Qatar’s prime minister issued a statement today denying that a clandestine meeting between Iranian and American officials took place in Qatar, according to Fars News Agency, Iran’s media outlet run by the Revolutionary Guards, which cited the Al Jazeera news agency.
Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber bin Muhammad Al Thani, who is also Qatar’s foreign minister, was reacting to reports by Al Arabiya news agency reflecting what WND had reported on Oct. 4 that a secret meeting indeed occurred in Qatar but also that similar meetings between the two countries’ officials had taken place in several European capitals.
Almost all Iranian media are now covering the news, with some trying to divert attention by blaming Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his efforts to engage the Americans.
Yet to be determined is whether the Ahmadinejad faction will try to reveal documents of the meeting between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representatives, Ali Akbar Velayati and Asghar Hejazi, and their American counterparts in Qatar as the conflict between the two factions heats up before the Iranian presidential elections next June.
Qatar, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, also will have the chore of explaining to other Arab member states its collaboration with the Islamic regime in facilitating a meeting with America. The other council nations have pushed for tougher U.S. actions to stop Iran from acquiring the nuclear bomb.
Further, in a report today on Iran’s media outlet, Tabnak, titled “What countries worry of U.S.-Iran direct negotiations?” the outlet criticized France, England and Russia for their reaction to the news of negotiations – without denying those direct contacts existed. It said those countries are worried that a deal between Iran and America could derail other international discussions.
It also reported that another country which is extremely worried about such negotiations is the “Zionist regime,” referring to Israel, stating that Israel is deeply troubled about such a possibility and hopes that such talks will not take place.
Tabnak, an outlet close to Khamenei, also supported the idea of one-on-one talks with the U.S. without verifying or denying any previous meetings or an agreement for such meetings for the future.
The denial from Qatar followed word that the revelation on WND of the secret meetings caused confusion and anger for those who were taking part – and has derailed the previously agreed-to plans of an announcement for a breakthrough on the nuclear-weapons crisis prior to the U.S. elections.
In Monday night’s presidential debate, President Obama again denied reports in “newspapers” but later contradicted himself and admitted to the possibility of bilateral meetings with Iran.
In the heat of the moment and in response to Gov. Mitt Romney’s criticism of his handling of Iran’s nuclear program, the president said, “I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”
Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department expert on proliferation and now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, stated that, “I have been hearing for some time that they had been having private discussions, and now it is starting to become public.”
The British newspaper the Guardian reported the same on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama is open to having bilateral talks with Iran about its nuclear program, but the United States has not scheduled any negotiations.
The source who provided details of that meeting and who remains anonymous for security reasons because he is highly placed in Iran’s regime, added that after the WND revelation of the secret meeting, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was incensed.
The Iranian supreme leader demanded the Americans explain about the leak, which prompted the White House to leak a soft version of the story to the New York Times and deny the facts.
With that, the source said, the Obama administration tried damage control, first by indicating that the story revolved around an agreement for after the elections so no pre-election political motive could be ascribed, and second to ease the mind of the Islamic regime’s leaders about any leaks on the actual event.
The White House, which originally gave a “no comment” to the WND story, responded to the Times story. “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American election,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said Saturday.
The source pointed to the clever response by the White House in denying any agreements for future talks rather than any previous meeting and agreement.
According to the source, who provided new information, the Qatar meeting lasted for about 11 hours, requiring two breaks so the Iranian delegate could do daily prayers.
Besides the woman who led the American team, the source said, there were two American men, one of whom, in his early 60s with slightly darker receding hair, had spent time in Iran before the Islamic revolution. The other, in his 30s, had a military haircut and carried a briefcase so he could report back to Washington live through encrypted messages.
The American woman had met the Iranian delegate, Ali Akbar Velayati, several times before and was trusted by him. Velayati, a close adviser of the supreme leader on international affairs, met privately with the woman for four hours before both groups continued talks.
The source identified the other Iranian present as Asghar Hejazi, a cleric who heads the intelligence and security divisions in the supreme leader’s office.
The presence of Velayati, who makes the international decisions for the regime, and Hejazi, with final authority over all intelligence and security of the country, shows that Khamenei is in direct talks with the Obama administration, the source said.
The source emphasized that the Americans requested an announcement on an agreement to partially halt enrichment temporarily before the U.S. elections to help with Obama’s re-election, but the revelation of the meeting caused both sides to re-evaluate the announcement’s timing.
The revelation has also aggravated both Russia and the European Union, which have been participating in multilateral talks of 5+1 on the Iranian nuclear program.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov is rushing to Tehran to warn of any back-channel dealings with America, the source said. So is a delegate from the European Union arriving to strengthen its economic position.
According to the source, in the past five months, four meetings were held in the U.S. with the Islamic regime’s surrogates (two of whom have green cards and travel to America routinely) to hash out what was to be discussed at the Qatar meeting. The source identified Valerie Jarrett, a senior Obama adviser, as the head of the U.S. effort to engage Iran.
The Qatar agreement would have Iran announce a partial halt to enrichment, ensure the regime’s right to peaceful enrichment, quickly remove much of the sanctions, accept that Iran’s nuclear program does not have a military dimension, and relieve international pressure on the regime while it continues its nuclear program.
Khamenei has asked for a written guarantee from Obama to ensure the U.S. would abide by its promises. He once threatened to reveal the contents of a previous Obama letter if threats (referring to Israel) were carried out against the regime. The source said Obama’s letter urged the Islamic regime to avoid giving any reason to Israel to attack and urged collaboration on a peaceful nuclear program.
The news of the revelation of the secret meeting was reflected widely in Iranian media without any official statement by regime officials, although they denied any agreement on future one-on-one meetings, as the White House did.
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).