The White House is denying an Israeli news network’s report that Valerie Jarrett, one of President Barack Obama’s top advisors, has been secretly conducting negotiations with Iran for more than a year, attempting to stifle rumors that have been granted new life after circulating since last fall.
Israel’s Channel 10’s report aired Sunday, which cites several unnamed “senior Israeli officials,” claiming that Jarrett has been holding talks with Iran over its nuclear program in backrooms for the last year, and keeping Israel in the dark. These talks, which allegedly took place around the Gulf region, were supposedly between Jarrett and the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.
The television station’s report also claimed that even the State Department was kept out of the loop, and highlighted the differences between France and the United States as evidence that a tentative deal had been completed between Washington and Tehran before members of the international community met in Geneva last month:
According to Channel 10, the secret channel marginalized Kerry, and was overseen by the president. The idea had been for Kerry merely to fly to Geneva, as he did last Friday, to sign a deal in which he had been a bit player. In the event, factors such as the French stance, and Israel’s very public objections, derailed this plan, and the talks broke up last Saturday without an agreement.
White House spokesperson Bernadette Meehan when asked about the claims about Jarrett told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “those rumors are absolutely 100% false.” Amazingly enough, this is the second time in the last year that the Obama administration has had to tamp down on rumors that Jarrett is conducting secret talks with Iran. The first report ran in Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Nov. 5, 2012 — the day before the 2012 presidential election — and has been circulating the Internet ever since. In that article, it was alleged that Jarrett “served as the personal and direct emissary of the president to secret meetings with the Iranians,” offering scant details of those meetings’ content.
That didn’t stop commentators on the right-wing from immediately denouncing Jarrett’s alleged involvement. “If Ms. Jarrett emerges with a deal sometime after the election, the suspicion is that her goal is more to get the president off the hook for his promises than to actually stop the Iranians,” Jonathan Tobin wrote at Commentary. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze wrote, “Jarrett’s status as a White House confidante and major figure has been well-known for some time, but this bit of news marks her first foray into being an official foreign policy surrogate. If Obama is reelected tomorrow, however, it certainly might not be the last.”
Fox News in the days after the Israeli report seized upon the idea that Jarrett could be facilitating foreign policy maneuvers, relying on unsourced Iranian blogs to back their assertions. Fox News’ Lisa Daftari — who once warned about the danger of Al-Jazeera America activating al Qaeda sleeper cells in Detroit — wrote that “Jarrett’s foreign policy record offers insight into why her name would come up in rumors of such talks.” The foreign policy record in question? An allegation that Jarrett convinced Obama not to launch an earlier strike against Osama bin Laden, a claim the White House has also refuted.
“As my colleague Tommy Vietor has already confirmed, these reports are ridiculous,” then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was forced to say in a briefing days after the initial report. “There are no Valerie Jarrett talks.” Part of the reason that Jarrett has been singled out as a likely interlocutor is her place of birth: Shiraz, Iran, where her American father and mother lived at the time.
That process seems to be repeating itself with the latest report, as conservatives begin to slam the latest Channel 10 allegation. “If this report is found to be accurate despite the administration’s fast denial, the fact that Jarrett is leading the U.S. negotiating team on Iran’s nuclear weapons program is very troubling,” wrote Breitbart News. “She does not appear to have any foreign policy experience or history of being involved in such high level negotiations of this nature.”
Last year’s reports stemmed from a New York Times article in which Iran and the U.S. reportedly laid the groundwork for one-on-one negotiations over its nuclear program. In the months since, the inauguration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani this year, the U.S. and Iran have had the highest levels of interaction since the Iranian revolution, including an historic phone call between Rouhani and Obama. World powers including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia — the so-called P5+1 — are due to meet with Iran in Geneva again beginning on Wednesday, with both sides saying that an first phase deal could be on the horizon.