Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced in early February at the Munich Security Conference that the United States would engage in bilateral talks with Iran over its illicit nuclear program. For four years, President Obama tried that. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now, to the peril of the world.
Mr. Biden’s statement was welcomed by the Islamic regime. For a long time, Iran has accurately assessed that the Obama administration strategy will not risk a military confrontation with Iran and, more importantly, that it has already accepted a nuclear Iran by adopting a containment policy.
Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, in his confirmation testimony recently, further fueled that speculation by restating the Obama containment strategy, something that he backtracked on shortly afterward.
Tehran opinion writers conclude that America has a military confrontation, not a nuclear weapons achievement, as its red line. Therefore, it is only natural that the Islamic Republic recognizes this limited U.S. strategy will benefit it.
As a result of this self-imposed U.S. limitation, Iran has been further emboldened to become ever more aggressive and, despite severe international sanctions, continue unabated with its nuclear weapons program.
What Mr. Biden failed to mention was that the United States and Iran have already had several secret bilateral talks about Iran’s nuclear development. As I reported last year, one of those meetings was held in Doha, Qatar, last October, where a three-person U.S. delegation met with their Iranian counterparts headed by Ali Akbar Velayati, the senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.
However, the talks go back to June 2009 when Mr. Obama, in consultation with then-Sen. John Kerry, sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei requesting back-channel negotiations. According to a former intelligence officer of the regime, this letter was conveyed, through highly confidential channels, by Donald Beyer, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, to Livia Leu Agosti, the Swiss ambassador to Tehran.
Ayatollah Khamenei agreed to further talks and appointed Mr. Velayati to head the Iranian delegation for meetings in August 2009, first in Ankara, then in Istanbul, where the two teams agreed on a set of principles to continue dialogue, with follow-up meetings in February 2010 in the Republic of Georgia, then again in Turkey in April and June.
In November 2011, another meeting was held in Kiev and the next month in Bangkok. The agenda at these meetings was to avoid a confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, but also included averting a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, recognizing the regime’s right to the uranium enrichment process, and cooperating on the situations in Syria and Latin America and with the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.
According to another source in the supreme leader’s office, a recent letter by Mr. Obama again requested a direct line of communications between the two countries, urged Ayatollah Khamenei to accept the extended hand this time and said America has no military intentions against Iran. The message promised that should the regime prove to the International Atomic Energy Agency that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, remove its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and stop arming Hezbollah, then the United States will move toward removing sanctions. The president ended his letter by saying that he likes the Iranian people and does not want sanctions to hurt them further.
Though the president’s intentions are noble, for four years Mr. Obama has failed to understand that there is a chasm between the Iranian people and their dictatorial leaders, and that the regime uses his offerings to continue to suppress its people at home and its aggression in the region and the world.
Mr. Velayati is being prepped by the regime to be the next president. He is not only a true reflection of its dictatorial rule, but one of the most radical elements of it.
In a recent interview on Fars News Agency, Mr. Velayati said that “Hezbollah is the pride of the Islamic world” and that the regime’s relationship is also strong with the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. “The Islamic world will soon become one of the important poles in the world and on the international level. … East of Asia and north of Africa will be the center of the Islamic world,” he boasted.
Mr. Velayati warned that the fall of Bashar Assad cannot be tolerated, as his fall would result in the defeat of the resistance movement against Israel. Prior to the recent Israeli attacks in Syria, Mr. Velayati had warned an attack on Syria would be an attack on Iran. In another interview, he said America is unable to attack Iran, that it is much weaker than before the attack on Iraq, and that Iran is much stronger.
Ayatollah Khamenei, in a speech Thursday to air force commanders, said talks with America “will not solve anything. America’s policies in the Middle East have been defeated. … Today if anyone wants to help return America’s rule in the country (Iran), the nation will confront them.”
Given this background, it’s puzzling why the Obama administration continues its soft approach. Every sign shows that the regime sees America as a paper tiger that cannot do anything but accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
No amount of negotiations will change the behavior of the regime; even sanctions will fail to achieve such. The policy of containment will only result in a tragedy that will not only collapse the global economy but cost millions of innocent lives.
If the regime today is capable of destabilizing the Middle East with its threats to shut down the flow of oil to the world, destroy Israel and expand its power into Asia, Africa and Latin America, what will it be capable of when it has nuclear bombs?
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and author of the award-winning book “A Time to Betray” (Simon & Schuster, 2010). He serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI).