Senior Iranian officials have been disclosing in recent weeks confidential information about the history of the country’s nuclear talks with the U.S., the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported on Monday.
According to the claims, made by top officials in public speeches and media interviews, the U.S. first initiated secret bilateral talks with Iran between 2011 and 2012, during the era of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner, and not during the era of Hassan Rouhani, a supposed moderate, who was elected in 2013. According to the officials, the Obama administration had agreed from its first overtures in 2011 to recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.
Hossein Sheikh al-Islam, an adviser to Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, said in an interview last month with Iranian media that then-senator and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry had sent a letter to Iran via Oman. According to statements by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and its lead nuclear negotiator, Kerry was authorized by President Obama to do so.
Sheikh al-Islam said Iran agreed to secret negotiations with the U.S. only “after Kerry wrote a letter and sent it to us via Oman, stating that America officially recognizes Iran’s rights regarding the [nuclear fuel] enrichment cycle.”
After that, he said, two meetings were held in Oman between U.S. and Iranian officials, after which, Omani “Sultan Qaboos [bin Said al Said] was dispatched by Obama to [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei with Kerry’s letter.”
Khamenei responded to Qaboos, saying he did not trust the Americans, but Qaboos pressed Khamenei, telling him: “Trust them one more time.”
Sheikh al-Islam claimed that the nuclear talks began on the basis that Iran would be allowed to preserve the uranium enrichment fuel cycle, rather than on sanctions relief, an argument he called U.S. propaganda.
Khamenei himself confirmed the existence of a request from the Obama administration through an international mediator (presumably Qaboos) dating back to 2011, during a speech he gave this year on June 23, according to MEMRI.
In an interview last week with the daily Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi also commented on the letter received from the U.S. when he was foreign minister in 2011, but said he had dismissed it because it was delivered by a mid-level Omani diplomat and was handwritten.
He said the letter was delivered during the run-up to the 2012 elections. A few months later, he said, Omani diplomats again solicited Iran through a wealthy businessman to enter secret bilateral negotiations with the U.S.
Salehi said he responded by writing a letter of his own outlining four Iranian preconditions for talks, one of which was recognizing the country’s right to enrich uranium.
After receiving this letter, Salehi said that the U.S. responded favorably. He said the Obama administration was “definitely and sincerely willing” to resolve the issues that Iran had mentioned.