U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps holiday reception at the State Department in Washington on December 19, 2012.
(image by Yuri Gripas for Reuters.)
"The Secret Mission of William J. Burns" is a true story that begins in Amman, Jordan. The year is 1983.
William J. Burns, a 27-year-old U.S. Foreign Service officer, is on his first overseas post to Amman, Jordan.
War is raging between Iran and Iraq. Burns volunteers to drive a truckload of communications equipment across the desert from Amman to Baghdad, Iraq, a distance of 500 miles.
As soon as the freshly-minted diplomat reaches the Iraqi border, he is arrested and held for two days before being escorted to the capital by police.
As Burns would later recall, his career "didn't exactly get off to a rocket-propelled start." After that two-day delayed mission to Baghdad, however, the career of William J. Burns has taken off like a rocket.
Currently serving as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Burns (pictured above with President Obama) has just completed a far more significant secret mission. He has led "a secret U.S. back channel to Iran going back to before the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani."
Lauren Rosen has the story on her Back Channel news blog for Al Monitor:
"Burns was tapped to lead the US diplomatic effort to establish a bilateral channel with Iran, which gained momentum after the exchange of letters between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Rouhani in early August, US officials said.
"Led by Burns, the US's second highest ranking diplomat and a former lead US Iran nuclear negotiator, the US effort to form direct contacts with Iran also includes two officials from the Obama White House: Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, and Puneet Talwar, the National Security Staff senior director for Iran, Iraq, and Persian Gulf affairs, US officials confirmed."
The agreement reached to cover the next six months, according to Al Monitor' s Laurz Rozen, "was painstakingly assembled during four days of marathon negotiations." The agreement calls for Iran:
"...to halt most of its uranium enrichment efforts, eliminate its stockpiles of uranium already purified to near weapons grade quality, open its facilities to daily monitoring by international inspectors and significantly slow the construction of the Arak plutonium reactor.
"Nuclear weapons can be assembled using either enriched uranium or plutonium, and the new pact is designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Iran to gain enough of either material for a bomb.
"In exchange, Iran would gain some relief from the punishing economic sanctions that had been leveled by Washington and its allies in recent years, freeing up roughly $6 billion."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not know of Ambassador Burns' bilateral channel with Iran until September 30 when he learned of it directly from President Barack Obama. After the story became public, the Israeli conservative newspaper The Times of Israel, reported how the news had reached Netanyahu:
"In the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on September 30, just after the Jewish high holidays, Obama revealed to Netanyahu that his administration had been engaged in secret, high-level diplomatic talks with the mortal enemy of the Jewish state.
"Netanyahu's immediate public reaction betrayed no surprise, but a day later he launched a full-frontal attack on Iran, delivering a blistering speech at the UN General Assembly in which he said the Islamic Republic was bent on Israel's destruction and accused Rouhani of being a "wolf in sheep's clothing."