Did President Barack Obama once offer Iran full diplomatic relations as part of his “open hand” diplomacy when he first took office in 2009? That’s what an Israeli paper is reporting.
Maariv’s Diplomatic Correspondent Eli Bardenstein reports in Sunday’s paper (as translated by TheBlaze):
A number of months after he was elected president of the United States, Barack Obama tried to gradually renew diplomatic relations with Iran, to the extent of opening embassies and establishing full diplomatic relations. The Islamic Republic rejected the offer, out of fear for the future of the ayatollah regime. This, according to two diplomatic sources very close to the American administration.
The American offer was part of an overall change in approach to U.S. foreign policy by Obama upon entering the White House. The program focused on emphasizing negotiations and by extending a “diplomatic hand.”
While the body of the report offers no further detail about what full diplomatic relations would mean, a graphic accompanying Maariv's report (pictured above, beneath the images of Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) states renewed relations would include: direct flights between Washington or New York and Tehran; granting entry permits for American visitors to Iran and for Iranians to visit the U.S.; "security cooperation and defense of citizens visiting in the host country"; diplomatic dialogue at a senior level; and an exchange of senior officials' visits.
If true, Maariv’s report provides another example of Obama’s long-held belief that negotiations can stop Iran’s nuclear march.
Last week, the New York Times reported that the U.S. and Iran had agreed in principle to one-on-one negotiations after years of “intense, secret exchanges” between U.S. and Iranian officials.
As far back as the 2008 Democratic National Convention, then-candidate Obama promised he would conduct direct talks and direct presidential diplomacy with Iran with no preconditions, a stark shift from President George W. Bush’s approach. The hope was that a rapprochement in relations would lead to progress on stalling Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In the first stage, the Americans offered the Iranians to open interest sections in Washington and Tehran which is the lowest level of relations between states. Later, the American administration intended to enter the stage of detailed agreements […]
Maariv has learned that there were at least two direct meetings between official American envoys and Iranian officials on this issue beginning in the summer of 2009. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili participated in at least one of the two meetings.
The Israeli paper reports that Burns and Jalili met on the sidelines of a 2009 meeting in Geneva about Iran’s nuclear program between representatives of Iran and the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, known as the P5+1. The U.S.-Iran direct meeting lasted one hour, per Maariv’s sources. Reporter Bardenstein writes that Jerusalem knew about and opposed the contacts:
According to an Israeli source apprised of the contacts, the Islamic Republic feared any sign of normalization with the United States and refused to give a “prize” to the Americans. Iran’s main fear was that the ayatollah regime would be harmed by American intervention in Iranian society.
In the wake of last weeks’ New York Times story on the agreement to one-on-one negotiations, Maariv quotes two senior Israeli sources who say recent messages conveyed to the Iranians did not include an offer to renew relations.
The U.S. National Security Council would not comment to Maariv. As TheBlaze reported last week, the White House also denied the New York Times’ story that the U.S. and Iran agreed to hold direct talks. National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement last week:
It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections. We continue to work with the P5+1 on a diplomatic solution and have said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally…
Iran also denied it had agreed to one-on-one talks with the U.S. over its nuclear program.