Did Iran Offer a 'Grand Bargain' in 2003?

Many articles and books have been published in the past several years alleging that, in May 2003, Iran offered the United States a promising opportunity to resolve the nuclear and terrorism issues through diplomacy, but hard-liners in the Bush Administration turned it down.  Most of the stories establish their authority by quoting two former officials of the State Department and the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett and his wife Hillary Mann, and a Swiss "intermediary," former Ambassador Tim Guldimann-all forceful advocates of the view that Iran was ready for a deal. 

This narrative, that there was a missed diplomatic opportunity, has found a receptive audience among many who believe we fought an unnecessary war with Iraq.  It is a pillar of the belief, widespread on the left, that we are in danger of being lured into an unnecessary conflict with Iran when we could resolve our differences with the Islamic Republic if only we would engage with them diplomatically. 

But there is a fundamental problem with the prevailing narrative of a 2003 "offer" that is omitted or mentioned dismissively in passing in most of the iterations that have appeared, and it is this:  Leverett and Mann's own pro-engagement colleagues at the State Department, not the "Neocons," have denied directly all four of the central elements in their account.  Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, both consistent advocates of a diplomatic approach to Iran, have each provided on the record accounts directly contradicting the narrative that Leverett and Mann have spread to wide audiences.  Armitage and Wilkerson say that the State Department itself doubted that there was in fact an "offer" from Iran in May 2003.  They do not think that the senior Iranian leadership approved the text, as Leverett and Mann claim.   They say directly that they and colleagues at State, not Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the "Neocons," dismissed the text Leverett and Mann cite, even though they would have been receptive to such an offer if they thought it was genuine.  And they say they rejected it, not because they lacked interest in seeking a "Grand Bargain" with Iran, but because the text the intermediaries claimed was Iranian bore little resemblance to the many authoritative messages the State Department was receiving more directly from Iran through bilateral and multilateral contacts.

This article will look in detail at how the myth of an "Iranian offer" was promulgated, and why the authoritative denials have been ignored.  A detailed reconstruction is worthwhile because the Leverett/Mann narrative has been so influential, and because it plays a central role in the debate about Iran policy today.    It is also worth close analysis as a case study of how foreign policy myths are created and made resistant to correction.

Birth of the Myth

Reports asserting that Iran had offered a deal but the Bush Administration rejected it, began to appear shortly after Flynt Leverett left government service in May 2003.  The first appeared in the Financial Times on July 15, 2003, under the provocative headline "US rejects Iran's offer for talks on nuclear programme."  The story said, "Iran has communicated to the US its readiness to open direct talks about its nuclear programme as a first step towards tackling other issues, such as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but US officials say the Bush administration is keeping the door closed.[emphasis added]"  The Iranian official involved "is thought to have high-level backing for negotiations that would cut deals on an issue-by-issue basis, starting with the nuclear crisis." [1]  The same paper followed up with a report on March 16, 2004 under a headline specifically blaming the Administration's hardline camp: "Washington hardliners wary of engaging with Iran."  This report called it "Iran's proposal of a road map leading to the restoration of relations with the US" and said, "The offer was said to come from a senior Iranian official designated two years ago by Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, to co-ordinate a special committee on US relations.'  The Financial Times claimed that "a US official said the Bush administration did not question the authenticity of the proposal."  But, "Instead of replying to Tehran, an official said the State Department rebuked the Swiss foreign ministry for overstepping its diplomatic mandate" by acting as an intermediary to transmit the proposal.[2]

A few months later, the Washington Post picked up the story.  "Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann arrived in Washington carrying a plan he had discussed with ...Iran's ambassador to France. The agenda laid out the framework of a ‘grand bargain.' The administration brushed it aside."  Like the Financial Times, the Post implied that the initiative was rejected by the Administration's hardline camp, by quoting a prominent ally of the Pentagon/OVP team, Undersecretary of State John Bolton: "We're not interested in any grand bargain."[3]

In January 2006, Leverett himself wrote an op-ed piece excoriating the Administration for missing what he depicted as an offer from Iran.  "In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

...Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line."
[4]  Leverett called the Administration's rejection of what he considered an Iranian offer, "the strategic equivalent of medical malpractice."[5]  He told Newsday "it indicated that Iran wanted to negotiate a grand political bargain with the United States that would include everything from Iran's nuclear program to its support for groups that Washington regards as terrorist."  Leverett told Newsday, "The message had been approved by all the highest levels of authority" in Iran.  At the same time, it was the first report to indicate that anyone had doubts about whether the message was in fact an authentic Iranian offer, and it was the first report to indicate that these doubts existed at the State Department rather than just the hardline camp.  "The State Department disputes that there was ever a prospect for credible direct negotiations with Iran. ‘The presumption that the regime in Iran is going to change its stripes is specious,' said a department spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘Was there a credible approach from the Iranian government with an offer that made any kind of sense? Never at any time."[6]

Ignoring the Counter-evidence

From the beginning, Leverett and the many journalists picking up his account omitted a critical detail:   Even the Swiss Ambassador most directly engaged in the "offer", Tim Guldimann, never said that it had clear authorization.  Guldimann admitted, in his May 4, 2003 cover letter transmitting the supposed Iranian offer to the State Department, that the Supreme Leader in Iran, Ali Khamenei, had actually objected to some of the provisions in the proposal Guldimann was transmitting.  And Guldimann acknowledged that he did not know to which provisions Khamenei had objections.  "On May 2...[Iranian Ambassador to France Sadeq Kharazzi] told me that he had two long discussions with the Leader on the Roadmap...Kharazzi told me that the Leader uttered some reservations for some points... the Leader agree[d] with 85-90% of the paper.'...I tried to obtain from him a precise answer on exactly what the Leader explicitly has agreed," but Guldimann admits he was not given an answer.[7]

While Leverett was assuring journalists that he had proof positive that the proposal was approved by the top level in Iran, even Richard Haass, his former boss when he was at Policy Planning in the State Department and an ally in Leverett's camp, admitted that it was difficult to know whether the proposal was fully supported by the "multiple governments" that run Iran.[8]

It was not until February 2007-nearly four years after the first leaks about an "Iranian offer"--that the State Department finally went on the record to express its skepticism about whether there had in fact been an authoritative offer from Iran or something else. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told the Washington Post, "This document did not come through official channels but rather was a creative exercise on the part of the Swiss ambassador.  The last 30 years are filled with examples of individuals claiming to represent Iranian views."[9]  Weeks later, then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Newsweek that, in his opinion, the letter represented creative diplomacy by the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, who was serving as a go-between. "We couldn't determine what [in the proposal] was the Iranians' and what was the Swiss ambassador's."[10]  Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell and no hawk on Iran, admitted that the Swiss proposal had been reviewed and rejected by the State Department's own top Iran experts, who had seen dozens of such proposals in the past. "In other words, the State Department professionals who knew Iran best were not happy with it?" Patrick Clawson [asked].  "Yes," Wilkerson acknowledged.[11] 

