In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue(Note By Same Reporter Below)
- Glenn Kessler, Washington Post
Thursday, February 8, 2007
(02-08) 04:00 PST Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pressed Wednesday on whether the Bush administration missed an opportunity to improve relations with Iran in 2003, when Tehran issued a proposal calling for a broad dialogue with the United States, including cooperation on nuclear safeguards, action against terrorists and possible recognition of Israel.
Although former administration officials have said the proposal was discussed and ultimately rejected by top U.S. officials, Rice said she never saw it.
"I have read about this so-called proposal from Iran," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, referring to reports in the Washington Post and other publications last year. "I think I would have noticed if the Iranians had said, 'We're ready to recognize Israel.' ... I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing."
Rice's comments add a new level of complexity to an issue that has generated debate among foreign-policy experts: Did the Bush administration forego a chance to pursue a dialogue with Iran shortly after the fall of Baghdad, when U.S. power seemed at its height?
The Iranian document, con-veyed to Washington via the Swiss Embassy, listed a series of Iranian aims for potential talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology, and recognition of its "legitimate security interests," according to a copy that has circulated in Washington and was verified by Iranian and U.S. officials.
Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, including possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.
Flynt Leverett, Rice's former staff member, had publicly discussed seeing the proposal when he worked at the White House.
Leverett said Wednesday he became aware of the two-page offer, which came over a fax machine at the State Department, in his waning days in the U.S. government as a senior director at the National Security Council, but that it was not his responsibility to put it on Rice's desk because Rice had placed Elliott Abrams in charge of Middle East policy.
Abrams is currently deputy national security adviser in charge of the Middle East and democracy promotion. A security council spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of Abrams, said Wednesday that Abrams "has no memory of any such fax and never saw or heard of any such thing."
Former State Department officials have said they saw the Iranian offer and used it as a key element in a 2003 memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell proposing that the United States pursue a "grand bargain" with Iran. The Iranian offer was attached to the Powell memo, but Powell did not forward the memo to the White House, officials said.
In June, Rice appeared to confirm the White House received the memo in an interview with National Public Radio. "What the Iranians wanted earlier was to be one-on-one with the United States so that this could be about the United States and Iran," Rice said. State Department officials at the time did not dissuade reporters from interpreting her comments as referring to the 2003 fax.Page A - 8