WASHINGTON – For months, at least one core aspect of White House policy on Iran
has been clear: A negotiated settlement with the Islamic Republic over its
expansive nuclear program is the “overwhelming preference” of US President
The White House sees Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a
moderate force in Tehran politics, with an imperative to negotiate with the West
for economic sanctions relief. Upon Rouhani’s election, Obama tasked a handful
of key figures on his national security team to plan and execute a measured
outreach program, the first of its kind in over three decades.
figures included National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who personally oversaw a
broader effort in the West Wing this past summer to identify and clarify
America’s priorities in the Middle East; Puneet Talwar, a special assistant to
the president and the senior director for policy on Iran, Iraq and the Gulf
States on the national security team; and Tony Blinken, deputy national security
adviser to the president.
Rice worked with Iran’s ambassador to the
United Nations to set up a call between Obama and Rouhani after the UN General
Assembly in September. Before her current post, Rice served as the US ambassador
to the UN in New York.
The White House has flatly denied media claims
that special adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett was directly involved in
negotiations leading up to the public rapprochement in
“Valerie Jarrett has never been involved in any talks with
Iran,” White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “Any reports to the contrary are false.”
father worked as a doctor in Iran for several years, but the country’s nuclear
program is not a part of her portfolio, nor is she trained as an expert on the
topic. Reports of her involvement offer no evidence that she is involved in any
capacity beyond her role as general adviser to the president on a wide range of
The Post could not independently confirm reports that Talwar
participated in direct talks in Oman with Iranian Foreign Ministry
“Certainly, all the members of the P5+1 have direct contact
with the Iranians,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told
reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve had discussions to help move those talks
Harf engaged more speculation on Tuesday over rumors that top
US officials, or the president himself, were planning a visit to the Iranian
“I know there’s lots of rumors out there, but not at all,” Harf
The last time American diplomats had a presence in Iran was
during the hostage crisis of 1979-81.
At the White House on Tuesday,
spokesman Jay Carney said that the administration opposes any new sanctions
against Iran passed through Congress – including legislation that would
implement sanctions at the end of a self-imposed, six-month deadline to the
interim deal negotiated in Geneva last month.
“If we pass sanctions now,
even with a deferred trigger which has been discussed, the Iranians, and likely
our international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith,”
Carney told reporters.