A cover letter from Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran to the U.S., about Iran's 2003 diplomatic initiative to the U.S., was published by the Washington Post on Wednesday.[1]  --  The letter was "provided by a source who felt its contents [describing an Iranian diplomatic overture that could have led to the settlement of many outstanding disputes] were mischaracterized by State Department officials."  --  Knowledge of the letter, faxed to the U.S. State Dept. on May 4, 2003, has been denied by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, leading Flynt Leverett, who worked on the National Security Council when it was headed by Rice, to accuse Secretary of State Rice of misleading Congress.[2]  --  In his blog, Scott MacLeod of Time noted that Guldimann also reported that he had had several long conversations about the Iranian initiative with Iran's ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, who happens "to be related by marriage to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is the nephew of the Iranian foreign minister of that time."[3]  --  MacLeod is also right to point out that current U.S. demands that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before any talks can take place are not reasonable, since "the Iranians did suspend their enrichment activities, for two years or so starting in 2003, not long after Tehran's apparent approach to the U.S."  --  The Iranian initiative was discussed by Flynt Leverett at a conference held by the New America Foundation on Wednesday, James Isenberg noted.[4] ...


By Glenn Kessler

Washington Post
February 14, 2007
Page A14


The Swiss ambassador to Iran informed U.S. officials in 2003 that an Iranian proposal for comprehensive talks with the United States had been reviewed and approved by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; then-President Mohammad Khatami; and then-Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, according to a copy of the cover letter to the Iranian document.

"I got the clear impression that there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the U.S. now and to try it with this initiative," Tim Guldimann, the ambassador, wrote in a cover letter that was faxed to the State Department on May 4, 2003. Guldimann attached a one-page Iranian document labeled "Roadmap" that listed U.S. and Iranian aims for potential negotiations, putting on the table such issues as an end to Iran's support for anti-Israeli militants, action against terrorist groups on Iranian soil, and acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

The cover letter, which had not been previously disclosed, was provided by a source who felt its contents were mischaracterized by State Department officials. Switzerland serves as a diplomatic channel for communications between Tehran and Washington because the two countries broke off relations after the 1979 seizure of U.S. Embassy personnel.

Guldimann's two-page fax prompted a debate among foreign policy professionals on whether the Bush administration missed an opportunity four years ago to strike a "grand bargain" with Iran at a time when Washington appeared at the height of its power after the invasion of Iraq and Iran had not mastered uranium enrichment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was questioned about the document on Capitol Hill last week. She said she did not recall seeing it when she was national security adviser. "I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing," she said.

Former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage is quoted in this week's issue of *Newsweek* saying that the administration "couldn't determine what was the Iranians' and what was the Swiss ambassador's" in the proposal, adding that his impression at the time was that the Iranians "were trying to put too much on the table" for effective negotiations. Guldimann wrote that he had several long discussions with Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to France -- and also nephew to the foreign minister and brother-in-law to Khamenei's son. According to Guldimann, Sadegh Kharrazi reported going "through every word of this paper" with Khamenei, Khatami and the foreign minister. "The question is dealt with in high secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed," Kharrazi added.

The supreme leader had reservations on some points but agreed with 85 to 90 percent of the road map, and "everything can be negotiated," Kharrazi said, noting any reservations could be discussed at the first bilateral meeting. Kharrazi added: "There is a clear interest to tackle the problem of our relations with the U.S. I told them, this is a golden opportunity." Guldimann noted that the "lack of trust in the U.S. imposes them to proceed very carefully and very confidentially." Kharrazi proposed that Armitage represent the United States at the first meeting because he had made positive comments on Iranian democracy. Guldimann reported that he thought that was impossible, and he told Kharrazi that the Iranians should aim for a lower-level official.

"This document did not come through official channels but rather was a creative exercise on the part of the Swiss ambassador," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said yesterday. "The last 30 years are filled with examples of individuals claiming to represent Iranian views. We have offered to Iran a chance to sit across the table from us and discuss their nuclear issue and anything else they would like, should they simply, verifiably suspend their uranium-enrichment activities."


By Carol Giacomo

ReutersR February 14, 2007


WASHINGTON -- Controversy over a possible missed U.S. opportunity for rapprochement with Iran grew on Wednesday as former aide accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of misleading Congress on the issue.

Flynt Leverett, who worked on the National Security Council when it was headed by Rice, said a proposal vetted by Tehran's most senior leaders was sent to the United States in May 2003 and was akin to the 1972 U.S. opening to China.

Speaking at a conference [see #4 below] on Capitol Hill, Leverett said he was confident it was seen by Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell but "the administration rejected the overture."

Rice's spokesman denied she misled Congress and reiterated that she did not see the proposal.

Separately, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns warned Iran it risked further U.N. and other sanctions if it did not halt uranium enrichment as the U.N. Security Council demanded.