These doubts in the minds of State Department professionals may have been the end of the matter.  Both Condoleezza Rice (then National Security Adviser) and Elliot Abrams, who headed Mideast affairs the NSC, denied that they received or acted upon the Guldimann proposal at all,[12]  contradicting one of the themes in the Leverett/Mann narrative.  Rice said, ""I don't know what Flynt Leverett's talking about."  Leverett responded, "Secretary Rice is misleading Congress and the American public." [13]

Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State who had been Leverett's boss and patron, provided the most detailed authoritative rebuttal to the theory of an Iranian offer in July 2007.   He told PBS' Frontline a few months after the Leverett/Rice imbroglio, that he and Powell had been "very interested" in an opening to Iran, but neither of them thought that the message they received in May 2003 was a "serious endeavor...I've seen Flynt Leverett...argue that this was a missed opportunity.  But I must say that speaking for me and most of my colleagues at the State Department, we didn't see it that way, and I don't think many others did at the time because it didn't fit with some of the other things... that we'd been hearing from Iran....If there had been a desire on the Iranian side to seek a better relationship, it would have been an ideal time...to send that signal, and we got no such signal to my knowledge.  I remember talking with people from our Near East division about a fax that came in from the Swiss ambassador, and I think our general feeling was that he had perhaps added a little bit to it because it wasn't in consonance with the state of our relations...The Swiss ambassador in Tehran was so intent ... on bettering relations between ...the United States, and Iran that we came to have some questions about where the Iranian message ended and the Swiss message may begin...And we had had some discussions, ...particularly through intelligence channels with high-ranking Iranian intelligence people, and nothing that we were seeing in this fax was in consonance with what we were hearing face to face. So we didn't give it much weight."[14]

Armitage's view is significant, because it establishes two things:  (1) The Guldimann initiative was dismissed by officials who did want engagement with Iran, not by those opposed to it.  And (2) the officials who dismissed the initiative did so because they did not believe it was actually an Iranian offer, even though they were looking for a grand bargain with Iran.  Armitage's account directly contradicts Leverett, who told a forum held by the New America Foundation in a Senate office building[15] that Secretary of State Powell received a "grand bargain" offer from Iran and was rebuffed by the White House..."In [Secretary Powell's] words, he ‘couldn't sell it at the White House.'"[16]  Armitage said, "I know that [Powell] didn't think, as I did, that this was an extraordinarily serious endeavor.  That much I know."[17]

The stories about an Iranian offer transmitted on May 4, 2003, also fail to take into account what was happening in more direct U.S.-Iran contacts in the same time frame.  Acting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (and NSC Senior Director) Zalmay Khalilzad had just met with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (soon to become UN ambassador) in Geneva on May 3, one day before the Guldimann fax arrived at the State Department.  This was their fourth meeting in as many months.  Earlier, there had also been more than sixteen meetings between Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker, (who was also serving as the interim envoy to Afghanistan) and senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials in Geneva and Paris from November 2001 through December 2002, at least one every month except January 2002.   Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins had negotiated with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and a senior Iranian General in full uniform, at three meetings from November 2001 through March 2002. 

From the inception of the Bush Administration in January 2001 up to the day of the Guldimann fax, there had been at least 24 meetings at which American officials at the rank of Ambassador or equivalent met directly with senior Iranian officials for substantive discussions.  When Deputy Secretary of State Armitage said, "Nothing that we were seeing in this fax was in consonance with what we were hearing face to face," he was drawing upon a considerable body of diplomatic information, not to mention information acquired by the intelligence community. 

The prevailing narrative or the "Iranian offer" also ignores wider trends in Iranian policy pointing in the opposite direction at the same time.  A year after the horrific al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, Iran had given refuge to twenty al-Qaeda leaders fleeing the U.S. bombing in  Afghanistan including bin Laden's son Sa'ad bin Laden, himself an important terror captain.  The Washington Post reported, "The younger bin Laden...is protected by an elite, radical Iranian security force loyal to the nation's clerics and beyond the control of the central government, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials....Also under the Jerusalem Force's protection is Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda's chief of military operations; Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the organization's chief financial officer; and perhaps two dozen other top al Qaeda leaders, the officials said. Al-Adel and Abdullah are considered the top operational deputies to Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri."  

On May 3, 2003, just one day before the Guldimann fax arrived, Khalilzad asked Zarif to have these al-Qaeda figures in Iran interrogated to get critical information that might help to interdict a forthcoming attack of which warning had been received.   Iran declined to do so.  The al-Qaeda attack occurred in Saudi Arabia nine days later, killing 35.  The Post reported, "European and U.S. intelligence...conclude[d] that the Riyadh attacks were planned in Iran and ordered [by Sa'ad bin Laden] from there."[18]  

Iran was also in the process of accelerating its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  In March 2002, Iran began work to improve the P-2 centrifuge to enrich uranium more rapidly than the P-1.  In August 2002, the Iranian opposition exposed a secret enrichment plant at Natanz that Iran had concealed from the IAEA.  The IAEA found traces of highly enriched uranium in February through April, 2003 inspections at Natanz, just weeks before the Guldimann fax.   On February 10, 2003, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said that Iran had started an ambitious nuclear energy program and was poised to begin processing uranium. 

As soon as the U.S. began the invasion of Iraq to overthrow Iran's mortal enemy Saddam Hussein, beginning on March 20, 2003, Iran began infiltrating agents and weapons into Iraq to take the lives of American soldiers and support insurgents undermining U.S. efforts at stabilization.  By May 2003, the time of the Guldimann fax, the aggressive Iranian program was in high gear.

When Guldimann's fax arrived, most of Leverett and Mann's colleagues were absorbing these and other new causes of distress about Iran.  Mann, just returned to the State Department Policy Planning Council, was in a minority who were highly impressed by what Guldimann sent.  She wrote a long memorandum, attaching Guldimann's fax, urging Colin Powell to take it to the White House.  Her advice was not taken.  Armitage said the New East Bureau (not many Neocons there!) was less impressed.  Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett were outliers to the State Department consensus on Guldimann's fax.  They saw much greater significance than their colleagues found in it.

