Analysis: Quiet Iran diplomacy – and the strategic leaks to come

As the negotiation deadline approaches, the specter of failure may motivate parties to leak details in effort to spin talks to their favor.

Iran nuclear talks in Geneva 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran nuclear talks in Geneva 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – World powers have agreed with Iran not to divulge the details of nuclear talks as they attempt to negotiate a final settlement to the longstanding diplomatic impasse, a US official confirmed on Friday.
“Over the next five months as we negotiate, we aren’t going to get into specifics on any issues that we discuss,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“We’re just not going to get into confirming anything about specific issues, when they’re discussed, how they’re discussed, if they’re discussed, because we really do think that in this sensitive and detailed and complicated negotiation, we can’t do that publicly and we need to do that privately, even discussing the issues,” Harf added.
That shift – from public pronouncements and positioning on all sides to a vow of silence on the world’s most pressing security issue – speaks to the stakes of the talks, which all parties agree may not be prolonged ad infinitum, and which may result in “disastrous,” consequential failure, as Iran’s foreign minister put it before comprehensive negotiations began last week in Vienna.
The strategy of quiet invokes US Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that privacy surround the Middle East peace process, reinvigorated last July. A timeline of nine months was set by Washington for those talks — and as that deadline fast approaches, the specter of failure has motivated parties involved to leak their details, cast in terms of charges and blame, and packaged for each party’s domestic audiences.
With more hands on the negotiation with Iran – and with a shorter time frame of less than five months, unless all parties agree to extend the deadline – similar leaks should be expected.
But without the possibility of independent corroboration, those leaks will not be facts.
They will be politics: the efforts of both sides to spin the talks to their favor. Readers, and journalists, would be wise to keep this in mind as the talks progress.