A Special Investigative Report
from the Western Journalism Center
with the assistance of the Iran Brief
Editor’s note: The Clinton administration is hoping to conclude a “package deal” with the government of Iran in time for the November elections that
would resolve 20 years of hostility between the United States and Iran, lead to renewed diplomatic relations, and give President Clinton a much-sought-after
“legacy” in foreign affairs, according to intermediaries directly involved in the negotiations and former U.S. officials.
reported in WorldNetDaily the deal, if successful, would restore complete commercial ties between the two countries, allowing U.S. oil companies to invest in Iran and to buy Iranian crude oil while allowing President Clinton and Vice President Gore to claim credit for “resolving” the current oil crisis, all in time for the elections.
Earlier segments of this special report from the Western Journalism Center have appeared in WorldNetDaily.com starting Monday, Sept. 25.
Today’s report centers around an exclusive interview the Clinton administration’s top negotiator with Iran, in which he reveals that a “global settlement” between the U.S. and Iran could be announced within weeks.
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
© 2000, Western Journalism Center
The top U.S. diplomat in charge of negotiations with Iran says Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wants a “global settlement” with Iran by the end of President Bill Clinton’s term of office — “if it takes that long” — according to an exclusive interview with this reporter.
David R. Andrews, formerly the State Department’s legal adviser, was appointed by Clinton on Sept. 19 as his “Special Negotiator for U.S./Iran Claims” and awarded the “Personal Rank of Ambassador” to enhance his status in dealing with the Iranian government.
It is the first time since the creation of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in 1981 that a U.S. president has made such an appointment. Until now, the tedious negotiations over the amount of money remaining to be settled on the 20-year-old claims had been left to career bureaucrats who reported to the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser.
But on March 17, Albright told an audience of pro-Iran lobbyists and policy wonks in New York that the Clinton administration was seeking a “global settlement” with Iran and would appoint a “Special Negotiator.”
“The administration thought this job was important enough for it to have an important title,” Andrews said.
His Iranian counterpart, Dr. Gudarz Eftekar-Jahromi, has served successive Iranian presidents as legal adviser since 1982. Since he was named to his new post, Andrews has already met face-to-face with Eftekar in The Hague, Netherlands, where the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal conducts business.
A U.S. official involved in the process said the Andrews-Eftekar meeting took place “several months ago,” and that there has been no unusual activity at The Hague since then.
“It’s quite surprising that someone would say they are close to a deal by the end of President Clinton’s term in office,” the official said.
Andrews downplayed the meeting with Eftekar, whom he had negotiated with previously as the State Department’s legal adviser.
“The meetings are still held in The Hague, but the decisions are made in a number of different places,” Andrews said. “The secretary wants this to get done as quickly as possible. The time frame of the settlement will be set by events. It could stretch out to January eventually, if it takes that long. If we can reach an agreement, our intent is to do it as quickly as possible.”
Arthur Rovine, who was the first U.S. representative to The Hague in 1981 and is now a partner with the law firm Baker & McKenzie in New York, said that a resolution at The Hague in itself would not be a major step toward renewing ties between the U.S. and Iran, unless Iran’s leadership had made the decision to do so.
“If it is true that they have made that political decision, then this is indeed big news. This would be an October surprise, and a good one,” he said. “If they are ready to resume relations, then this is the stumbling block, something they’ve been yelling and screaming about for years.”
The Iranian government dispatched Maurice Motamed, the only Jewish member of parliament, to deliver precisely that message to members of the American Jewish community in September, as
revealed in these pages on Sept. 25.
“Motamed told us that the decision to renew relations with the United States has been taken at the highest level in Iran,” Jewish leaders in Los Angeles who met with him said. “This is not President Khatami’s initiative: It has been decided by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamene’i.”
Rovine noted that Iran’s lead negotiator was a member of the Council of Guardians in the 1980s, a government body that oversees Iranian legislation to ensure it conforms with the regime’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.
“Eftekar is a well-known hard-liner, who has been a tough negotiator,” Rovine said. “He provides adequate cover for the clerics” for any deal.
