Analysis: In West Wing, a long-sought rapprochement with Tehran

A negotiated settlement with Iran over its nuclear program has been the "overwhelming preference" of President Obama for months now.

Obama and Rouhani smiling 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama and Rouhani smiling 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 Barack Obama.
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.
Those 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 September.
“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.”
Jarrett’s 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 issues.
The Post could not independently confirm reports that Talwar participated in direct talks in Oman with Iranian Foreign Ministry officials.
“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 forward.”
Harf engaged more speculation on Tuesday over rumors that top US officials, or the president himself, were planning a visit to the Iranian capital.
“I know there’s lots of rumors out there, but not at all,” Harf asserted.
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.