July 7, 2009
Before the disputed June 12 election, Iran's senior leadership "" speaking through backchannel intermediaries "" outlined a possible framework for Middle East peace that foresaw a significant role for Russia and that raised hopes within the Obama administration.
The proposal reportedly came from Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei and was to be pushed forward after the expected presidential election victory of Khamenei's favored candidate, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the messy election aftermath complicated matters. Although Ahmadinejad did emerge as the winner, the bitterly disputed election left questions about his legitimacy and revealed a split in Iran's leadership. How those divisions may affect the Iranian peace overture is uncertain, although Khamenei is believed to still be pushing the concept.
While it was unclear how President Barack Obama felt about the Iranian initiative, he did mute his criticism of the Iranian post-election crackdown at least initially. In his July 6-7 trip to Russia for meetings with President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Obama also made clear that Iran and Middle East peace were top issues to be discussed.
Vice President Joe Biden declared on Sunday that the United States "cannot dictate" to Israel what to do if it determines that it is "existentially threatened" by Iran's nuclear program, a blunt suggestion that Iran may face an Israeli military attack on its nuclear facilities if progress is not made in regional security talks.
Though Biden referenced the club in the closet, Obama denied on Tuesday that the United States had given Israel a green light to use it.
Obama told CNN that "we have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East."
Obama also has reiterated his readiness to extend an open hand to Iran despite the violent repression of election protesters.
"We've got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community," Obama said in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday.
The Times also confirmed what I had been told earlier by an intelligence source regarding Iran's secret outreach to the Obama administration.
But the Times noted that the election clashes "have changed the political dynamics" and added that "senior administration officials said they have heard nothing from Iran's leaders." [NYT, July 6, 2009]
After the initial announcement of his controversial victory, Ahmadinejad traveled to Russia and spoke to the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization as Medvedev's invited guest. Iran has observer status in the SCO, which now consists of Russia, China and four former Soviet republics.