The Myth Lives On

But these corrections[19] have had little effect on the burgeoning literature about a supposed Iranian offer that was allegedly rejected by Bush Administration hard liners.  It is by now an urban legend.  A Washington Post headline is typical:  "U.S. Spurned Iranian Offer of Dialogue."[20]  The "Neocons Killed Peace" narrative was laid out in its most ferocious form by columnist Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times in April 2007: "Hard-liners in the Bush administration killed discussions of a deal...[when] Iran transmitted its "grand bargain" proposals to the U.S...The Neo-cons killed the incipient peace process...What the hard-liners killed wasn't just one faxed Iranian proposal but an entire peace process.  The record indicates that officials from the repressive, duplicitous government of Iran pursued peace more energetically and diplomatically than senior Bush administration officials...A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have saved lives in Iraq, isolated Palestinian terrorists and encouraged civil society groups in Iran. But instead the U.S. hard-liners chose to hammer plowshares into swords."[21]  Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, completely ignoring evidence to the contrary, claimed in his book that "The State Department recognized [that] the offer was authentic, and had the approval of the highest level of authority in Iran.  Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage favored a positive response...Together with National Security Adviser Condeleezza Rice, the approached the president about the proposal, but...Cheney and Rumsfeld quickly put the matter to an end."[22] On November 7, 2007, Hillary Mann Leverett told a Congressional Committee that, "Secretary Rice and former administration officials have acknowledged [that] Teheran sent this offer in early May 2003 through Switzerland...but the Bush administration rejected this proposal."[23]  All of these statements are contradicted by the Armitage and Wilkerson accounts.

It would have been more accurate to admit that the provenance of the "Roadmap" faxed by Guldimann and the motives of the Iranian authorities toward it were difficult to ascertain.  Had they taken this more guarded and credible approach, the advocates of the initiative would still be able to argue that the best response on our side is to test the Iranians' intentions rather than ignore the possibility that the initiative is real.  But this more guarded and objective approach would not earn dramatic headlines with the gripping message, "Iran offers peace, Neocons say ‘No!'"

The approach they did take, while less accurate, got more attention, in spite of the many authoritative corrections and rebuttals.  It was a particular success for two former officials, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, whose narrative continues to influence many in the policy community, even if it is wrong.  Their account correlated with a prior belief in the minds of many of the journalists to whom they gave it-that the Bush Administration missed diplomatic opportunities.  It was therefore taken, not as a minority opinion from two former officials whose advice had been rejected by their colleagues and superiors, but as an objective account of a proven reality.   It was an example of the theory of cognitive dissonance:  when an incoming message correlates with prior values and beliefs, the message is retained; when a new message contradicts deeply held values and beliefs, the message is rejected and the values and beliefs are retained.  Unfounded confidence that Iran was ready for a deal became part of the remembered past.  Much more powerful evidence that Iran was going in the opposite direction-toward confrontation and away from compromise-is expelled from the mind.
Steven Rosen was the Director of Foreign Policy Issues for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from 1982-2005.  Previously, he served as Deputy Director of the National Securities Strategies Program at the RAND Corporation, and on the faculties of Brandeis University, the Australian National University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Appendix

Direct and Indirect
Bush Administration Contacts with Iran, including more than 28 Separate Meetings with American officials of Ambassadorial Rank

(Direct U.S.-Iran meetings shown in bold below)

November 2001 through December 2002, more than sixteen meetings were held in Geneva and Paris (at least one every month except January 2002) between Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker, (who was also serving as the interim envoy to Afghanistan) and senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials.

November-December 2001, Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins negotiated with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Bonn, leading to the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan.

January 21-22, 2002, Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins discussed the Karina-A incident with a senior Iranian diplomat at the Tokyo donors conference for Afghanistan.

March 30 2002, Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins discussed the future of the Afghan National Army with an Iranian general, in full uniform, who had been the commander of their security assistance efforts for the Northern Alliance throughout the war.

January 2003, acting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (and NSC Senior Director) Zalmay Khalilzad and Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (soon to become UN ambassador) assume control over the negotiations; they meet in Paris.

March 16, 2003,  Khalilzad and Crocker hold second meeting with Zarif in Geneva

March 21, 2003 Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied that Zarif and Khalilzad met

April 2003,  Khalilzad and Crocker hold third meeting with Zarif in Geneva

May 3, 2003,  Khalilzad and Crocker hold fourth meeting with Zarif in Geneva

May 4, 2003 Tim Guldimann, the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, faxes to the State Department what he depicts as an Iranian "Roadmap" for a comprehensive settlement of issues with the U.S. (called by some a "Grand Bargain")

October 21, 2003: Acting on the basis of an understanding with the United States, German Foreign Joschka Fischer, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin met with top Iranian officials in Teheran. 

November 17, 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "I think that my three colleagues, the EU Three, played a very, very helpful role in going to Tehran...and coming back with a very, very positive and productive result."

December 2003: Further talks between Iran and the European Union.

November 15, 2004  agreement signed by the Governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Paris. 

November 24, 2004:  Secretary of State Colin Powell said "The United States has been supportive of the Europeans' efforts."

December 13, 2004 - Expanded talks between Iran and EU begin, with American support.

January 7, 2005 Talks between Russia and Iran on the Moscow proposal end without a result with the parties promising to resume talks in February

January 2005 Europe and Iran begin trade talks.

March 11, 2005:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that the United States will "make an effort to actively support the EU-3's negotiations with the Iranians" and lift a decade-long block on Iran's membership of the World Trade Organization, and end objections to Tehran obtaining parts for commercial planes.

January 12, 2006 EU3 call off nuclear talks with Iran and say Tehran should be referred to UN Security Council.

May 31, 2006  In a major policy shift, Secretary Rice says the U.S. is willing to join the multilateral talks with Iran if Tehran verifiably suspends its nuclear enrichment program.  The U.S. also gives assent to a package of carrots and sticks Solana will describe to the Iranians.

May 31, 2006  U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton was instructed to deliver a message to Iranian UN ambassador that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was willing to meet with Iranian officials if the government suspended uranium enrichment. Bolton said he called Iran's ambassador, Javad Zarif to set up a meeting, but Zarif told him he was instructed by Iran not to meet. Bolton's chief of staff donned sunglasses and a trench coat and dropped off a letter at the mission so each side could say they fulfilled their duties. attempted to deliver a letter

June 5-6, 2006 On behalf of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Javier Solana flew to Tehran to convey to Iran a package of incentives if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment, and specific actions that might be taken if Iran does not accept the package. 

