Obama Tried to Restore Ties With Iran in 2009, Report Says

A few months after his election, President Barack Obama proposed gradual resumption of full diplomatic relations with Iran, with the goal of halting its nuclear program, Maariv's Eli Bardenstein reports, but Tehran refused to "reward" the Americans.

al-monitor U.S. President Barack Obama addresses AIPAC's annual policy conference in Washington, March 4, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

Topics covered

us, obama, nuclear, negotiations, israel, iran sanctions, iran

Oct 28, 2012

A few months after he was elected President of the United States, Barack Obama tried to gradually restore diplomatic ties with Iran, even to the extent of reopening embassies and establishing full diplomatic relations. The Islamic republic rebuffed the proposal out of fear for the future of the ayatollah-backed regime. This information reached Maariv from two Western diplomatic sources who are very close to the American administration.

The American initiative was part of Obama’s inclusive, changed foreign-relations approach, soon after he took office. His approach emphasized the use of negotiating tools and in extending a “diplomatic hand.” A short time after he was elected, the new president announced his intentions to extend a hand to Iran. A White House announcement stated that Obama supports “an aggressive and direct diplomacy with Iran, without preconditions.” This represented a [change] from the policy of the former George Bush administration. The new administration hoped that building a rapprochement with Iran would help them establish fundamental understandings with Iran regarding the suspension of its nuclear program.

In the first stage, the Americans offered [the Iranians] to open government interests offices in Tehran and Washington — the lowest level of diplomatic relations between countries. Later on, the American administration had hoped to enter a track of detailed agreements. Relations between the United States and Iran were severed in 1979, at the conclusion of the Islamic revolution and the rise of Khomeini to power. Maariv received information that at least two direct meetings were conducted between official American and Iranian representatives, starting in the summer of 2009.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and head of Iran's negotiating team Saeed Jalili participated in at least one of the two meetings. The two met following the six superpowers’ meeting with Iran in October 2009 in Geneva. That direct talk lasted about an hour. According to an Israeli source involved in the negotiations, the Islamic Republic was leery of any sign of normalization of relations with the United States and refused to “reward” the Americans. Iran’s major concern was that the ayatollah-led regime would be weakened due to American intervention in Iranian society.

At the time, talks were held simultaneously between six super powers (five members of the Security Council and Germany). In these contacts, a dramatic transaction was discussed: Iran would transfer low-enriched uranium to a third country in exchange for 20 percent enriched fuel rods. But the Iranians overturned the proposal, and suspended the discussions. 

Details of the failed American initiative become more clear, in view of the New York Times report of an additional American attempt to open a direct channel of communication with Iran. The White House denied the report. Maariv has discovered that the Americans transmitted similar messages to the Iranians in recent weeks, via one of the six super-powers. Yet it is not clear if one-on-one talks were held between officials of the countries [or if unofficial talks had taken place]. According to two high-placed Israeli sources, the transmitted messages expressed anticipation of the American administration for Iranian readiness to renew the direct talks shortly after the American presidential elections on Nov. 6. As far as is known, in the last series of messages, no proposal for renewal of diplomatic relations is on the agenda.

The United States National Security Council chose not to address this issue directly, but instead directed attention to White House announcements last week [Oct. 20] stating that, “although we are ready to consider negotiations between the countries, this has not been determined and we have no agreements with the Iranians.”

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