Wed Feb 14, 6:32 PM ET
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice misled the U.S. Congress when she said last week that she had not seen a 2003 Iranian proposal for talks with the United States, a former senior government official said on Wednesday.
Flynt Leverett, who worked on the National Security Council when it was headed by Rice, likened the proposal to the 1972 U.S. opening to China. He said he was confident it was seen by Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell but "the administration rejected the overture."
Speaking at a conference on Capitol Hill, Leverett said "this was a serious proposal, a serious effort" by Iran to lay out 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 the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee last week, Rice told lawmakers who asked about Leverett's previous public comments and writings 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."
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said: "What she said is she has no recollection of having seen it. She has said that repeatedly." he said the accusation that she had misled Congress was "just absolutely 100 percent false."
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 he deserved an apology from Rice 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 that left government.
Hence, he wasn't in a position to made this case directly to Rice, nor was it his responsibility, he said.
But among other things, Leverett said that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a discussion 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 to the White House in May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represented U.S. interests there. Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 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.