Iranian leaders have intensified debate on the pros and cons of direct talks with the United States in recent days, suggesting Tehran may be mulling whether to take President Obama up on the offer and under what conditions. The flurry of debate comes as arms control officials from Iran, Washington and five world powers are due to meet in Istanbul next week, to discuss a revised international nuclear proposal that Iranian negotiators greeted favorably in Kazakhstan last month.
Iranian Supreme Leader’s longtime foreign policy advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, former Iran nuclear negotiator Hossan Rowhani, and two Iranian diplomats involved in 2007 talks with the United States on the issue of Iraq, have all weighed in on the merits of possible US-Iranian talks in recent days, in interviews with Iranian media and, notably, in photos of US and Iranian officials meeting in Iraq six years ago, newly published on the Supreme Leader’s website.
“It is not the Supreme Leader’s view that Iran and the United States should not have negotiations and relations until the Day of Judgment,” Rowhani, former Iranian nuclear negotiator and a candidate in June’s presidential elections, was cited by Iranian media Thursday.
“If there is a situation where the country’s dignity and interests are..served, he will give permission for dialogue…as…negotiations have been held between the two countries on issues related to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the nuclear (issue),” Rowhani continued.
“Our red line, according to the Leader, was to negotiate only for the issue of Iraq and nothing else,” Hussein Amir Abdollahian, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African affairs who was involved in the Iraq talks with the Americans, said in an interview published on the Supreme Leader’s website this week, Iran news site Iran’s View reported Thursday.
“If you ask me about the US’ willingness to negotiate, as a person who has had the experience, I would say they are willing, but they are not intending to solve the problem,” Amir Abdollahian continued.
Then US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, pictured above right, told the Back Channel Friday that the publication of the photos by the Iranian leadership was “interesting,” and said they were from meetings that occurred in Iraq in 2007.
Crocker and Iran’s envoy to Iraq Hassan Kazemi-Qomi held two meetings in Iraq in the summer of 2007, on May 28 and July 24, 2007, according to media reports at the time. “Their May 28 meeting marked the first public and formal talks between U.S. and Iranian representatives since the United States cut off diplomatic relations 27 years ago,” CNN reported at the time.
But though the Bush White House authorized Crocker to meet Iran’s Iraq envoy, it decided against authorizing US Iraq commander General David Petraues to meet with Iran’s Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the New York Times‘ Michael Gordon reported last year. Soleimani had relayed a message to Petraeus through an Iraqi minister in August 2007, saying Iran would reduce its destabilization of Iraq if Coalition forces released an Iraqi Shiite militant in their custody, Gordon reports in his newly updated book on the Iraq war, The EndGame, written with Bernard Trainor.
Soleimani’s message to Petraeus “was that Iran would decrease activity in Iraq dramatically if the Coalition would release Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) Special Groups leader Qais Khazali,” Crocker relayed in an August 2007 cable, according to Gordon’s summary of the document, which is part of an archive of US government documents compiled by EndGame. “Solemani pledged ‘you will see results in two months.’”
In an interview on the Supreme Leader’s website this week, Iran’s former Iraq envoy Kazemi Qomi described his American interlocutors, however, as “not sincere, Irrational and inconsiderate,” according to Iran’s View.
Iran analysts said the Iranian leadership’s airing of the 2007 US-Iran contacts in Iraq was interesting in the current context.
“The more they say they have done it in the past, the more they achieve three objectives,” Iran analyst Trita Parsi, author of a book on Obama’s Iran diplomacy, A Single Role of the Dice, told the Back Channel Thursday. “They de-dramatize talking to the US; prepare for a shift in that direction, or a shift away from it, on the basis of saying ‘We have no problem talking to the US–we’ve done it in the past–but the US is not offering anything right now.’”
Longtime Khamenei confidant Velayati, who is also an Iranian presidential candidate, told Iranian journalists Wednesday the Supreme Leader has already explained his conditions for dialogue with Washington. A US-educated doctor and former Iranian foreign minister, Velayati has previously denied rumors of being involved in secret talks with Washington.
“Velayati said that as long as Americans have not changed their behavior and methods of conduct with Iran, the stance of the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain unchanged,” IRNA reported.
“The words and actions of American officials are irrational and unreasonable,” Khamenei said in a February 16th speech to the people of Tabriz/Iran’s Eastern Azerbaijan region. “They expect others to surrender to their irrational actions and coercion… but the Iranian nation, the Islamic Republic will not surrender.”
President Obama, speaking ahead of his first presidential trip to Israel next week, said he thinks there is at least a year before Iran could produce a nuclear weapon, but the diplomatic window may be shorter than that.
“Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” Obama told Israel’s Channel 2, Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
“So when I’m consulting with Bibi…my message to him will be the same as before,” Obama continued. “If we can resolve it diplomatically that is a more lasting solution. But if not I continue to keep all options on the table.”
(Top two photos of then US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker meeting with Iranian and Iraqi officials in Iraq in 2007 from the Supreme Leader’s official website. In top photo, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is at head of table; to Maliki’s left is Barham Salih, who was then Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister; to the left of Salih in the tan suit is Mowaffak Rubaie, Maliki’s national security adviser at the time. On Crocker’s right, is Ali Debagh, Maliki’s spokesperson. Bottom photo of Crocker meeting with Iranian and Iraqi officials via Iran’s View.)