The United States has quietly increased its back-channel diplomatic contacts with Iran, a sign that those who favor engagement have strengthened their hand in the administration, U.S. officials say.
Using Switzerland as an intermediary, American and Iranian officials have exchanged diplomatic messages on a variety of nuts-and-bolts subjects, including the fate of an American citizen missing in Iran, the future of five Iranian operatives whom American forces seized in Iraq, and old financial and property disputes.
The contacts amount to a shift for the White House, which rebuffed an Iranian offer of wide-ranging talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Middle East peace, and direct relations after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The White House largely shut down the Swiss channel, which both countries use in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.
“There’s no doubt there’s more willingness to talk now than there was a few years ago,” one State Department official said.
Taking Iranian officials hostage does not comport with a willingness to talk, but this is still a good sign.