July 11, 2006   A meeting between Ali Larijani, Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of the P5 plus Germany in Brussels ended with no result.

September 9, 2006   Contacts between Javier Solana and Ali Larijani resumed.

October 4, 2006: EU foreign policy chief Solana says four months of intensive talks have brought no agreement on suspension of Iran's sensitive nuclear activities, and he adds that the dialogue cannot continue indefinitely.

February 9, 2007 Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani meets with IAEA Chief Mohammad El Baradei

March 8, 2007  Rice's Senior Adviser on Iraq, David Satterfield, affirms U.S. interest in discussions with Iran about the situation in Iraq

March 10, 2007  - The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, holds a meeting with an Iranian team at a conference of Iraq's neighbors in Baghdad.

April 25, 2007  EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Iran's top negotiator  Ali Larijani held talks in Ankara.

May 28, 2007 - The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and Iranian Ambassdor to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi meet in Baghdad

May 31, 2007  The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani in Spain. 

June 22, 2007  Ali Larjani and Javier Solana met again in Geneva

July 24, 2007   The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi, held a second round of talks in Baghdad

August 6, 2007 The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi held a third round of talks in Baghdad

August 20-21, 2007  extensive talks in Tehran between Iran and the UN's nuclear agency,

October 7, 2007.   The top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, accused Iran's ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qomi of belonging to the Quds force, which he accused of "lethal involvement and activities" in Iraq, "providing the weapons, the training, the funding and in some cases the direction for operations" against U.S. and Iraqi forces.

October 16, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad at a summit meeting of five Caspian Sea nations in Iran. 

October 23, 2007 Solana and the new Iranian nuclear negotiator met in Rome

November 20, 2007 The U.S. and Iran agree to fourth round of Crocker/Qomi talks

November 30, 2007  Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili met with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, in London

January 11-12, 2008  ElBaradei visited Iran and met Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

January 27, 2008  U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad attends multilateral meeting with  Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Mojtaba Samare Hashemi, a top advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Davos, Switzerland.  State Department says it was "unauthorized."

May 7, 2008  Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said there was no point in having talks with Washington as long as US forces continued attacking Shiite militias in Baghdad and therefore a fourth round of talks between the United States and Iran over the security situation in Iraq is unlikely to go ahead.

June 14, 2008  Javier Solana, travelled to Iran with representatives from the E3 (France, Germany and the UK) and from China and Russia to present Iran a new offer for negotiations.

July 19, 2008 Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns accompanied Solana and representatives of the E3+3 to meet with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva


Notes

[1] "US rejects Iran's offer for talks on nuclear programme."  by Guy Dinmore, http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000467.htm

[2]  "Washington hardliners wary of engaging with Iran,"  by Guy Dinmore, http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000467.htm

[3]   "Unprecedented Peril Forces Tough Calls," by Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post October 26, 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A62727-2004Oct25?language=printer

[4] "Iran: The Gulf Between Us," by Flynt L. Leverett, The New York Times, January 24, 2006 http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2006/0124middleeast_leverett.aspx

[5] "Ex-NSC Official Says White House Is Stifling His Criticism of Iran Policy," by Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 19, 2006; also http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav111606a.shtml.

[6] "A missed opportunity with Iran," by Gregory Beals, Newsday, February 19, 2006, www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-woiran194633735feb19,0,7023960.story

[7] The Washington Post posted on its website the "Roadmap" faxed by Guldimann and his cover memo.  See: http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/documents/us_iran_roadmap.pdf 

[8]  "U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue," by Glenn Kessler, June 18, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/17/AR2006061700727_pf.html

[9] Washington Post, February 14, 2007 

[10] Newsweek Feb. 19, 2007   

[11] Quoted in "The Rogue Weasels," by Kenneth R. Timmerman FrontPageMagazine.com February 16, 2007,  http://www.kentimmerman.com/news/2007_02_16-fp-rogues.htm.

[12] "Rice Denies Seeing Iranian Proposal in '03," by Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 8, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/07/AR2007020702408.html

[13] "Ex-aide says Rice misled Congress on Iran," By Carol Giacomo, Reuters,  February 15, 2007 http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1433692720070215

[14] Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage interviewed by PBS Frontline about the Guldimann initiative July 12, 2007., http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/showdown/interviews/armitage.html

[15] http://www.newamerica.net/pressroom/2007/raw_story_quotes_flynt_leverett_on_secretary_rice_and_iran

[16] Also quoted in "The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know," by John H. Richardson, Esquire Magazine, October 18, 2007, http://www.esquire.com/features/iranbriefing1107-4.

[17] Armitage interviewed by PBS Frontline about the Guldimann initiative July 12, 2007., http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/showdown/interviews/armitage.html

[18] "Bin Laden Son Plays Key Role in Al Qaeda," by Douglas Farah and Dana Priest, Washington Post,

October 14, 2003  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/20/AR2007082000980_pf.html

[19] See also "The Guldimann Memorandum: The Iranian ‘roadmap' wasn't a roadmap and wasn't Iranian," by Michael Rubin, Weekly Standard, October 22, 2007, http://www.meforum.org/article/1764

[20]  "U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue," by Glenn Kessler, June 18, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/17/AR2006061700727_pf.html

[21] Kristof asserts that there was a second Iranian proposal, edited from an American original draft of unknown provenance, by Iran's UN Ambassador, Javad Zarif.  "It was approved as the master statement of the Iranian position. Iran faxed it to the State Department and sent it, through an intermediary, to the White House ... I can't verify that the Iranian versions were received, or at least reviewed by senior officials."  Kristof does not say by whom or when the alleged Iranian approval was given, nor by whom or when it was faxed.  "Diplomacy at Its Worst ," by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, April 29, 2007, http://donkeyod.wordpress.com/2007/04/28/diplomacy-at-its-worst/.  See also,  "Iran's Proposal for a ‘Grand Bargain'," By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times Blog, April 28, 2007,

http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/04/28/irans-proposal-for-a-grand-bargain/   Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation asserted that Ambassador Zarif affirmed to him that he had written a large part of such an Iranian proposal for a grand bargain, and it had "full authorization from the top...I think this definitively resolved the question of ownership of that process."  Remarks during a seminar on "A Grand Bargain with Iran," New American Foundation,  Washington D.C, October 7, 2008. http://www.newamerica.net/events/2008/grand_bargain_iran

[22] Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S.," Yale University Press, 2007, p. 248

[23] Testimony Before House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, Subcommittee On National Security And Foreign Affairs,  http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-33375359_ITM.
Many articles and books have been published in the past several years alleging that, in May 2003, Iran offered the United States a promising opportunity to resolve the nuclear and terrorism issues through diplomacy, but hard-liners in the Bush Administration turned it down.  Most of the stories establish their authority by quoting two former officials of the State Department and the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett and his wife Hillary Mann, and a Swiss "intermediary," former Ambassador Tim Guldimann-all forceful advocates of the view that Iran was ready for a deal. 

