If President Obama cuts a nuclear deal with Iran, William J. Burns "will – deservedly – get no small share of the credit for getting the negotiations started after years of stalemate," Politico Magazine gushed in a new profile of Burns
, a retired career Foreign Service officer who became the State Department's number two official under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Together with Jake Sullivan (a close adviser to Clinton and later to Vice President Joe Biden), Burns began the secret talks with Iranian representatives in Oman that laid the groundwork for the nuclear negotiations that began in earnest in late 2013.
Burns said that by that time, it "became clear" that Iran was "committed to trying to take a concrete step toward a comprehensive solution" and that negotiating with it could produce "tangible results." The key question, he said, was the linkage between the nuclear issue and a "wider strategy" to deal with Iran.
And that, Burns told the magazine, was no easy task because "the reality is, Iranian behavior is likely to be threatening, whether it's in support of Hezbollah or it's Syria or Yemen or elsewhere, for some time to come."
Burns, who now heads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
, said it is "very important" for the United States to continue working with partners in the region "to reassure them and to make clear that we're clear-eyed about all those threats."
Burns took issue with critics like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who say the deal being negotiated with Iran by the Obama administration is a bad one which will remove sanctions against the Islamist regime while having negligible effect on its nuclear enrichment efforts.
Burns said the administration's goals were to "constrain" an Iranian civilian nuclear program over a long period and to develop "very tight monitoring" procedures to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He added that sanctions relief had to be imposed in such a way as to make it possible to "reapply sanctions" if Iran is caught violating an agreement.
Burns also said that Iran's current "breakout time" (how quickly it could move to develop a bomb before it could be detected ) is two to three months, while the United States is seeking to negotiate a one-year breakout time in the current negotiations.
Burns took a swipe at House Speaker John Boehner for inviting Netanyahu to address Congress earlier this month, declaring that historically the U.S.-Israel relationship "has not been partisan."
Burns also objected to the way in which Netanyahu's speech had been "orchestrated" and called it "unfortunate" in its timing.
Burns dismissed the notion that the United States should press for dismantling Iran's nuclear enrichment capability, saying that such an idea might work "in a perfect world" but emphasizing that Washington is powerless to stop it from happening.
"The reality is that the Iranians have developed over the course of the last decade or more the know-how to enrich," and "you can't wish that away, you can't dismantle it away, and you can't bomb it away," Burns declared.
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