Obama Penned a Secret Letter To Iran

by Alicia Lu

Sometimes you have to put aside your differences to address a shared interest. That's what happened when President Obama sent a secret letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an attempt to reiterate the U.S. and Iran's common goal of eliminating ISIS last month, according to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal. The letter was sent shortly ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with Iranian and European Union leaders on Iran's nuclear program.

Though he confirmed cooperation on the fight against ISIS, Obama also made it clear that it would be contingent on Iran reaching a global agreement on the country's nuclear program by a November 24 diplomatic deadline, which administration officials are stressing is the primary basis for the letter.

In the letter, the Journal's sources say that Obama tried to convey the message that though there is still no invitation for Iran to join the international coalition against ISIS, the predominantly Shia country does have a role in the fight. Obama also reportedly tried to assure Khamenei that the U.S.' military campaign in Syria was not targeted at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is Iran's ally. However, all of this friendly chatter is conditional.

Any cooperation on the U.S.' part depends largely on what will go down before November 24. This weekend, Secretary Kerry is scheduled to travel to Oman for trilateral meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the E.U.'s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Catherine Ashton to negotiate the nuclear deal, which has been and remains the main focus of talks between the U.S. and Iran.

The Agreement on Iran's Nuclear Program

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After the negotiation talks in Oman, Iran will have about two weeks to come to a decision about the agreement to dismantle most of its nuclear centrifuges. Currently, the deal that's in place, the Joint Plan of Action, is an interim agreement between Iran and the UN's P5+1 (U.S., Russia, China, France, the UK, and Germany) that enforces a short-term freeze of some of Iran's nuclear programs in exchange for reduced economic sanctions. The pact was signed last November to allow the countries more time to work toward a long-term agreement.

Criticisms Against Obama's Reaching Out

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Some parties are not happy with Obama's communications with Iran. House Speaker John Boehner told the WSJ, "I don’t trust the Iranians, I don’t think we need to bring them into this" and that he hopes that "the negotiations that are under way are serious negotiations, but I have my doubts." Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham echoed that sentiment, saying in a joint statement:

The administration needs to understand that this Iranian regime cares more about trying to weaken America and push us out of the Middle East than cooperating with us.

Other countries in the Middle East also have their doubts. According to sources briefed on the correspondence, the U.S.' Middle Eastern allies — such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — were not informed of the secret letter. Leaders from these countries have criticized the U.S. of not being always transparent with its diplomatic relations with Iran and they fear that America will soften in the ongoing nuclear talks, which would jeopardize the security and economy across the Middle East.

Iran and U.S. Relations During Obama's Presidency

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The alleged letter would be at least the fourth Obama has sent to Iran's supreme leader over the course of his presidency, which has been partially defined by seeking to improve U.S.-Iranian relations. Obama sent two letters to Khamenei at the beginning of his term in 2009 setting an early tone for diplomacy between the two countries, which has been strained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran. The Obama administration produced the first formal agreement between the U.S. and Iran in 34 years when they signed the Joint Plan of Action last year.

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