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June 23, 2009

WashTimes Breathless Over Previously Reported Letter to Iran
Posted by Adam Blickstein

EXCLUSIVE usually denotes the dissemination of previously unreported news, which is why the headline of a pending Washington Times piece reading "EXCLUSIVE: U.S. contacted Iran's ayatollah before election," also featured prominently on the Drudgereport, is curious. Why? Well first the article reads thusly:

An Iranian with knowledge of the overture, however, told The Washington Times that the letter was sent between May 4 and May 10 and laid out the prospect of "cooperation in regional and bilateral relations" and a resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

The Iranian, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the letter was given to the Iranian Foreign Ministry by a representative of the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations. The letter was then delivered to the office of Ayatollah Khamenei, he said.

"Before the election" and a "over a month before the election" are two different things. I'm not claiming that the Washington Times is at the vanguard of journalistic integrity, but it seems a little egregious to claim that any letter sent, being generous here, nearly 35 days before Iranians actually voted was a pre-election letter. But what's worse is that news of this letter isn't new, nor is it exclusive. In fact, its existence had been widely reported earlier this year (even in the Weekly Standard). As the Guardian said in January:

Officials of Barack Obama's administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

This letter seems extremely consistent with the thoughtful and methodical re-engagement with Iran Obama has advocated and in part executed. While the frame presented by the Times alludes to directly implies that the letter is another indication Obama's reaction to the events unfolding in Iran have been recalcitrant and unsupportive of the Iranian people, in reality, the letter's origins date from right after Obama himself was elected and before he even took office, far before Mir-Hossein Mousavi even declared his candidacy for the Presidency in Iran. So while the Times tees this up in the context of Iran's election, and seeks to stoke the fires of Republican partisan sniping on a sensitive international issue, they are pretty far off base both in their exclusivity claims and couching of reality.

In fact, according to an expert cited in the Guardian article, an effect of the letter would be to divide the hardline clerics from those in Iran who seek better relations in the west, the exact dynamics now partially at play amidst the turmoil and chaos unfolding both on the streets and in Qom:

"There will be disputes inside the system about such a letter. There are lot of radicals who don't want to see ordinary relations between Tehran and Washington."

That's exactly why both this letter and the breadth of Obama's actions and rhetoric towards Iran are important: they exude calibration and nuance. Neither of these are readily grasped by the fire-breathing Right and publications like the Times, which is a reason we shouldn't be surprised why to them this letter is further evidence of Obama's paucity on the subject. Regardless, since its on Drudge, expect some in the GOP and in the media to try and hammer Obama for this even if the letter and the election are completely disconnected.


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"There will be disputes inside the system about such a letter. There are lot of radicals who don't want to see ordinary relations between Tehran and Washington."

And where are most of these "radicals" located? Tehran? Or Washington?

"There will be disputes inside the system about such a letter. There are lot of radicals who don't want to see ordinary relations between Tehran and Washington."

these radicals are mostly in Israel, the country with the most interest in Iran and the US not having ordinary relations.

"There will be disputes inside the system about such a letter. There are lot of radicals who don't want to see ordinary relations between Tehran and Washington."

There is no dispute in Iran about the letter..and there was more than one.

The letters are accepted as Obama's approval of the Islamic Republic system. That is why Khameini in his sermon expressed surprise on Obama's earlier, mild criticism of the crackdown on the protests.

The timing was not meant to legitimize or wink at a fraudulent election. Several letters of this sort have been sent begging for "talks." The Iranians might have thought the latest letter was a tacit approval of doing it their own way, and Obama's initial silence may have fueled that feeling, but that is not what Obama intended.

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