Talking to Tehran

For several months now, the United States and Israel have promoted what could be described as a two-tiered narrative in confronting Iran. That coming from the U.S. government has catered to the “quality” press, while that from Israel has aimed straight for the tabloid headlines. The administration line has been measured, rational, yet uncompromising. Condoleezza Rice has insisted that Iran must live up to its international obligations and curtail its nuclear enrichment program even while she reiterates the United States’ desire to find a diplomatic resolution to its differences with the Islamic state. Israel’s warnings, on the other hand — which have been voiced most insistently and alarmingly by Likud leader, Benjamin Netnayahu — suggest that unless Iran’s nuclear ambitions are thwarted, a second Holocaust is imminent.

The combination of these two approaches has stymied efforts to find an opening in U.S.-Iranian relations. This, in spite of the fact that one of the key recommendations in the November report from the Iraq Study Group was that the United States “should engage directly with Iran” in order to try to obtain its commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues.

In recent weeks, tensions have escalated. American officials are now saying that the Iran policy has broadened and that the new policy is aimed at confronting Iran in “every way but direct armed conflict, using all means short of war.” Two aircraft carriers, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS John C.Stennis, have been moved into the Gulf and in response, Iran is engaging in short-range missile tests. Inside Iraq, U.S. forces recently arrested Iranian diplomats in Irbil and a few weeks ago also detained diplomats in Baghdad.

In this context, there are precious few signs coming out of Washington that the administration is in any mood to consider talking to Tehran. Nevertheless, only a few days ago, Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, who was quoted from an interview he gave to the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, said that during his last visit to Tehran he been in discussions with Iranian officials who said that they are “ready to meet the Americans but they said that the Americans should publicly announce their readiness.”

Furthermore, there are reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is now being reined in by supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an effort to diffuse tensions. According to the Sunday Times, a debate is currently going on inside the regime on a proposal that “an international group made up of the permanent five members of the UN security council, plus Germany or a nuclear power such as India, would oversee and monitor Iran’s nuclear programme.”

From the U.S. side, the one sign that, contrary to all other indications, the State Department may be considering an opening to Iran comes in the appointment of Ryan Crocker as the United States’ new ambassador to Iraq. According to Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, Crocker earlier had a central role in a U.S.-Iranian dialogue that began in earnest after 9/11. At that time, meetings took place at least once a month and were, according to one former U.S. official, essential to the formation of Afghanistan’s new government under President Hamid Karzai. With Crocker, a Farsi speaker, about to take up residence in Baghdad, he would be the obvious lead if or when Washington decides it is ready to engage Tehran. The question now is this: Will Vice President Cheney once again stand in the way of such an opening, as he did back in 2003 when he insisted, “We don’t talk to evil”?

In 2003, soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran is alleged to have presented a comprehensive offer to the United States in an attempt to reach a permanent resolution to the countries’ differences. This offer is once again in the news, though it has been written about several times before. Although the contents of a document which describes the terms of this offer have been discussed at length — such as in Gareth Porter’s extended analysis in The American Prospect — the text of the document has not widely been reproduced. For that reason we provide the full text below.

More recently, this issue was central to an op-ed by Flynt Leverett (former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council), that the White House only allowed the New York Times to publish after removing references to the Iranian offer. This, in spite of the fact that Leverett had already published a paper [PDF] on this and received CIA approval for that publication.

In light of the Bush administration’s current confrontational stance towards Iran, it is now worth looking carefully at the opening that was, in 2003, summarily dismissed by the Bush administration.

Summary of letter purportedly sent by Iran to the US government in the spring of 2003 (bold text appears in the original document):

Iranian aims:
(The US accepts a dialogue “in mutual respect” and agrees that Iran puts the following aims on the agenda)

* Halt in US hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the US: (interference in internal or external relations, “axis of evil”, terrorism list.)
* Abolishment of all sanctions: commercial sanctions, frozen assets, judgments(FSIA), impediments in international trade and financial institutions
* Iraq: democratic and fully representative government in Iraq, support of Iranian claims for Iraqi reparations, respect for Iranian national interests in Iraq and religious links to Najaf/Karbal.
* Full access to peaceful nuclear technology, biotechnology and chemical technology
* Recognition of Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region with according defense capacity.
* Terrorism: pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all MKO and support for repatriation of their members in Iraq, decisive action against anti Iranian terrorists, above all MKO and affiliated organizations in the US

US aims: (Iran accepts a dialogue “in mutual respect” and agrees that the US puts the following aims on the agenda)

1. WMD: full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD, full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols)
2. Terrorism: decisive action against any terrorists (above all Al Qaida) on Iranian territory, full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.
3. Iraq: coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government.
4. Middle East:

1) stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad etc.) from Iranian territory, pressure on these organizations to stop violent action against civilians within borders of 1967.
2) action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon
3) acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two-states-approach)

