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Enduring America Exclusive: Secret US-Iran Talks in Near-Future?

"Engagement" may be more than rhetoric: it appears that US and Iranian representatives may be meeting --- very, very quietly --- as early as next week.

Last Monday, an Iranian newspaper closely linked with former President Khatami, Yari News, reported, "Secret talks between Tehran and Washington are about to be ‎held at a European capital." ‎Specifically, "discussions are to be held between Mojtaba ‎Samareh Hashemi, representing Ahmadinejad, and William Perry, representing Obama." ‎Samareh Hashemi is a former Foreign Ministry official who is now a senior advisor to Iranian President Ahmadinejad; Perry is a former US Secretary of Defense and an advisor to the Obama 2008 campaign.

Initially, after a reader pointed us to the story, we treated it as just one of many rumours flying about in the first days of the Obama Administration. But then we put this together with the news, announced yesterday, that US representatives were travelling to Berlin next week for meetings on Iran with China, Russia, Britain, Germany, and France.

And then just now, we found this on "The Cable", a blog associated with the journal Foreign Policy:

Several sources told The Cable that the informal dialogue between senior Americans and the Iranians was much more robust in recent months than has been previously reported. Over the past year, our sources confirmed, former Defense Secretary William Perry and a group of high-level U.S. nuclear nonproliferation specialists and U.S. experts on Iran held a series of meetings in European cities with Iranian officials under the auspices of the Pugwash group.

Pugwash, an activist group committed to nuclear disarmament, convened four meetings, one of which was in the Hague in August and another in Vienna in December. The Iranian delegation included Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The American side included Perry as well as Robert Einhorn, a former Assistant Secretary of State and advisor on non-proliferation to the Hillary Clinton and then Obama campaigns. Einhorn, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is expected to be named Undersecretary of State for Arms Control.

There are a number of cautions around both the Pugwash report and Yari News's claim of a government-to-government meeting. Einhorn has denied his involvement in any talks with Iran, and Samareh Hashemi has denied any participation in forthcoming discussions. A US Government official damped down any expectations based on past contacts:

[The Pugwash process] is just more of the same "Track II" activities that so many of the participants love to think of as secret talks. There are a number of these things going on and it's hard to keep them straight....Absolutely nothing to do with government to government.

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