US Mediator Will Attend International Talks with Iran

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In an historic development, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns will attend international talks with Iran on its nuclear program, to take place this weekend in Geneva. The Washington Post reports:

In a significant departure from longstanding policy, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns will join a scheduled meeting in Geneva between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, according to a senior State Department official.

Burns will not negotiate with the Iranians nor hold separate meetings, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. Instead, he will advance the White House’s position that serious negotiations can only begin after Iran suspends its enrichment of uranium. […]

The U.S. official said Burns would not participate in any further discussions during the freeze-for-freeze period. “This is a one-time deal,” he said.

“European officials hailed the news that Burns would come to Geneva as a breakthrough, one that sends a clear message to Iran that the international community was interested in negotiating a solution to the nuclear impasse,” the Post further reports. Said one European official cited by the paper, “It is a very interesting and important sign by the United States.” The pro-engagement National Iranian American Council also welcomed the move.

With a lot of recent Iranian noises in different directions, some indicating they are considering going for a “freeze for freeze” offer — in which Iran would freeze further installations on its nuclear enrichment program (but not suspend enrichment) and the UN would freeze further sanctions for a six week “pre-negotiations” period — Burns’ forthcoming presence in Geneva signals to Iran that Washington would actually support such a deal. It would also seem to signify that for now anyhow, Bush continues to entrust the major thrust of his administration’s second term Iran policy to its relatively more pragmatic wing, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

If Iran and the internationals, joined by the US, are even able to get to the “freeze for freeze” six week prenegotiation period, how will Washington proceed if Iran demands some face-saving way around a total halt to uranium enrichment activities? Former US diplomat Thomas Pickering and colleagues have a proposal.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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