This narrative, that there was a missed diplomatic opportunity, has found a receptive audience among many who believe we fought an unnecessary war with Iraq.  It is a pillar of the belief, widespread on the left, that we are in danger of being lured into an unnecessary conflict with Iran when we could resolve our differences with the Islamic Republic if only we would engage with them diplomatically. 

But there is a fundamental problem with the prevailing narrative of a 2003 "offer" that is omitted or mentioned dismissively in passing in most of the iterations that have appeared, and it is this:  Leverett and Mann's own pro-engagement colleagues at the State Department, not the "Neocons," have denied directly all four of the central elements in their account.  Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, both consistent advocates of a diplomatic approach to Iran, have each provided on the record accounts directly contradicting the narrative that Leverett and Mann have spread to wide audiences.  Armitage and Wilkerson say that the State Department itself doubted that there was in fact an "offer" from Iran in May 2003.  They do not think that the senior Iranian leadership approved the text, as Leverett and Mann claim.   They say directly that they and colleagues at State, not Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the "Neocons," dismissed the text Leverett and Mann cite, even though they would have been receptive to such an offer if they thought it was genuine.  And they say they rejected it, not because they lacked interest in seeking a "Grand Bargain" with Iran, but because the text the intermediaries claimed was Iranian bore little resemblance to the many authoritative messages the State Department was receiving more directly from Iran through bilateral and multilateral contacts.

This article will look in detail at how the myth of an "Iranian offer" was promulgated, and why the authoritative denials have been ignored.  A detailed reconstruction is worthwhile because the Leverett/Mann narrative has been so influential, and because it plays a central role in the debate about Iran policy today.    It is also worth close analysis as a case study of how foreign policy myths are created and made resistant to correction.

Birth of the Myth

Reports asserting that Iran had offered a deal but the Bush Administration rejected it, began to appear shortly after Flynt Leverett left government service in May 2003.  The first appeared in the Financial Times on July 15, 2003, under the provocative headline "US rejects Iran's offer for talks on nuclear programme."  The story said, "Iran has communicated to the US its readiness to open direct talks about its nuclear programme as a first step towards tackling other issues, such as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but US officials say the Bush administration is keeping the door closed.[emphasis added]"  The Iranian official involved "is thought to have high-level backing for negotiations that would cut deals on an issue-by-issue basis, starting with the nuclear crisis." [1]  The same paper followed up with a report on March 16, 2004 under a headline specifically blaming the Administration's hardline camp: "Washington hardliners wary of engaging with Iran."  This report called it "Iran's proposal of a road map leading to the restoration of relations with the US" and said, "The offer was said to come from a senior Iranian official designated two years ago by Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, to co-ordinate a special committee on US relations.'  The Financial Times claimed that "a US official said the Bush administration did not question the authenticity of the proposal."  But, "Instead of replying to Tehran, an official said the State Department rebuked the Swiss foreign ministry for overstepping its diplomatic mandate" by acting as an intermediary to transmit the proposal.[2]

A few months later, the Washington Post picked up the story.  "Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann arrived in Washington carrying a plan he had discussed with ...Iran's ambassador to France. The agenda laid out the framework of a ‘grand bargain.' The administration brushed it aside."  Like the Financial Times, the Post implied that the initiative was rejected by the Administration's hardline camp, by quoting a prominent ally of the Pentagon/OVP team, Undersecretary of State John Bolton: "We're not interested in any grand bargain."[3]

In January 2006, Leverett himself wrote an op-ed piece excoriating the Administration for missing what he depicted as an offer from Iran.  "In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

...Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line."
[4]  Leverett called the Administration's rejection of what he considered an Iranian offer, "the strategic equivalent of medical malpractice."[5]  He told Newsday "it indicated that Iran wanted to negotiate a grand political bargain with the United States that would include everything from Iran's nuclear program to its support for groups that Washington regards as terrorist."  Leverett told Newsday, "The message had been approved by all the highest levels of authority" in Iran.  At the same time, it was the first report to indicate that anyone had doubts about whether the message was in fact an authentic Iranian offer, and it was the first report to indicate that these doubts existed at the State Department rather than just the hardline camp.  "The State Department disputes that there was ever a prospect for credible direct negotiations with Iran. ‘The presumption that the regime in Iran is going to change its stripes is specious,' said a department spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘Was there a credible approach from the Iranian government with an offer that made any kind of sense? Never at any time."[6]

Ignoring the Counter-evidence

From the beginning, Leverett and the many journalists picking up his account omitted a critical detail:   Even the Swiss Ambassador most directly engaged in the "offer", Tim Guldimann, never said that it had clear authorization.  Guldimann admitted, in his May 4, 2003 cover letter transmitting the supposed Iranian offer to the State Department, that the Supreme Leader in Iran, Ali Khamenei, had actually objected to some of the provisions in the proposal Guldimann was transmitting.  And Guldimann acknowledged that he did not know to which provisions Khamenei had objections.  "On May 2...[Iranian Ambassador to France Sadeq Kharazzi] told me that he had two long discussions with the Leader on the Roadmap...Kharazzi told me that the Leader uttered some reservations for some points... the Leader agree[d] with 85-90% of the paper.'...I tried to obtain from him a precise answer on exactly what the Leader explicitly has agreed," but Guldimann admits he was not given an answer.[7]

While Leverett was assuring journalists that he had proof positive that the proposal was approved by the top level in Iran, even Richard Haass, his former boss when he was at Policy Planning in the State Department and an ally in Leverett's camp, admitted that it was difficult to know whether the proposal was fully supported by the "multiple governments" that run Iran.[8]

It was not until February 2007-nearly four years after the first leaks about an "Iranian offer"--that the State Department finally went on the record to express its skepticism about whether there had in fact been an authoritative offer from Iran or something else. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told the Washington Post, "This document did not come through official channels but rather was a creative exercise on the part of the Swiss ambassador.  The last 30 years are filled with examples of individuals claiming to represent Iranian views."[9]  Weeks later, then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Newsweek that, in his opinion, the letter represented creative diplomacy by the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, who was serving as a go-between. "We couldn't determine what [in the proposal] was the Iranians' and what was the Swiss ambassador's."[10]  Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell and no hawk on Iran, admitted that the Swiss proposal had been reviewed and rejected by the State Department's own top Iran experts, who had seen dozens of such proposals in the past. "In other words, the State Department professionals who knew Iran best were not happy with it?" Patrick Clawson [asked].  "Yes," Wilkerson acknowledged.[11] 

