May 22, 2024 | Flash Brief

U.S. Conducts Secret, Indirect Talks With Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator

May 22, 2024 | Flash Brief

U.S. Conducts Secret, Indirect Talks With Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator

Latest Developments

The United States conducted indirect talks with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported on May 21. The talks — which Axios first reported on May 17 — took place in Oman. White House Middle East advisor Brett McGurk and acting Iran envoy Abram Paley traveled to Oman for discussions on regional de-escalation with Iranian officials. According to the most recent reports, the talks also included the Islamic Republic’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani. Bagheri Kani is now serving as acting Iranian foreign minister following the death of the late foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on May 19. Amir-Abdollahian died in the helicopter crash that also took the life of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Without revealing the content of the discussions, an unnamed U.S. official told AP that the “indirect talks are a channel that the U.S. has used in the past with the Iranians to convey concerns and make clear there are consequences for destabilizing actions.”

Expert Analysis

“While the administration may be disclosing conversations about Iran’s terror sponsorship in the region, let’s not forget that Bagheri Kani is Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. It’s difficult to imagine these talks not centering around expanding last year’s unacknowledged nuclear deal.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“While back channels and indirect talks have their place in international relations, the Biden administration’s over-reliance on the Oman back channel has rendered bare the lack of a real strategy on Iran and its willingness to engage in pay-to-delay schemes.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

The Omani Channel

Oman last hosted indirect talks between Washington and Tehran in January. That round of diplomacy, which also involved McGurk and Bagheri Kani, reportedly focused on Iran-backed Houthi attacks on commercial traffic in the Red Sea and Iran-backed militia attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq. The January meetings failed to produce an agreement and, shortly after McGurk departed, the United States and allies launched strikes against dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen.

Oman was also the seat of negotiations for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The Biden administration reportedly considered reviving nuclear talks through the Omani channel last year.

IAEA-Iran Talks Stalled After Raisi’s Death

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on May 22 that the deaths of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian caused the “temporary interruption” of talks with Tehran over the regime’s stalled cooperation with the IAEA, nonproliferation safeguards violations, and Iran’s failure to permit more robust IAEA monitoring of its nuclear activities. “They are in a mourning period which I need to respect,” Grossi said. “But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again.”

On May 7, Grossi returned from a two-day visit to Iran without reaching an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear activities. At a joint press conference with Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Grossi stated that the IAEA and Tehran are still negotiating the implementation of a March 2023 Joint Statement on cooperation and did not strike a new deal.

IAEA Chief’s Visit to Iran Fails to Sway Tehran on Nuclear Cooperation,” FDD Flash Brief

What to Know About Iran’s Nuclear Program: Breakout Time,” FDD Visual

Oman in the Middle: Muscat’s Balancing Act Between Iran and America,” by Jonathan Schanzer and Nicole Salter


Gulf States Iran Iran Nuclear Iran Politics and Economy Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy