by Jasmin Ramsey

On Sunday a Reuters report quoting unnamed “senior Iranian officials” suggested Tehran was trying to use the crisis posed by the group that calls itself the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) in Iraq to increase Iran’s leverage in negotiations over its nuclear program.

But a senior Iranian official directly involved in the talks denied the claim that Iran was trying to mix the two issues, insisting in an email to me that “We have enough on our plate with the nuclear issue.”

The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius supported the Iranian official’s comments in remarks made at the Council of Foreign Relations on Sept. 22, which I included in my piece. (France has been a challenging negotiating partner for Iran and has even been accused of impeding the interim nuclear deal reached in Geneva last November during the second to last session of talks.)

But in a strange update of its story, Reuters argued that the White House’s insistence today that the issues are being kept separate confirmed Reuter’s initial premise.

“While not surprising, the U.S. response suggests the White House feels a need to tell Iran publicly that it wants other issues kept away from the nuclear talks,” said the Reuters report.

When I heard the full quote by White Press Secretary Josh Earnest, it sounded like he was actually denying the premise of Reuter’s initial report.

Here’s the full response by Earnest with the one quote Reuters used in bold. (I wasn’t at the briefing so I won’t know the question that preceded Earnest’s response until the transcript becomes available.)

The conversations related to the P5+1 talks have to do with resolving the international community’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. Those conversations to try to resolve those concerns are entirely separate from any of the overlapping interests that Iran may have with the international community as it relates to ISIL. As you’ve heard me discuss on at least a couple of other occasions, it is not in the interest of the Iranian regime for this extremist organization to be wreaking havoc on its doorstep. So, like the international community, the Iranians are understandably concerned about the gains that ISIL has made in Iraq and they have indicated that they are ready to fight ISIL. But the United States will not coordinate any of our military activities with the Iranians, the United States will not be involved in sharing intelligence with the Iranians and the United States will not be in the position of trading aspects of Iran’s nuclear program to secure commitments to take on ISIL. These two issues are entirely separate.

Considering the strained state of the negotiations, it’s certainly possible that both sides are keeping the talks solely focused on Iran’s nuclear program to prevent further complications.

Read more about this story and where the talks stand in my piece today for IPS News.

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