The United States and Iran held snap bilateral talks on Thursday in Geneva as part of an effort to overcome differences that have prevented the conclusion of a final, lasting agreement on the status of Tehran's nuclear program. Curiously, two of the three senior U.S. government representatives that participated according to the sparse State Department announcement—Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and the vice president's national security adviser Jake Sullivan—are both expected to depart the Obama administration in a matter of months. This raised questions as to whether the Obama national security team was seeking to give the president some maneuverability on this sensitive issue, by allowing him to disavow his outgoing negotiators should they test the diplomatic waters by advancing proposals that end up being politically unpalatable at home. It also risked sending the wrong signal to the Iranian side—that the team sent to Geneva might not truly speak on behalf of the White House.
To address such concerns, State Department officials reiterated that Burns and Sullivan would "stay on as special government employees to work to reach a comprehensive Iran nuclear accord after they leave their current posts in the coming weeks." Some have speculated that President Barack Obama might be laying the groundwork for appointing a special envoy who would report directly to him to focus exclusively on handling the final negotiations with the Iranians. ...
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