Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The U.S. - Iran Relations: 'Obama wrote Khamenei twice, Ahmadinejad wrote Obama twice'

Ex-official: Obama wrote Khamenei twice, Ahmadinejad wrote Obama twice
Laura Rozen on Foreign Policy, Politico, October 15, 2010

Veteran diplomat John Limbert served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran in the Obama administration for nine months, departing this past summer.

He writes in a forthcoming U.S. Institute of Peace Iran primer on the Obama administration's frustrated attempts to negotiate with Iran so far and how both sides, but particularly Iran, beset by internal pressures and deep mutual misunderstandings, "claim the other is not responsive to its messages, and ... risk falling into the familiar, dysfunctional ways of the past."

Among his key points, Limbert reveals that Obama "twice wrote Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but did not receive a response to his second letter." Meantime, "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad twice wrote Obama, but did not receive a reply."

I remember hearing that one letter from the office of Khamenei had come into the U.S. (and was being translated at State, very few people notified, in May/June 2009), just before Iran's disputed June 2009 presidential elections.

Limbert also reviews how a proposed Iran nuclear fuel swap deal, accepted and then reneged on by an internally divided Iran last fall, was unacceptable to the West by the time Iran agreed to it, with Brazil's and Turkey's mediation, in May 2010, and interpreted by the U.S. by then as a sanctions-stalling ploy.

"The last-ditch diplomacy ended up a classic case of bad timing. Terms acceptable in October 2009 were not acceptable in May 2010. ... The Obama administration—along with Russia and France, the original parties to the Geneva deal—viewed the revised package primarily as an Iranian attempt to avoid U.N. sanctions. By then the sanctions process had acquired too much momentum for the Turkey-Brazil deal to reverse."
The upshot?

"Officials on both sides seemed unable to get beyond their classic responses...Never say yes to anything. You will look weak," Limbert writes. "Insist the other side must change first. Anything the other side proposes must contain some subtle trick. Its only goal is to cheat us."

Despite the fact that "Obama was willing to go further than any previous administration in normalizing relations with Iran [and that] Washington continued to look for [diplomatic] opportunities ... the road ahead is likely to be frustrated by Iran’s fears, internal political friction and mutual hostility built up over 30 years without communication," he writes.

Whether sanctions can now persuade Iran's leaders to come to a negotiated solution is now the question. U.S. officials seem to think there is some time to find out -- perhaps two years.

Iraqi PM courts Iran during visit - Aljazeera
Iranian President Backs Nuclear Discussions - NTI
Chinese firms bypass sanctions on Iran, U.S. says - The Washington Post
Iran joins international talks on Afghanistan - ABC
Briefing Skipper: China, Israel, Iran, Cuba, Russian spies - Foreign Policy

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