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US State Department edited press briefing video of Iran talks

Department spokesman announced that a video cut regarding back-channel talks with Iran had been deliberately carried out
File photo of US State Department spokesman John Kirby (AFP)
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The US State Department edited footage of a press briefing to remove a response to a question about secret back-channel talks with Iran, its spokesman admitted on Wednesday.

Spokesman John Kirby asked department lawyers to investigate after Fox News correspondent James Rosen noticed that video of a question he posed in December 2013 was not in the public archive.

On Wednesday, Kirby announced that the cut - previously described by officials as a "glitch" - had indeed been deliberately carried out, but said it was not known who had ordered the edit.

"We believe that deliberately removing a portion of the video was not, and is not, in keeping with the State Department commitment to transparency and public accountability," he said.

Kirby said that a lower-level public affairs staffer had received a call from a colleague passing on a request that the section be cut, but could not now remember who this was. 

Last month's revelation of the mystery edit came as the US administration was defending its handling of the still controversial effort to secure last year's nuclear deal with Iran. 

Under the accord, implemented in March, Iran has submitted its nuclear programme to inspection and surrendered much of its enrichment capacity, in exchange for economic sanctions relief.

But critics, including many of President Barack Obama's opponents in Washington, allege that the White House misled the US public and concealed the extent of its outreach to Tehran.

In the section cut from the 2013 briefing tape, then spokeswoman Jen Psaki appeared to confirm to Rosen that spokespeople had deliberately concealed the existence of back-channel talks. 

Rosen asked Psaki whether the State Department, which had concealed the direct US-Iran talks that preceded the broader international negotiation, had lied to reporters.

Her frank reply - "James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that" - later disappeared from the video record. 

On Wednesday, after Kirby admitted that the edit had been deliberate, Psaki - who is now director of communications at the White House - denied that she had ordered the cut.

"I had no knowledge of, nor would I have approved of, any form of editing or cutting my briefing transcript on any subject while at State Department," she said in a tweet.

Kirby stressed that a full transcript of the briefing had always been available on the State Department site, and the complete video had been available on a Defense Department server.

"We do not know who made the request to edit the video, or why it was made," said Kirby, who only joined the State Department in May last year, and was not in charge at the time of the edit.

"To my surprise the Bureau of Public affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action," he added, promising that henceforth briefings will be properly archived in full.