I. Communication of mutual agreement on the following procedure
II. Mutual simultaneous statements “We have always been ready for direct and authoritative talks with the US/with Iran in good faith and with the aim of discussing – in mutual respect – our common interests and our mutual concerns based on merits and objective realities, but we have always made it clear that, such talks can only be held, if genuine progress for a solution of our own concerns can be achieved.”
III. A first direct meeting on the appropriate level (for instance in Paris) will be held with the previously agreed aims

a. of a decision on the first mutual steps

*Iraq: establishment of a common group, active Iranian support for Iraq stabilization, US-commitment to actively support Iranian reparation claims within the discussions on Iraq foreign debts.
*Terorrism: US-commitment to disarm and remove MKO from Iraq and take action in accordance with SCR1373 against its leadership, Iranian commitment for enhanced action against Al Qaida members in Iran, agreement on cooperation and information exchange
*Iranian general statement “to support a peaceful solution in the Middle East involving the parties concerned”
*US general statement that “Iran did not belong to ‘the axis of evil'”
*US-acceptance to halt its impediments against Iran in international financial and trade institutions

b. of the establishment of the parallel working groups on disarmament, regional security and economic cooperation. Their aim is an agreement on three parallel road maps, for the discussions of these working groups, each side accepts that the other side’s aims (see above) are put on the agenda:

1) Disarmament: road map, which combines the mutual aims of, on the one side, full transparency by international commitments and guarantees to abstain from WMD with, on the other side, full access to western technology (in the three areas),
2) Terrorism and regional security: road map for above mentioned aims on the Middle east and terrorism
3) Economic cooperation: road map for the abolishment of the sanctions, rescinding of judgments, and un-freezing of assets

c. of agreement on a time-table for implementation
d. and of a public statement after this first meeting on the achieved agreements
(A facsimile of this text can be viewed here.)


  1. Mike wrote:

    This is great, it should be much more widely publicized and I can totally see why Bush wouldn’t want this: because it would promote actual peace and stability from Israel, to Iraq, to Iran, to Lebanon. It would give a huge push everywhere for peace and for dialogue and negotiation, and would really bring a lot of positive change for the average individual of all these societies.

    But Bush is not concerned about the “average individual,” not of his own or other countries. What he’s mainly concerned about is pursuing war and dominance through force, and keeping profits huge for the multinational corporations, and keeping the Arab dictators propped up so that they can serve US interests.

    It’s sad really how little of a chance this has of succeeding, especially in contrast to how much of a benefit it would be to the world.

  2. Alice Sprickman wrote:

    This is a question rather than a comment. It is clear from an interview with Bush over the weekend that he is ignoring any guidance from the Congress or the public and is moving ahead on his aggressive stance in Iraq and towards Iran. Past history shows that if we say ‘no’ he says ‘go’. Is there any real way in which he can be deterred? It appears to me that there is not, especially since the 109th Congress gave him unlimited powers. Do we instead have to prepare for what will be a mideast in flames?

  3. CF editor wrote:

    We should not underestimate the differences between current conditions and those in early 2003. There isn’t even a semblance of an international coalition for engaging in a military confrontation with Iran. The U.S. military is already seriously overstretched. The White House has lost its strong base of domestic political support. And there is far from being a consensus in Israel on the magnitude of the threat from Tehran. Having said that, military brinkmanship is inevitably dangerous and confronting Iran by using “all means short of war” is an extremely risky game. As much as we might fear what Bush has in mind, we should be equally scared of how he and his administration might deal with what they have not anticipated.

  4. Michael Walker wrote:

    When the Bush administration pretends to use diplomacy, they always set pre-conditions that they know the other country won’t be able to accept. The war powers act of 1973 gives the commander in chief the right to send combat troops into conflict anywhere in the world for 90 days without congressional approval. What the congress could, and should do, is to pass a binding resolution that would forbid our use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. Recent changes in the law have created various technical loopholes that have removed the prohibitions against using nuclear weapons against signitories of the NPT. If this nuclear option is removed from the table, the whole dynamic changes, and diplomacy would be nesessitated. This would have a good chance of preventing armageddon in the broader middle east.

  5. Wil Robinson wrote:

    Great information…too bad the ‘liberal’ media doesn’t publicize this stuff.

    The point Michael Walker makes in his comment is a great point. Take for instance the Bush administrations conditions for talking to Iran about their nuclear technology ambitions:
    They have to give up their nuclear technology ambitions.

    It makes no sense why anyone would relinquish the very thing they are negotiating for before beginning actual negotiations. Someone needs to explain to those in Washington how diplomacy and negotiations work.

    Another interesting piece of literature coming out of Tehran – the letter Ahmedinejad sent Bush a year or so ago. An interesting piece…but something that was dismissed out of hand by both the administration and the media as being the words of a psychopath.

    The world needs to move beyond mere posturing and military threats and actually talk to each other. Discussion, dialogue and negotiation never hurt anyone – despite what many war hawks claim.

  6. […] The US has demanded that Iran butt out of Iraqi affairs (perhaps not realising that Tehran already exercises vast control over the country) and ignored serious Iranian moves to negotiate with Washington. Soundly rebuffed, Iran has already signalled its response to a United Nations resolution against its nuclear program. […]

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