August 5, 2010

Race for Iran - Obama on Iran: The Substance Behind The "Signal"

Obama on Iran: The Substance Behind The "Signal"
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Yesterday, President Obama called a small group of journalists into the White House to talk about Iran. According to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Obama’s agenda was to signal Iran that the United States might “accept a deal that allows Iran to maintain its civilian nuclear program, so long as Iran provides ‘confidence-building measures’ to verify that it is not building a bomb”. The President said that his Administration is prepared to lay out “a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons”. The President’s vision for renewed diplomacy with Tehran also included a proposal for talks on Afghanistan, where the two sides “have a ‘mutual interest’ in fighting the Taliban”.

That the President feels he must call in Western journalists to signal Tehran is a sad commentary on the Obama Administration’s failure to develop a discreet and reliable channel through which to communicate with Iranian leaders. Ignatius reminds us that Obama “sent two secret letters” last year to the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Obama also opted not to respond to a congratulatory letter sent to him after the 2008 U.S. presidential election by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—a letter which Ahmadinejad has told us was “unprecedented” and “not easy to get done” on his side. In that context, Obama’s letters to Khamenei were seen in Tehran as an attempt to go “over the head” of Iran’s elected President—another iteration, in a failed pattern dating to Ronald Reagan’s Iran-contra scandal, of U.S. administrations trying to create channels to individual Iranian leaders rather than dealing with the Islamic Republic as a system. This amused neither Khamenei nor Ahmadinejad.

Continued. . .