(CNSNews.com) – Describing Iran as a country with an “elected” government and a “remarkable history,” Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday reiterated President Obama’s willingness to hold bilateral talks with the regime.
“It’s a matter of public record that he personally communicated to the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] that he was prepared to engage and to discuss these issues,” Kerry told a news conference with his French counterpart in Paris.
Responding to a reporter’s question about negotiating with a “terrorist” regime, Kerry pointed out that “Iran is a country with a government that was elected and that sits in the United Nations.”
“And it is important for us to deal with nation-states in a way that acts in the best interests of all of us in the world,” he added, drawing a parallel with President Reagan’s willingness to sit down with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Nixon’s decision to engage with China.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking through an interpreter, said in reply to the same question, “If we were only to discuss with full democracies, the ministers for foreign affairs would have a lot of free time.”
Kerry also said that Obama “has made it clear that he will entertain the notion of a bilateral discussion” with Iran.
“The president has said publicly on any number of occasions, and it’s a matter of public record that he personally communicated to the supreme leader, that he was prepared to engage and to discuss these issues,” he said.
“So as a matter of record, I restate today, the United States is prepared to engage in a serious bilateral negotiation with respect to this course we’re on, with the belief that Iran, that has a remarkable history, the Iranian people – there are many Iranian Americans today who contribute to our society.
“We would like to move to a better relationship, and it begins by resolving this nuclear issue.”
The personal communication from Obama to Khamenei referred to by Kerry was reportedly a letter sent shortly before Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential election, a development not disclosed by the administration but first reported by the Washington Times on June 24, 2009.
When then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the letter during that day’s press briefing he said he would not “confirm or deny anything around this,” but also noted that “the administration has indicated a willingness to talk with the leadership in Iran and have sought to communicate with the Iranian people in a variety of ways.”
Khamenei himself referred indirectly to the letter, saying during a sermon at Tehran University that the U.S. administration was speaking in a supportive way about Iranian street protests – taking place at the time in response to the election dispute – while at the same time “they write letters to say we’re ready to have ties, that we respect the Islamic Republic … which one should we believe?”
As Kerry noted, Iran does have an “elected” government, but the 2009 election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term was viewed largely by Western governments, and by many of Iran’s citizens, as a farce.
Less than a month before the election the Guardian Council, an unelected religious-judicial body appointed by the supreme leader, announced that out of 476 men and women who had applied to be candidates, it had approved just four.
Iranians’ unhappiness with the process and an election result widely seen as rigged prompted the biggest anti-government protests seen in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution – and a subsequent bloody crackdown.
Kerry stopped short of calling the regime in Tehran “legitimate,” a term that his newly sworn-in cabinet colleague, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, used more than once in relation to Iran during his confirmation hearing last month, before backtracking under questioning and saying he should have said “recognized.”
Both Kerry and Hagel have a record of favoring engagement over isolation and sanctions when dealing with Iran and other regimes hostile to the U.S.
In Paris on Wednesday, Kerry stated, “The world has made a decision that an Iran with a nuclear weapon poses a threat to global stability, to nonproliferation efforts, to the Gulf, to the region, and that if we are interested in a world with less nuclear weapons, not more, it is critical to try to find a peaceful way – as President Kennedy did in the Cuban missile crisis – to defuse those situations that are dangerous for everybody.”
He described as “useful” talks between Iran and six powers in Kazakhstan on Tuesday and Wednesday, expressing the hope that Iran would carefully consider what he called “the credible confidence-building steps that the P5+1 have put on the table.”
“If Iran engages seriously, and we hope they will, then these could pave the way for negotiations that lead towards a longer-term and comprehensive agreement.”
The offer put forward by the P5+1 – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – has not been unveiled publicly, but reportedly includes easing of some sanctions in return for the suspension of some uranium-enrichment.