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U.S. Held Private Talks with Iran’s Regime Over Nuclear Program, Curbing Houthi Attacks

The MV Rubymar after it was hit by a double rocket attack by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
The MV Rubymar after it was hit by a double rocket attack by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV

New information revealed on Wednesday by both American and Iranian authorities indicates that the United States engaged in undisclosed negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in January. The purpose of these talks was to persuade Tehran to utilize its influence in curbing its Yemen-based proxy terrorist group from further attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

According to officials, indirect talks were held in Oman in January between Washington and Tehran. During these negotiations, American officials expressed worries about Iran's growing nuclear program. The talks were the first communication between the two in 10 months.

The delegation from the U.S. was headed by Brett McGurk, the Middle East adviser from the White House, along with Abram Paley, who serves as the U.S. envoy for Iran affairs. On the Iran regime side, Ali Bagheri Kani, who holds the position of Deputy Foreign Minister and serves as Tehran's chief negotiator on nuclear issues, represented the Islamic Republic.

"The secretive talks between the U.S. and Iran facilitated by the Omanis in January demonstrates the continued futility of dialogue with the regime in Tehran," said Eric Bordenkircher, a research fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles' (UCLA) Center for Middle East Development. "The regime remains intent on regional hegemony and exacting pressure to realize it by any means possible. Here, the regime indulges in an act of denial—they profess little responsibility for a militia they have nurtured and regularly armed," he added.

According to statements from officials, Omani officials facilitated communication between Iranian and American representatives, ensuring they didn't engage in direct conversation. According to a source familiar with the situation, American officials view an indirect communication channel with Iran as a means to address threats originating from Iran. The approach involves communicating what actions are necessary to prevent a broader conflict, which they say Iran claims to desire.

The second round of negotiations involving McGurk, originally scheduled for February, had to be rescheduled because McGurk was busy with U.S. efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas. The aim was to end the conflict in Gaza and secure the release of Israeli hostages held in the region, as stated by U.S. officials.

"We have many channels for passing messages to Iran," a U.S. State Department spokesperson told The Financial Times. The spokesperson emphasized that since October 7, US officials have centered on highlighting the various threats originating from Iran and stressing the need for Tehran to halt widespread escalation.

According to reports, the most recent discussions between the U.S. and Iran occurred in May 2023.

Following Hamas's terrorist assault on Israel, the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has launched multiple rounds of rocket projectiles into northern Israel. Additionally, the Houthis have targeted numerous ships, including merchant vessels and U.S. naval ships, in attacks. Iranian-aligned Iraqi and Syrian terrorist groups have launched numerous missiles and drones at American military positions in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic Republic admits to providing political backing to the Houthis, who hold power in northern Yemen and justify their assaults as assistance for the Palestinians. However, Tehran maintains that the rebels operate autonomously.

"Has Tehran suddenly forgotten about all the arms shipments bound for Yemen that were intercepted by the U.S. Navy and others? Iran behaves like a parent who disclaims any responsibility for a child it raised, enabled, and now wreaks havoc on the neighborhood," Bordenkircher said.

"The child is everyone's problem but theirs. The scenario will persist and remain a challenge to U.S. national security unless the Biden administration is willing to exact punishment on the parent and the child—Iran and the Houthis," he told The Foreign Desk.

An Iran official told The Financial Times that Tehran has "repeatedly said it only has a form of spiritual influence [over the rebels]. They can't dictate to the Houthis, but they can negotiate and talk." Despite the efforts of the U.S. and its allies to target Houthi military infrastructure, the Iranian-backed terrorist group continues to launch assaults on shipping. So far, the Houthis have carried out a total of 99 attacks in the Red Sea and neighboring waters since October, impacting 15 commercial vessels, four of which were American.

Related Story: Houthis Ballistic Missile Attack Kills Two in Gulf of Aden

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