Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sources say Biden aide secretly visited Oman for possible outreach to Iran over JCPOA

Brett McGurk, US President Joe Biden’s senior Middle East adviser, took a low-profile trip to Oman earlier this month for talks with Omani officials on possible diplomatic outreach to Iran regarding its nuclear program, according to five US, Israeli and European officials.

The Biden administration has said it is extremely concerned about the advances in Iran’s nuclear program and the risk of it leading to a regional military escalation.

Tehran has repeatedly stated that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even issuing religious edicts against the atom bomb and other weapons of mass destruction.

Axios reported in April that the Biden administration discussed with its European and Israeli partners a possible proposal for an interim agreement with Iran that would include some sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran freezing parts of its nuclear program.

McGurk traveled to Muscat on May 8 after a trip to Saudi Arabia with national security adviser Jake Sullivan and a visit to Israel to brief Prime Minister Netanyahu about the US talks in Riyadh, four Israeli and US officials said.

The Muscat visit wasn’t made public by either the US or Oman. The officials stated that the main issue that was discussed was a new diplomatic push over Iran’s nuclear program with Omani mediation.

“The Omanis are holding proximity talks between the US and Iran,” a senior Israeli official told Axios using diplomatic jargon for negotiations done through an agreed upon third party without a face-to-face meeting.

Three senior Israeli officials claimed the White House is exploring through the Omani government whether the Iranians are open to taking steps that would put some limits on their nuclear program and de-escalate the regional situation and what they would want in return.

“The Americans want a time out,” one of the senior Israeli officials told Axios.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson pushed back on the Israeli officials’ claims.

“There is no US discussion of an interim deal and no discussion of sanctions relief, or closing safeguards cases,” the spokesperson said.

A senior European diplomat added that the “US is working with the Omanis on the Iranian issue.”

The White House NSC spokesperson said they won’t comment on regional diplomacy “of which Iran is one aspect.”

The Israeli government is concerned about a possible push by the Biden administration for a “freeze for freeze” interim agreement with Iran, three Israeli officials told Axios.

Israeli Minister for strategic affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi are expected to discuss these concerns during their visit to the White House on Thursday.

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