WASHINGTON – Iranian newspapers are reporting that a visit to Tehran this week by the leader of the Persian Gulf state of Oman was aimed at beginning quiet talks between the United States and the Islamic Republic.
One of the newspapers, the daily Khorasan, said Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has long sought to become an intermediary between the two countries, brought a proposal that Iran might be readmitted to an international money-transfer system if it agreed to reduce its uranium enrichment activities. Iran’s access to the Swift system was severed by European sanctions, preventing the country from getting billions of dollars on deposit in overseas banks.
The United States and other world powers fear Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and they have been trying to force curbs on its production of highly enriched uranium that could be used to fuel a bomb.
A U.S. administration official declined to comment on the Iranian newspaper reports. But Ray Takeyh, a former Obama administration advisor on Iran, said he considered the reports credible.
While the two countries have been taking part for years in gridlocked international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, top officials -- including President Obama -- have said they are open to bilateral negotiations. Qaboos has good relations with both countries and has successfully mediated several disputes between them.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been staunchly opposed to any concessions to the West on the nuclear program. But years of U.S. and European sanctions have badly hurt Iran’s economy. The country’s newly installed president, Hassan Rouhani, campaigned on a promise that he would seek to reduce Western sanctions.
Qaboos reportedly received special treatment during his three-day visit, which began Sunday and included meetings with Khamenei, Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s new foreign minister.
Takeyh, who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said Qaboos’ objective might have been leaked to the newspapers by conservative elements opposed to any deal with the United States.
Takeyh said he believed that widely expected U.S. air strikes on Syria, for its alleged chemical weapons attack on pro-rebel suburbs of Damascus, could increase the chances of deal-making. Iran is Syria’s most important ally.
“Khamenei’s more interested in diplomacy when he’s frightened,” Takeyh said.