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Did a chalice help make Iran deal possible?

Did an ancient chalice help the Iran nuclear deal happen? It may have, said a report on Saturday, with the secret talks in Oman and elsewhere that have already been written about.

world Updated: Dec 02, 2013 00:14 IST
Yashwant Raj

Did an ancient chalice help the Iran nuclear deal happen? It may have, said a report on Saturday, with the secret talks in Oman and elsewhere that have already been written about.

The chalice — a 7th century BC silver artifact in the shape of a fabled winged creature — was quietly returned by the US to the Iranians in September.

Two days after, Iran’s newly elected president Husain Rouhani accepted a phone call from President Barack Obama, the first such high-level contact since 1979. And they had a nuclear deal two months later.

The chalice, which was last seen in Iran in the 1980s, after the Islamic revolution, had surfaced in the US in 2003, and had been in the custody of customs since.

Iran wanted it back, but the US held off.

Until this summer when, the Los Angeles Times reported, the Obama administration was looking for the right gesture to reach out Rouhani.

Choice one: a handshake on the sidelines of of UN meet. Choice two: a video-taped message to the Iranian people. Choice three: the chalice.

Returning the chalice, the Americans thought, would build goodwill for the US.

A mid-level diplomat at the US mission to the UN was entrusted with the task of handing over the artifact, not easy as diplomats of the two countries hardly ever communicated.

The diplomat, who was not identified, called an Iranian diplomat he had dealt with before and asked him for a meeting. And he handed over the chalice in a carefully selected bag.

“The Iranian diplomat looked inside. His eyes grew wide.”