These doubts in the minds of State Department professionals may have been the end of the matter.  Both Condoleezza Rice (then National Security Adviser) and Elliot Abrams, who headed Mideast affairs the NSC, denied that they received or acted upon the Guldimann proposal at all,[12]  contradicting one of the themes in the Leverett/Mann narrative.  Rice said, ""I don't know what Flynt Leverett's talking about."  Leverett responded, "Secretary Rice is misleading Congress and the American public." [13]

Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State who had been Leverett's boss and patron, provided the most detailed authoritative rebuttal to the theory of an Iranian offer in July 2007.   He told PBS' Frontline a few months after the Leverett/Rice imbroglio, that he and Powell had been "very interested" in an opening to Iran, but neither of them thought that the message they received in May 2003 was a "serious endeavor...I've seen Flynt Leverett...argue that this was a missed opportunity.  But I must say that speaking for me and most of my colleagues at the State Department, we didn't see it that way, and I don't think many others did at the time because it didn't fit with some of the other things... that we'd been hearing from Iran....If there had been a desire on the Iranian side to seek a better relationship, it would have been an ideal time...to send that signal, and we got no such signal to my knowledge.  I remember talking with people from our Near East division about a fax that came in from the Swiss ambassador, and I think our general feeling was that he had perhaps added a little bit to it because it wasn't in consonance with the state of our relations...The Swiss ambassador in Tehran was so intent ... on bettering relations between ...the United States, and Iran that we came to have some questions about where the Iranian message ended and the Swiss message may begin...And we had had some discussions, ...particularly through intelligence channels with high-ranking Iranian intelligence people, and nothing that we were seeing in this fax was in consonance with what we were hearing face to face. So we didn't give it much weight."[14]

Armitage's view is significant, because it establishes two things:  (1) The Guldimann initiative was dismissed by officials who did want engagement with Iran, not by those opposed to it.  And (2) the officials who dismissed the initiative did so because they did not believe it was actually an Iranian offer, even though they were looking for a grand bargain with Iran.  Armitage's account directly contradicts Leverett, who told a forum held by the New America Foundation in a Senate office building[15] that Secretary of State Powell received a "grand bargain" offer from Iran and was rebuffed by the White House..."In [Secretary Powell's] words, he ‘couldn't sell it at the White House.'"[16]  Armitage said, "I know that [Powell] didn't think, as I did, that this was an extraordinarily serious endeavor.  That much I know."[17]

The stories about an Iranian offer transmitted on May 4, 2003, also fail to take into account what was happening in more direct U.S.-Iran contacts in the same time frame.  Acting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (and NSC Senior Director) Zalmay Khalilzad had just met with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (soon to become UN ambassador) in Geneva on May 3, one day before the Guldimann fax arrived at the State Department.  This was their fourth meeting in as many months.  Earlier, there had also been more than sixteen meetings between Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker, (who was also serving as the interim envoy to Afghanistan) and senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials in Geneva and Paris from November 2001 through December 2002, at least one every month except January 2002.   Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins had negotiated with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and a senior Iranian General in full uniform, at three meetings from November 2001 through March 2002. 

From the inception of the Bush Administration in January 2001 up to the day of the Guldimann fax, there had been at least 24 meetings at which American officials at the rank of Ambassador or equivalent met directly with senior Iranian officials for substantive discussions.  When Deputy Secretary of State Armitage said, "Nothing that we were seeing in this fax was in consonance with what we were hearing face to face," he was drawing upon a considerable body of diplomatic information, not to mention information acquired by the intelligence community. 

The prevailing narrative or the "Iranian offer" also ignores wider trends in Iranian policy pointing in the opposite direction at the same time.  A year after the horrific al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, Iran had given refuge to twenty al-Qaeda leaders fleeing the U.S. bombing in  Afghanistan including bin Laden's son Sa'ad bin Laden, himself an important terror captain.  The Washington Post reported, "The younger bin Laden...is protected by an elite, radical Iranian security force loyal to the nation's clerics and beyond the control of the central government, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials....Also under the Jerusalem Force's protection is Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda's chief of military operations; Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the organization's chief financial officer; and perhaps two dozen other top al Qaeda leaders, the officials said. Al-Adel and Abdullah are considered the top operational deputies to Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri."  

On May 3, 2003, just one day before the Guldimann fax arrived, Khalilzad asked Zarif to have these al-Qaeda figures in Iran interrogated to get critical information that might help to interdict a forthcoming attack of which warning had been received.   Iran declined to do so.  The al-Qaeda attack occurred in Saudi Arabia nine days later, killing 35.  The Post reported, "European and U.S. intelligence...conclude[d] that the Riyadh attacks were planned in Iran and ordered [by Sa'ad bin Laden] from there."[18]  

Iran was also in the process of accelerating its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  In March 2002, Iran began work to improve the P-2 centrifuge to enrich uranium more rapidly than the P-1.  In August 2002, the Iranian opposition exposed a secret enrichment plant at Natanz that Iran had concealed from the IAEA.  The IAEA found traces of highly enriched uranium in February through April, 2003 inspections at Natanz, just weeks before the Guldimann fax.   On February 10, 2003, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said that Iran had started an ambitious nuclear energy program and was poised to begin processing uranium. 

As soon as the U.S. began the invasion of Iraq to overthrow Iran's mortal enemy Saddam Hussein, beginning on March 20, 2003, Iran began infiltrating agents and weapons into Iraq to take the lives of American soldiers and support insurgents undermining U.S. efforts at stabilization.  By May 2003, the time of the Guldimann fax, the aggressive Iranian program was in high gear.

When Guldimann's fax arrived, most of Leverett and Mann's colleagues were absorbing these and other new causes of distress about Iran.  Mann, just returned to the State Department Policy Planning Council, was in a minority who were highly impressed by what Guldimann sent.  She wrote a long memorandum, attaching Guldimann's fax, urging Colin Powell to take it to the White House.  Her advice was not taken.  Armitage said the New East Bureau (not many Neocons there!) was less impressed.  Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett were outliers to the State Department consensus on Guldimann's fax.  They saw much greater significance than their colleagues found in it.