Andrews would provide no details of the actual proposals under discussion, but stressed that his role as ambassador was not to handle the details of individual claims.
“I’ve got the policy, which is to reach a global settlement,” he said.
He also acknowledged that Iran was concerned over pending legislation that would allocate Iran’s U.S. assets to the families of terrorist victims. “The Mack-Lautenberg bill is an active factor,” he said.
The Mack-Lautenberg bill, known as the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, appears to have lit a fire under the Iranian government.
After 20 years of tedious negotiations, Tehran is finally in a hurry to resolve the issue of its outstanding commercial disputes with the United States. And for good reason: Failure to do so could cost Iran billions of dollars.
In July, just as the bill was scheduled for a key vote, Iran dispatched a senior government lawyer to Washington to voice strenuous objections to the legislation, hinting darkly that the bill’s passage would lead to the collapse of the secret U.S.-Iranian talks. The lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Zahedin Labbaf, is Iran’s resident negotiator at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague.
The U.S. and Iran “will soon lawfully resolve this issue, in a relatively short period of time,” Labbaf told a congressional panel — but only if Congress and the president rejected the new legislation, which would allocate Iran’s U.S. assets to the families of American citizens who have been murdered by Iran-backed terrorists.
Among those listening to his presentation were Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, chairman of the House Banking Committee, and the State Department’s Iran desk officer, Don Bloom.
Referring to the bill by name, Labbaf said it would “undermine the tribunal’s authority” and “set the international stage for a legal confrontation” between the United States and Iran.
Labbaf also complained that the United States had “branded” Iran as a terrorist state. Then, as an official from a regime that had stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979 and taken U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days, he made this extraordinary statement:
“In case the Congress approves the proposed amendment, there would be indeed very little trust left in other states in their dealings with the United States. There is no way other states can confidently put their money in the U.S. banks or enter into any contractual relationships with the United States. They would naturally fear that the United States, having taken the law into its own hands, might label them as a state sponsor of terrorism, a rogue, or of concern, and then convert their assets to its national use. As you all know, law, unless founded on just and sound principles, is, in fact, lawlessness in disguise.”
The July 24 congressional roundtable was hosted by the
American-Iranian Council, a lobbying group seeking to get U.S. trade sanctions lifted, and that boasts of its close ties to Tehran.
Council president Hoosang Amirahmadi acknowledged that the conference had been paid for by the Houston oil company CONOCO, which has been trying since 1994 to win U.S. government approval to do business in Iran.
A CONOCO executive, Helen El Mallakh, also urged Congress to reject the Mack-Lautenberg bill. She argued that the U.S. faced “a crossroads” with Iran, and that the U.S. needed to “subjugate the lesser priorities … such as the freezing of Iranian assets … [to] the greater priorities” of a U.S.-Iran rapprochement.
In presenting her to the organization, Amirahmadi sounded a standard theme of anti-sanctions groups: “My hope is that she will be able to frighten all of you about all that the other countries and the other companies are doing in Iran [while] the Americans are sitting and watching.”
A complete transcript of the conference, as well as a guide to official U.S government source documents on the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, is available from The Iran Brief.)
Labbaf’s unusual presentation was the first time since the Claims tribunal was established in 1981 that Iran was talking about it openly in a public forum in the U.S. Even U.S. officials acknowledged that the Claims tribunal was not an open court, but a closed arbitration forum.
“There is no written list of claims, and no public case history,” one official said.
It was yet another carefully orchestrated step in the diplomatic ballet between Tehran and Washington that was kicked into high gear on March 17, when Albright revealed the Clinton administration was seeking a “global settlement” with Iran.
In that speech, delivered at an earlier forum hosted by the American-Iranian Council and funded by CONOCO, Albright announced the lifting of U.S. sanctions on the import of Iranian pistachios, caviar and carpets into the United States. A small gesture on the surface, it was in response to a specific Iranian request one year earlier by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.
What kind of deal?
A veteran negotiator used to solving thorny problems, Ambassador David Andrews has been twice decorated by the secretary of state for his work. He headed the legal team that negotiated compensation for Communist China for the destruction of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade earlier this year. He also worked out the details that paved the way for the trial now under way in Holland of two Libyan intelligence agents accused of bombing Pan Am 103.
