A book released two months ago is said to be the first to disclose the full extent of the backdoor nuclear deal with Iran that the Obama administration began in secret, and as it turns out, it's got Hillary Clinton written all over it.
The book is Alter Egos, written by New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler, and explores the relationship between Clinton and Barack Obama -- two top U.S. leaders that exist both as arch-rivals and partners in American destiny. The section on the secretive Iran deal piqued the interest of Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius in light of the recent revelation that the State Department deliberately deceived the American public to hide this "back channel" deal.
One of the mysteries of Campaign 2016 is why the Iran nuclear deal has vanished as an issue. But a new book reveals some startling details about how the diplomacy with Tehran began in secret, long before reformers took power there, and the crucial role played by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
This Omani "back channel," as Ignatius calls it, was opened in 2009 "through a colorful fixer named Salem ben Nasser al-Ismaily." According to Landler's account in his book, Clinton's role was extensive and her entry through the back door was very early.
Dennis Ross, top advisor to Hillary who was secretary of state at that time, began meeting with Ismaily just four months after Obama took office. Ismaily insisted that Iran wanted to negotiate despite a lukewarm response by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to President Obama's secret letter asking for negotiations. Ismaily added that Oman would be "an ideal venue" to move forward in secret.
Two roadblocks immediately hindered the proposed negotiations, one being the Iranian presidential election in 2009 and the other when Iran captured three American hikers that same year. But this only slowed the talks as Ismaily began negotiating their release over the next two years. During that time, Clinton's right-hand man Ross continued to travel to Oman to further the nuclear deal. Sec. Clinton herself held "exploratory talks" with the sultan of Oman even before the last American hostages were released.
Then-Senator John Kerry was positioning himself into the talks and began meeting with Omani intermediaries in Europe and Washington. As Landler writes in his book, “In his zeal to jump-start the negotiations, Kerry passed several messages to the Iranians through Ismaily."
While not formally speaking for the administration, Kerry was essentially telling Iranian leadership that their baseline demand of enriching uranium would be a shoo-in with the Obama administration. Ignatius summarizes what happened next:
More secret meetings through the Omani channel followed in 2012 with Clinton’s top aides, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan. Then, in 2013, the train began to accelerate with Kerry’s appointment as secretary of state and Hassan Rouhani’s election as president of Iran. By the end of that year, an interim nuclear agreement had been reached.
These were the very early, backdoor negotiations that were left on the cutting room floor of the State Department when it decided to edit the video of the press conference video that was beginning to expose these secret negotiations. All of this leaves Ignatius frustrated with how little attention the Iran deal is getting as Clinton proudly accepts the nomination from her party.
"Kerry and Obama may have concluded it, but Clinton helped get it started," Ignatius writes of the Iran deal.
He urges Donald Trump to take this opportunity to pummel his opponent for her secretive role in the Iran deal and explain why the world would be safer without it. Ignatius also calls out President Obama -- who promised his administration would be the most transparent in history -- to provide an answer as to why such a landmark agreement was shrouded in such secrecy.
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