The Myth Lives On

But these corrections[19] have had little effect on the burgeoning literature about a supposed Iranian offer that was allegedly rejected by Bush Administration hard liners.  It is by now an urban legend.  A Washington Post headline is typical:  "U.S. Spurned Iranian Offer of Dialogue."[20]  The "Neocons Killed Peace" narrative was laid out in its most ferocious form by columnist Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times in April 2007: "Hard-liners in the Bush administration killed discussions of a deal...[when] Iran transmitted its "grand bargain" proposals to the U.S...The Neo-cons killed the incipient peace process...What the hard-liners killed wasn't just one faxed Iranian proposal but an entire peace process.  The record indicates that officials from the repressive, duplicitous government of Iran pursued peace more energetically and diplomatically than senior Bush administration officials...A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have saved lives in Iraq, isolated Palestinian terrorists and encouraged civil society groups in Iran. But instead the U.S. hard-liners chose to hammer plowshares into swords."[21]  Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, completely ignoring evidence to the contrary, claimed in his book that "The State Department recognized [that] the offer was authentic, and had the approval of the highest level of authority in Iran.  Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage favored a positive response...Together with National Security Adviser Condeleezza Rice, the approached the president about the proposal, but...Cheney and Rumsfeld quickly put the matter to an end."[22] On November 7, 2007, Hillary Mann Leverett told a Congressional Committee that, "Secretary Rice and former administration officials have acknowledged [that] Teheran sent this offer in early May 2003 through Switzerland...but the Bush administration rejected this proposal."[23]  All of these statements are contradicted by the Armitage and Wilkerson accounts.

It would have been more accurate to admit that the provenance of the "Roadmap" faxed by Guldimann and the motives of the Iranian authorities toward it were difficult to ascertain.  Had they taken this more guarded and credible approach, the advocates of the initiative would still be able to argue that the best response on our side is to test the Iranians' intentions rather than ignore the possibility that the initiative is real.  But this more guarded and objective approach would not earn dramatic headlines with the gripping message, "Iran offers peace, Neocons say ‘No!'"

The approach they did take, while less accurate, got more attention, in spite of the many authoritative corrections and rebuttals.  It was a particular success for two former officials, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, whose narrative continues to influence many in the policy community, even if it is wrong.  Their account correlated with a prior belief in the minds of many of the journalists to whom they gave it-that the Bush Administration missed diplomatic opportunities.  It was therefore taken, not as a minority opinion from two former officials whose advice had been rejected by their colleagues and superiors, but as an objective account of a proven reality.   It was an example of the theory of cognitive dissonance:  when an incoming message correlates with prior values and beliefs, the message is retained; when a new message contradicts deeply held values and beliefs, the message is rejected and the values and beliefs are retained.  Unfounded confidence that Iran was ready for a deal became part of the remembered past.  Much more powerful evidence that Iran was going in the opposite direction-toward confrontation and away from compromise-is expelled from the mind.
Steven Rosen was the Director of Foreign Policy Issues for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from 1982-2005.  Previously, he served as Deputy Director of the National Securities Strategies Program at the RAND Corporation, and on the faculties of Brandeis University, the Australian National University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Appendix

Direct and Indirect
Bush Administration Contacts with Iran, including more than 28 Separate Meetings with American officials of Ambassadorial Rank

(Direct U.S.-Iran meetings shown in bold below)

November 2001 through December 2002, more than sixteen meetings were held in Geneva and Paris (at least one every month except January 2002) between Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker, (who was also serving as the interim envoy to Afghanistan) and senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials.

November-December 2001, Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins negotiated with Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Bonn, leading to the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan.

January 21-22, 2002, Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins discussed the Karina-A incident with a senior Iranian diplomat at the Tokyo donors conference for Afghanistan.

March 30 2002, Special Afghanistan Envoy James Dobbins discussed the future of the Afghan National Army with an Iranian general, in full uniform, who had been the commander of their security assistance efforts for the Northern Alliance throughout the war.

January 2003, acting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (and NSC Senior Director) Zalmay Khalilzad and Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (soon to become UN ambassador) assume control over the negotiations; they meet in Paris.

March 16, 2003,  Khalilzad and Crocker hold second meeting with Zarif in Geneva

March 21, 2003 Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied that Zarif and Khalilzad met

April 2003,  Khalilzad and Crocker hold third meeting with Zarif in Geneva

May 3, 2003,  Khalilzad and Crocker hold fourth meeting with Zarif in Geneva

May 4, 2003 Tim Guldimann, the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, faxes to the State Department what he depicts as an Iranian "Roadmap" for a comprehensive settlement of issues with the U.S. (called by some a "Grand Bargain")

October 21, 2003: Acting on the basis of an understanding with the United States, German Foreign Joschka Fischer, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin met with top Iranian officials in Teheran. 

November 17, 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "I think that my three colleagues, the EU Three, played a very, very helpful role in going to Tehran...and coming back with a very, very positive and productive result."

December 2003: Further talks between Iran and the European Union.

November 15, 2004  agreement signed by the Governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Paris. 

November 24, 2004:  Secretary of State Colin Powell said "The United States has been supportive of the Europeans' efforts."

December 13, 2004 - Expanded talks between Iran and EU begin, with American support.

January 7, 2005 Talks between Russia and Iran on the Moscow proposal end without a result with the parties promising to resume talks in February

January 2005 Europe and Iran begin trade talks.

March 11, 2005:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that the United States will "make an effort to actively support the EU-3's negotiations with the Iranians" and lift a decade-long block on Iran's membership of the World Trade Organization, and end objections to Tehran obtaining parts for commercial planes.

January 12, 2006 EU3 call off nuclear talks with Iran and say Tehran should be referred to UN Security Council.

May 31, 2006  In a major policy shift, Secretary Rice says the U.S. is willing to join the multilateral talks with Iran if Tehran verifiably suspends its nuclear enrichment program.  The U.S. also gives assent to a package of carrots and sticks Solana will describe to the Iranians.

May 31, 2006  U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton was instructed to deliver a message to Iranian UN ambassador that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was willing to meet with Iranian officials if the government suspended uranium enrichment. Bolton said he called Iran's ambassador, Javad Zarif to set up a meeting, but Zarif told him he was instructed by Iran not to meet. Bolton's chief of staff donned sunglasses and a trench coat and dropped off a letter at the mission so each side could say they fulfilled their duties. attempted to deliver a letter

June 5-6, 2006 On behalf of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Javier Solana flew to Tehran to convey to Iran a package of incentives if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment, and specific actions that might be taken if Iran does not accept the package. 

