Iran and U.S. Held Secret Talks on Proxy Attacks and Cease-Fire

Iran and the United States held secret, indirect talks in Oman in January, addressing the escalating threat posed to Red Sea shipping by the Houthis in Yemen, as well as the attacks on American bases by Iran-backed militias in Iraq, according to Iranian and U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.

The secret talks were held on Jan. 10 in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with Omani officials shuffling messages back and forth between delegations of Iranians and Americans sitting in separate rooms. The delegations were led by Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, and Brett McGurk, President Biden’s coordinator for the Middle East.

The meeting, first reported by The Financial Times this week, was the first time Iranian and American officials had held in-person negotiations — albeit indirectly — in nearly eight months. American officials said Iran requested the meeting in January and the Omanis strongly recommended that the United States accept.

Since the beginning of the war in Gaza after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, the United States and Iran have reassured each other that neither was seeking a direct confrontation, a stance conveyed in messages they passed through intermediaries.

But in Oman, each side had a clear request of the other, according to U.S. and Iranian officials.

Washington wanted Iran to rein in its proxies to stop the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and the targeting of American bases in Iraq and Syria. Tehran, in turn, wanted the Biden administration to deliver a cease-fire in Gaza.

President Biden at Dover Air Force Base last month, watching as one of the three American soldiers killed in a drone strike by an Iran-backed militia was brought home. Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times
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