Khamenei Sent Secret, “Noncommittal” Letter to Obama: WSJ

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A handout picture released on February 8, 2015 by the official website of the Center for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shows him on stage during a meeting with Iranian air force commanders in Tehran. AFP/HO/KHAMENEI.IR

Published Saturday, February 14, 2015

Iran's supreme leader has sent a secret but noncommittal letter to US President Barack Obama in response to American overtures, amid talks to strike a nuclear accord, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The newspaper cited an Iranian diplomat as saying Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had written to Obama in response to the president's letter sent in October.

Obama's correspondence had suggested potential US-Iranian cooperation in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group if a deal on Iran's nuclear program was struck, the diplomat told the Journal.

Around the time the letter was sent, Khamenei blamed the US and the "wicked" British government for creating ISIS.

"They created al-Qaeda and Da'esh in order to create divisions and use them to fight against the Islamic Republic, but today, they have turned on them (ISIS)," Khamenei said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Iran and other critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington, in partnership with its Gulf allies, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.

Iran also believes US and Britain are using the Islamist threat to justify their renewed presence in the region.

Khamenei said this week he could accept a compromise in the nuclear talks and gave his strongest defense yet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's decision to negotiate with the West, a policy opposed by powerful hardliners at home.

The supreme leader, who has the final word on all matters of state in Iran, responded in "respectful" but noncommittal manner, the diplomat was quoted as saying.

Current and former US officials who viewed the correspondence said Khamenei's letter outlined a string of abuses he claimed the United States had committed against the Iranian people during the past 60 years.

Neither the White House nor the Iranian government has officially confirmed any correspondence between the two leaders.

Talks with Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — the so-called P5+1 group — seek to allay concerns that Iran is covertly seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, in exchange for lifting punishing sanctions.

Iran denies seeking an atomic bomb and says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes.

Two deadlines for a permanent nuclear agreement have already been missed, since an interim accord was struck in November 2013.

The P5+1 has now set a March 31 deadline for a political agreement. It would be followed by a final deal setting out all the technical points of what would be a complex accord by June 30.

Iran and the US have not had diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which celebrated its 36th anniversary a couple of days ago.

However, there has been a growing recognition that Iran could play a role in helping to restore stability in countries such as Iraq and Syria.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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