July 11, 2006   A meeting between Ali Larijani, Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of the P5 plus Germany in Brussels ended with no result.

September 9, 2006   Contacts between Javier Solana and Ali Larijani resumed.

October 4, 2006: EU foreign policy chief Solana says four months of intensive talks have brought no agreement on suspension of Iran's sensitive nuclear activities, and he adds that the dialogue cannot continue indefinitely.

February 9, 2007 Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani meets with IAEA Chief Mohammad El Baradei

March 8, 2007  Rice's Senior Adviser on Iraq, David Satterfield, affirms U.S. interest in discussions with Iran about the situation in Iraq

March 10, 2007  - The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, holds a meeting with an Iranian team at a conference of Iraq's neighbors in Baghdad.

April 25, 2007  EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Iran's top negotiator  Ali Larijani held talks in Ankara.

May 28, 2007 - The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and Iranian Ambassdor to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi meet in Baghdad

May 31, 2007  The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani in Spain. 

June 22, 2007  Ali Larjani and Javier Solana met again in Geneva

July 24, 2007   The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi, held a second round of talks in Baghdad

August 6, 2007 The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi held a third round of talks in Baghdad

August 20-21, 2007  extensive talks in Tehran between Iran and the UN's nuclear agency,

October 7, 2007.   The top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, accused Iran's ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qomi of belonging to the Quds force, which he accused of "lethal involvement and activities" in Iraq, "providing the weapons, the training, the funding and in some cases the direction for operations" against U.S. and Iraqi forces.

October 16, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad at a summit meeting of five Caspian Sea nations in Iran. 

October 23, 2007 Solana and the new Iranian nuclear negotiator met in Rome

November 20, 2007 The U.S. and Iran agree to fourth round of Crocker/Qomi talks

November 30, 2007  Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili met with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, in London

January 11-12, 2008  ElBaradei visited Iran and met Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

January 27, 2008  U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad attends multilateral meeting with  Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Mojtaba Samare Hashemi, a top advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Davos, Switzerland.  State Department says it was "unauthorized."

May 7, 2008  Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said there was no point in having talks with Washington as long as US forces continued attacking Shiite militias in Baghdad and therefore a fourth round of talks between the United States and Iran over the security situation in Iraq is unlikely to go ahead.

June 14, 2008  Javier Solana, travelled to Iran with representatives from the E3 (France, Germany and the UK) and from China and Russia to present Iran a new offer for negotiations.

July 19, 2008 Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns accompanied Solana and representatives of the E3+3 to meet with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva


Notes

[1] "US rejects Iran's offer for talks on nuclear programme."  by Guy Dinmore, http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000467.htm

[2]  "Washington hardliners wary of engaging with Iran,"  by Guy Dinmore, http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000467.htm

[3]   "Unprecedented Peril Forces Tough Calls," by Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post October 26, 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A62727-2004Oct25?language=printer

[4] "Iran: The Gulf Between Us," by Flynt L. Leverett, The New York Times, January 24, 2006 http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2006/0124middleeast_leverett.aspx

[5] "Ex-NSC Official Says White House Is Stifling His Criticism of Iran Policy," by Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 19, 2006; also http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav111606a.shtml.

[6] "A missed opportunity with Iran," by Gregory Beals, Newsday, February 19, 2006, www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-woiran194633735feb19,0,7023960.story

[7] The Washington Post posted on its website the "Roadmap" faxed by Guldimann and his cover memo.  See: http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/documents/us_iran_roadmap.pdf 

[8]  "U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue," by Glenn Kessler, June 18, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/17/AR2006061700727_pf.html

[9] Washington Post, February 14, 2007 

[10] Newsweek Feb. 19, 2007   

[11] Quoted in "The Rogue Weasels," by Kenneth R. Timmerman FrontPageMagazine.com February 16, 2007,  http://www.kentimmerman.com/news/2007_02_16-fp-rogues.htm.

[12] "Rice Denies Seeing Iranian Proposal in '03," by Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 8, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/07/AR2007020702408.html

[13] "Ex-aide says Rice misled Congress on Iran," By Carol Giacomo, Reuters,  February 15, 2007 http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1433692720070215

[14] Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage interviewed by PBS Frontline about the Guldimann initiative July 12, 2007., http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/showdown/interviews/armitage.html

[15] http://www.newamerica.net/pressroom/2007/raw_story_quotes_flynt_leverett_on_secretary_rice_and_iran

[16] Also quoted in "The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know," by John H. Richardson, Esquire Magazine, October 18, 2007, http://www.esquire.com/features/iranbriefing1107-4.

[17] Armitage interviewed by PBS Frontline about the Guldimann initiative July 12, 2007., http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/showdown/interviews/armitage.html

[18] "Bin Laden Son Plays Key Role in Al Qaeda," by Douglas Farah and Dana Priest, Washington Post,

October 14, 2003  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/20/AR2007082000980_pf.html

[19] See also "The Guldimann Memorandum: The Iranian ‘roadmap' wasn't a roadmap and wasn't Iranian," by Michael Rubin, Weekly Standard, October 22, 2007, http://www.meforum.org/article/1764

[20]  "U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue," by Glenn Kessler, June 18, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/17/AR2006061700727_pf.html

[21] Kristof asserts that there was a second Iranian proposal, edited from an American original draft of unknown provenance, by Iran's UN Ambassador, Javad Zarif.  "It was approved as the master statement of the Iranian position. Iran faxed it to the State Department and sent it, through an intermediary, to the White House ... I can't verify that the Iranian versions were received, or at least reviewed by senior officials."  Kristof does not say by whom or when the alleged Iranian approval was given, nor by whom or when it was faxed.  "Diplomacy at Its Worst ," by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, April 29, 2007, http://donkeyod.wordpress.com/2007/04/28/diplomacy-at-its-worst/.  See also,  "Iran's Proposal for a ‘Grand Bargain'," By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times Blog, April 28, 2007,

http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/04/28/irans-proposal-for-a-grand-bargain/   Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation asserted that Ambassador Zarif affirmed to him that he had written a large part of such an Iranian proposal for a grand bargain, and it had "full authorization from the top...I think this definitively resolved the question of ownership of that process."  Remarks during a seminar on "A Grand Bargain with Iran," New American Foundation,  Washington D.C, October 7, 2008. http://www.newamerica.net/events/2008/grand_bargain_iran

[22] Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S.," Yale University Press, 2007, p. 248

[23] Testimony Before House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, Subcommittee On National Security And Foreign Affairs,  http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-33375359_ITM.