He stressed there was still time for diplomacy before Iran reached a critical point in its nuclear capability and said conflict with Iran was not inevitable.

Washington remains patient and committed to negotiations with Tehran and its carrot-and-stick approach with other major powers is influencing Iran's internal debate, Burns told the Brookings Institution think tank.

Leverett, speaking at a conference hosted by the New America Foundation think tank, said the 2003 overture "was a serious proposal" for a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.

"The Bush administration up to and including Secretary Rice is misleading Congress and the American public about the Iran proposal," he said.

Testifying before a U.S. Congress committee last week, Rice, said about Leverett's previous public comments on the Iranian proposal: "I don't know what Flynt Leverett's talking about."

She faulted him for not telling her, "We have a proposal from Iran and we really ought to take it."

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "What she said is she has no recollection of having seen it. She has said that repeatedly."

Leverett and others have represented the proposal as a missed opportunity that could have defused tensions with Iran which have grown to the point that the U.S. administration has been forced to deny it plans military action against Tehran.

Leverett said Rice should apologize for calling his competence into question.

He said he had left the National Security Council, which advises the president on security issues, in March 2003 before the Iranian proposal was received. He returned to the CIA where he previously worked and soon after left government. Hence, he was not in a position to make this case directly to Rice, he said.

Leverett said Powell, in a conversation about the Iranian proposal, told him he "couldn't sell it at the White House." This was evidence it had been discussed there, he said.

The proposal was transmitted in May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, who represented U.S. interests there. Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since two years after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

According to a copy of the proposal posted on the *Washington Post* Web site and cited by Leverett, it contains considerable detail about approaching issues of central interest to the United States and Iran.

This included an end to Iran's support for anti-Israel militants and acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

It carried a cover letter from Guldimann, who said the proposal was approved by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and then-President Mohammed Khatami.


By Scott MacLeod

Time (web site only)
February 15, 2007

CAIRO -- The big question everyone's been asking is, Is Bush going to war with Iran? This week, the President said that new U.S. allegations about Iranian meddling in Iraq were not meant as "a pretext for war." Bush's new defense secretary Robert Gates said two weeks ago that the Pentagon, despite sending two aircraft carriers to the Gulf, is not planning an attack on the Islamic Republic.

To my mind, the more urgent question is, Why isn't Bush talking to Iran? Let's remember up front that this is a mainstream concept, clearly so since December, when the report of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of former cabinet secretaries, congressmen, an ex-Supreme Court justice and other distinguished Americans, recommended to Bush that the U.S. "should engage directly with Iran" for the sake of achieving American goals in Iraq. The Study Group promoted the sensible view that engagement might encourage constructive Iranian behavior in Iraq and lead to "the broader dialogue that Iran seeks." In 2001, in fact, Bush officials held indirect talks with Iranian diplomats concerning post-Taliban Afghanistan; by most accounts, the discussions were constructive and useful.

Why, however, are the Bush folks tone-deaf on the question of holding a dialogue with Iran on the growing number of crucial issues of concern to both countries? To cite a few: Iran's nuclear program, Iran's support for radical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, U.S. sanctions against Iran, the future of Iraq, and security in the oil-rich Gulf.

Since early in Bush's presidency, the idea of coercing Iran, if not changing the regime in Tehran, has been an unshakeable policy irrespective of the ever-changing and increasingly dangerous political landscape in the Middle East. Despite Iranian cooperation in Afghanistan, Bush labeled Iran a member of his "axis of evil" in his January 2002 State of the Union speech. Such was the climate of anti-Iranian hostility in the White House, it seems, that an interesting olive branch extended by the Iranian regime in 2003 went scarcely noticed by senior policymakers [See # 2 above]. Or, as Condi Rice testified about the offer before congress last week, "I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing."

What actually happened is that Swiss ambassador in Tehran Tim Guldimann, the channel for American-Iranian contacts in the absence of diplomatic relations, faxed a letter to the State Department on May 4, 2003 reporting an Iranian initiative to improve relations with the U.S. and stating his view "there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the U.S." His letter introduced a purported Iranian roadmap outlining a prospective wide-ranging agenda for U.S.-Iranian talks. Guldimann's letter also noted that he had several long discussions about the Iranian initiative with the Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi. Kharrazi happens to be related by marriage to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is the nephew of the Iranian foreign minister of that time.

Now that Condi Rice has become aware of the Iranian roadmap, the State Department's new line is that it wasn't really an Iranian offer. The State Department spokesman is saying that the initiative "rather was a creative exercise on the part of the Swiss ambassador." What if it was? Call him a liar and throw it in the trash, then?

The State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, added that the U.S. government will sit down with Iran to discuss the nuclear issue and anything else they would like if the Iranians would only "simply, verifiably suspend their uranium-enrichment activities." Hold on a minute: the Iranians did suspend their enrichment activities, for two years or so starting in 2003, not long after Tehran's apparent approach to the U.S.

