US President Barack Obama’s message to incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin through an open mike in Seoul must have reached Tehran like the rest of the world, even before Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan carried it in person to Iranian leaders Wednesday, March 28.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved. But it’s important for him (Putin) to give me space. This is my last election,” said Obama to Dmitry Medvedev Monday, March 26. Bearing this message to his successor was also probably Medvedev’s last diplomatic commission as Russian president.
He nodded as his left hand was clasped in Obama’s left hand, saying, “I will tell it to Vladimir.”
There were no open microphones to record the commission Obama placed on Erdogan during their two hour, 15-minute long conversation in the South Korean capital a day earlier.
And so DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources don’t have its exact text. But they have enough information to conclude that Obama’s message to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resembled his request of Putin: This (the nuclear issue) can be solved, but it’s important (for Khamenei) to give him, Obama, space, because this is his last election.
Obama’s struggle to adjourn key external policy decisions until he has more leeway in a second term as president met with little sympathy in Tehran.
Khamenei wants broad agenda for April talks – not just nuclear controversy
According to the information reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, Erdogan was already in receipt of a tough demand from the Iranian Supreme Leader before he set out for Seoul.
He was directed by Khamenei in person to inform the US president when they met that he is flatly opposed to the coming meeting on April 13 between Iran and the Six Powers (the five permanent UN Security Council members + Germany) being devoted to Iran’s nuclear program and nothing else.
Khamenei demands that the agenda be wider in scope and aim for comprehensive deals on all the topics at issue between Iran and the United States.
(The last DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue, No. 534, elaborated on the nine issues Khamenei wants addressed: See “Iran Leery of Secret Talks with US: No Practical Results from Secret Diplomacy with Washington Expected in Tehran.”)
When they sat down to talk in the South Korean capital, President Obama heard the Turkish premier out. But, outside the Syrian issue, he simply ignored Khamenei’s demands and dictated the following points for Erdogan to put before the Iranian leader:
1. Tehran must come to the forthcoming talks next month ready to show it is seriously and genuinely open to a compromise deal on its nuclear program;
Obama: Iran’s nuclear program frozen – not dismantled
2. A negative attitude on Iran’s part would result in President Obama merging the back-channel US-Iranian dialogue with the on-the-table diplomatic negotiations starting next month.
The international forum would then mutate into the overall framework for the direct US-Iranian track. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 534 also reported that Washington was satisfied with the secret talks it has been conducting with Tehran and was ready to wind down sanctions.)
Obama did not specify whether in those circumstances, the direct secret track would be shut down, put on hold or allowed to lapse.
He asked the Turkish prime minister to inform the Supreme Leader that the Russian and Chinese presidents, Hu Jintao and Medvedev, had agreed to go along with this position if Khamenei found it acceptable.
3. Any deal would require a commitment from Khamenei to freeze – though not dismantle – all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program from the moment an accord was reached. No new projects must be initiated and all progress arrested.
For example: The centrifuges already functioning in the Fordo underground plant near Qom must not be expanded; research on nuclear weapons and the construction of models discontinued; and the transition of uranium enrichment from 3.5 percent grade to 20 percent halted.
But they would all remain in place.
Obama wants to hear Iranian rhetoric kinder to America
4. President Obama asked Erdogan to convey a personal message from him to the Iranian leader:
He was favorably impressed with the ayatollah’s comments in the New Year speech he broadcast live on state television Tuesday, March 20: “We do not have nuclear weapons and we will not build them,” said the ayatollah. “But in the face of aggression from enemies, whether from America or the Zionist regime, we will defend ourselves with attacks on the same level as our enemies attack us.”
Obama also sent a reply to another Khamenei remark. Addressing thousands of pilgrims gathered at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, the Supreme Leader said: “The Americans are making a grave mistake if they think that by making threats they will destroy the Iranian nation.”
To this, the US President answered that neither he nor America entertained any such intention.
5. Tehran must change the hostile anti-US tone of is speeches and publications and stop calling America an enemy and the Great Satan. In place of antipathy, Obama would deeply appreciate a series of helpful comments coming from Iranian leaders and news reports out of Tehran, especially if they highlighted an improved Islamic Republican attitude towards the United States as a result of his administration’s polices.
Erdogan was asked to hold up as an example of the sort of remark Obama had in mind the words of praise Khamenei offered President Obama on March 8, “for promoting diplomacy rather than war” as a solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambition.
More of this sort of rhetoric would be welcome, the Turkish prime minister was directed to inform Tehran.
None of the messages he carried explicitly mentioned the US presidential campaign, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources note. However, the rewards accruing to Tehran from extending a helping hand for Obama’s reelection were evident in the subtext.
Obama’s path to a nuclear accommodation faces many obstacles
Benign Iranian references to America would give Obama the chance to credit his foreign policy with kudos for an important breakthrough to the Islamic Republic. The improved climate surrounding relations would reduce the hazards of a war being launched against Iran. By helping to get him returned for a second term, Tehran would put the US president in place for the pursuit of policies agreed between him and Khamenei in the course of their secret dialogue.
6. Erdogan was asked to explain the US President’s strategy of drawing a close linkage between the shifts in US policy on Iran and its nuclear program, on the one hand, and the Syrian crisis, on the other. This approach had guided Obama’s hand in his thus far successful moves to block Muslim-Arab-Western military intervention in Syria.
The US president believes that the coalition working for Syria of Washington, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran and the United Nations (UN and Arab League envoy, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was mentioned in this regard) could be equally successful in resolving the Iranian nuclear controversy.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly notes that the runaround the Iranians gave the Turkish prime minister in Tehran Wednesday before he was granted an audience with the supreme leader (see separate article in this issue) was not an encouraging augury of Iran’s good intentions.
Obama’s path to a negotiated settlement of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program will not be strewn with roses. Turkey has gone into action on its own account and the Israelis are unwilling to stand by and wait upon the outcome of his back-door dialogue with the Iranian leader, as will be shown in two separate articles in this issue.