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Burns to Al-Monitor: 'No illusions' about nuclear diplomacy with Iran

In an exclusive interview, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns discusses leading the US back channel to Iran, the upcoming Geneva II conference on Syria, the role of secret diplomacy and 32 years in the US foreign service.
US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns listens during a press conference at the US Department of the Treasury July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. Officials from the United States and China are meeting to discus the two world powers' relationships during the 5th United States and China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

As a team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency heads to Iran to oversee on Monday, Jan. 20, the dismantling of Iran’s 20% enrichment cascades, the US diplomat who was asked by the president to try to start a bilateral channel with Iran to advance a nuclear agreement has to date said little about his role.

But in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor on Jan. 14, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns spoke for the first time about the back channel to Iran that he led, which gained momentum after Iran’s election of President Hassan Rouhani in June, and culminated in November with the first agreement to halt the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in a decade.

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