It seems Bush had other excuses for not talking to Iran then. Don't forget that in 2003, the U.S. knew that North Korea was also enriching uranium. In that same year, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 2006, it even announced that it had conducted a nuclear test. Instead of boycotting North Korea, the U.S. led the six-party talks that produced this week's encouraging breakthrough -- which was warmly lauded by Bush at his White House press conference.

There might have been a time when playing cutesy with Iran served some small, immediate purposes. Nobody is forgetting that the Iranian regime has its faults, serious faults. But with Iran at the heart of so many crises in the Middle East, and with 150,000 U.S. troops stationed next door, the time for diplomatic games has long past. Of the three members of his "axis of evil," Bush has invaded one, made a deal with another, leaving only Iran in a state of limbo. Good for Bush if he is not seeking a pretext for war with Iran. But after the fiasco that Iraq has turned out to be, and after the promise of the six-party talks with North Korea, the administration owes Americans a better explanation of why it effectively blocks a constructive dialogue with Tehran.


By David Isenberg

Partnership for a Secure America
February 15, 2007


Although it is less than a decade old, the New America Foundation in Washington, DC has a deserved reputation for promoting new ideas and for helping reveal what is really going on with our government. It did so back in 2005 when Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, (USA-Ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell, both when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, said in a speech at the Foundation that Vice-President Dick Cheney and a handful of others had hijacked the government’s foreign policy apparatus, deciding in secret to carry out policies that had left the U.S. weaker and more isolated in the world. In decidedly unambiguous words, Wilkerson said, “What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.”

Yesterday, the Foundation did another public service when it held a conference on the future of U.S.-Iran relations. Held, ironically enough at the Dirksen (former senator who was an early hawk on the Vietnam war) Senate Office Bldg., the first panel was "Ruse or Opportunity? The Provenance of Iran’s Spring 2003 Negotiations Offer." The panelists were Flynt Leverett, a Foundation Senior Fellow and a former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council and Col. Wilkerson.

Now follow closely, because this is both a bit complex but very important. Late last year Leverett and his wife Hilary Mann made the news because the CIA had blacked out portions of an op-ed they had written for the *New York Times*, after the White House intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions. Their op-ed simply pointed out the obvious fact that Iran was unlikely to cooperate with the U.S. over its nuclear program or other specific issues on a limited basis. Instead the only diplomatic approach that might succeed is a comprehensive one aimed at a “grand bargain” between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Now, given recently aggressive rhetoric towards Iran by various Administration officials, not to mention actions, like the buildup of U.S. naval forces in the Arabian Sea, one might think that if there was a chance to make diplomatic headway with Iran we should all know about it. After all, if we can made headway with North Korea (a far more dangerous state) over its actual nuclear weapons program, as we heard about this week, then we should be pushing to exploit any possible opening to negotiate with Iran. And, as it turns out, we did have that opportunity. In fact, we’ve had it for about three and a half years.

Fast forward to last week. Secretary of State Rice disputed claims that the Bush administration fumbled, and that is putting it nicely, a diplomatic overture from Iran that offered a broad dialogue with the United States after nearly a quarter-century of hostility.

Now, this was a serious offer from Iran. As a Washington Post article yesterday reported, the proposal had been reviewed and approved by Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; then-President Mohammad Khatami; and then-Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Now bear in mind that back then Iran had no operating centrifuges, nor had it enriched any uranium. If the United States had responded seriously we might have had the Iranian equivalent of Nixon goes to China. But, sadly, we did not.

Now last week Rice told Congress she did not remember seeing the 2003 Iranian proposal, which suggested Iran was ready to discuss its disputed nuclear program, support for militant groups that the United States labels terrorists and the acceptance of Israel.

The document, faxed to the State Department in March/April 2003, back when the U.S. was busy invading Iraq, proposed direct talks, perhaps in Paris. Iraq was at the top of the proposed agenda, with Tehran proposing “active Iranian support for Iraqi stabilization . . .”

Rice was asked about the criticism from Leverett. “I don’t know what Flynt Leverett’s talking about, quite frankly,” Rice said. “Maybe I should ask him when he came to me and said, ‘We have a proposal from Iran and we really ought to take it.’”

Now, this is plain silly, as it is clear from previous interviews with Rice that she was familiar with the Iran proposal and seemed not to raise doubts about its authenticity. If it is true that she never actually saw a proposal as important as this one would have been, given the level of U.S. concern about Iran, this means either that her management of the National Security Council was incompetent or that she never asked to see it.

Now, as Leverett made clear yesterday, he had left the NSC by the time the fax arrived, but he said that he knows the document was sent to the NSC. It also went to Rice’s predecessor as secretary of state, Colin Powell. Wilkerson confirmed that Powell had received it.

So among the numerous issues raised by the above is this. Our Secretary of State is either manifestly incompetent or a stone cold liar. I don’t know about you but it doesn’t fill me with confidence about effective formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy in the future.