victory and his statements soon after made it clear to the Americans there was a possibility for genuine negotiations with Iran. Deputy Secretary Burns was in contact with senior Iranian diplomats who were close to Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif and Rohani. Other American officials who were involved along with Burns, the State department's number 2, were Jake Sullivan, Vice-President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, and the White House National Security Staff director in charge of Iran, Iraq and Persian Gulf affairs, Puneet Talwar.

Some of the points comprising the interim agreement reached between Iran and the six powers were based on these secret talks between the U.S. and Tehran, integrated by the Americans into the official document.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Sept. 30, 2013.Credit: AP

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