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     Oct 23, 2012

Iran talks denial adds debate spice
By Chris Cook

For followers of the Iranian nuclear impasse, this past weekend has seen news about bilateral discussions between US and Iran coming in thick and fast.

Firstly, we saw an Iranian ex-Revolutionary Guard insider outlining - in remarkable detail - discussions he claimed had been held between the United States and Iran. These apparently culminated within the past three weeks in high level contacts in Qatar between a close confidante of President Barack Obama - Valerie Jarrett, who was actually born in Iran - and one or more high level Iranian officials.

The outcome of these talks, in respect of which the source was allegedly at the highest level in Iran, was that an agreement between the US and Iran would be announced before the US presidential election takes place on November 6, provided that


Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei receives the written guarantees he requires from President Obama.

Secondly, and following close on the heels of the first announcement, we saw a New York Times exclusive report - also allegedly founded on a very high level source - that bilateral meetings between the US and Iran had been agreed in principle, but would take place after the election.

Within hours the White House had denied the latter story, although stating that the US has been prepared throughout to engage bilaterally with Iran. Trailing in a few hours later, we then saw denials from Iran that any agreement had been reached.

Otto Von Bismarck's cynical warning comes inescapably to mind: "Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied".

We may then then add to the mix the recent meeting in Istanbul - solicited by Iran - between their negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and Catherine Ashton, the representative of 5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany), and recent conciliatory noises in New York from the unlikely source of Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Everything I have heard from Tehran supports the case that Iran does indeed - as a result of the economic turmoil - urgently wish to come to terms, but will not begin to do so until US electoral uncertainty is over after November 6.

Romney on the spot
President Obama is in a position, if he has the killer instinct, to make life very uncomfortable for the challenger in the upcoming final debate, which will cover foreign policy.

Firstly, Romney would be forced to agree that he too will be prepared to negotiate bilaterally with Iran since he would find it very difficult to hide behind the coat-tails of the 5+1. Secondly, he would find it very difficult to explicitly support a negotiating position that leads to regime change, such as imposing zero enrichment.

Once these issues have been publicly conceded, I have no doubt that Iran will make - whoever is elected - whatever concessions are necessary to meet the requirements of Russia, China, and above all, the European Union. I do not believe that the US is any longer in any position to act unilaterally in the way desired by its long-standing Israeli partners.

Oil Prices
The market is over-supplied with physical crude oil but prices have been supported by speculative money betting on the Iran Risk Premium. Once again we have seen the Saudis delivering cargoes of crude oil to the US Gulf, which is awash in crude oil, at prices well below the North Sea Brent/BFOE benchmark price, which they state they wish to reduce.

This could be a very interesting week if the market perceives a reduction in "Iran Risk".

Chris Cook is a former director of the International Petroleum Exchange. He is now a strategic market consultant, entrepreneur and commentator.

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