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IRAN: Swiss leak word of secret U.S.-Iranian talks

April 8, 2009 |  7:20 am

Iran-obama2 For six years, groups of American and Iranian academics and others have been secretly traveling to Geneva and other European cities for closed-door brainstorming sessions on how to break through three decades of hostility between the two nations, a Swiss newspaper is reporting. 

According to a lengthy and detailed report in the French-language Swiss daily Le Temps, the informal series of meetings took place with the full knowledge of authorities in Washington and Tehran.

About 400 people have taken part in the discussions -- called the "Track II" process -- including experts and scholars from Europe, the Arab world and Israel. None of the participants would speak on the record about the meetings.

But Switzerland's foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, told reporters that her government was fully aware of the contacts, the last of which took place from March 6 to 8.

"The talks are on a purely informal level and the foreign ministry is not involved,"  she said, according to an English-language report on the website of Swiss public broadcasting.

Both Iran and the U.S. consider Switzerland neutral ground. 

Bern, the Swiss capital, has served as Washington's diplomatic rep in Tehran since Iran and the U.S. broke off relations in the early 1980s. 

It has also won Tehran's favor for its refusal to abide by U.S. restrictions against doing big business with Iran, including multibillion-dollar energy deals.

One unnamed scholar told Le Temps he took part in hopes that dialogue could lead to mutual understanding between Iran and the U.S. He said participants could say whatever they wanted during freewheeling discussions, unrestricted by the ideological straitjackets imposed on diplomats in Washington and Tehran. 

Among those present at the meeting in early March were a person close to the Iranian government and an ambassador, as well as nuclear scientists, strategists and experts of international relations in a discussion about Iran's controversial nuclear program, according to Le Temps. 

Le Temps said the venue for the informal meetings would shift away from Geneva to avoid the international spotlight.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: An Iranian demonstrator in Tehran holds up a poster critical of President Obama's support for Israel during February celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Credit: Borzou Daragahi / Los Angeles Times

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