Both agreements have been attacked widely as a compromise of U.S. principles and U.S. national security interests. In recognition of his work on these cases, Albright decorated him with the Distinguished Service Award on April 25, the highest award offered a State Department employee.
But for George Williams, the immediate past president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, the negotiations with Libya led by Andrews led to a “mistaken deal.” He was strongly critical of Andrews’ approach.
“We caved in too soon. Dave Andrews gave away too much. Our FBI and CIA are not allowed to investigate, or to ask questions of the suspects. And they are not allowed to question or investigate the involvement of the Libya government” in the bombing, said Williams.
Andrews helped draft
a secret letter sent by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to Libyan leader Moammar Khaddafi last year, which pledged that the U.S. and Britain would not seek to place the blame for the bombing on Khaddafi or the Libyan government. In exchange for this political protection, Khaddafi allowed two Libyan intelligence agents to be brought to trial.
For more than a year, the State Department refused to release the text of the letter, claiming it was “properly classified.” When it finally released the letter to families of the victims in August, it was immediately described as a “sell-out.”
The letter refers to an
undated memorandum setting out the conditions for the trial of the two Libyan suspects, as agreed to by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The letter notes: “There is no intention to interview [the two suspects], or to allow them to be interviewed, about any issue not related to the trial. There will be no deviation from Scottish law which provides that the two persons have the right to refuse to see any police or intelligence officers.”
Most significantly, for U.S. critics of the deal, the letter then added: “The two persons will not be used to undermine the Libyan regime.”
Syndicated columnist A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, attacked the letter and the deal in a scathing column on Sept. 1:
“Bureaucrats and their masters used every national and international legal device to keep it secret. … They knew that if published, it would be seen for exactly what it was: a deal with the man President Ronald Reagan called the “mad dog” of the Middle East. The letter would be taken, appropriately, as guaranteeing that whatever happened at the trial would not be allowed to pin the responsibility where it so obviously belongs — on the Libyan ruler.”
Rosenthal then added: “Sometimes I wonder — what does it take to get somebody who has served a free government to agree to work for a killer government involved in tearing fellow countrymen into pieces of flesh falling out of the sky? Ten million dollars, maybe? A million? Or would a few bucks do, left for you on the table of the motel room?”
Since leaving government service earlier this year, Andrews rejoined the San Francisco law firm of McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, which specializes in environmental and land-use litigation. He said he agreed to work on the Iran claims issue on a pro-bono basis.
“I’m doing this like George Mitchell did Ireland,” he said.
If Andrews’ past record is any guide, he can be expected to work out a deal the Iranian government won’t be able to refuse.
Patrick Clawson, an Iran scholar with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes a global deal could require the U.S. to pay Iran “anything in the ballpark from $1 billion to $5 billion.”
He said the U.S. Treasury has a special fund for international judgments that could be tapped if the administration needed extra money to pay out settlements to the families of Americans murdered in Iranian terrorist attacks.
“This is an elastic account,” Clawson said. “So the U.S. could determine that we owed Iran, let’s say, $2 billion, but then cut them a check for $700 million and pay the rest to the families of the victims of terrorism.”
Looking at the spread of issues now being negotiated by Ambassador Andrews, Clawson was optimistic: “There are possibilities here.”
Next — The lobbyists: Word of an impending deal with Iran has reached the Washington, D.C., Beltway, where lobbyists, lawyers, opportunists and hangers-on smell money in the water.
Read Part 1:
Clinton, Iran plan election-eve coup.
Read Part 2:
Secret spy deal: U.S., Iran, Israel.
Read Part 3:
Clinton sought dirt on W’s dad.
Read Part 4:
Clinton shields Iran from U.S. justice.
Read Part 5:
Clinton betrayed anti-terror pledge.
Read Part 6:
Iran’s hidden U.S. cash stash
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Kenneth R. Timmerman is a veteran investigative reporter who has published three books on the arms trade and intelligence issues.