An Iranian presidential envoy’s visit to Washington, which Newsmax revealed Tuesday, is just one piece of a much broader tableau of U.S.-Iranian contacts in recent months that has included open and secret diplomatic exchanges, Newsmax has learned from four Iranians familiar with the talks and other sources.
The encounters also have included contacts between U.S. flag officers and senior Iranian government officials, those officials say.
At least one activist contends that the exchanges indicate support for a repressive government vs. the Iranian people.
The envoy, Ahmad Samavati, offered to turn over to U.S. custody scores of top al-Qaida operatives living in Iran, but the State Department turned him down, in part because it still was reviewing Iran policy.
For more on this, read "Obama Declines Iran Offer of al-Qaida Members."
Despite the apparent lack of interest, the State Department sent a three-member delegation to Tehran in late March to continue the discussions, according to an Iranian source with extensive business and political ties to Tehran.
Tehran wants the United States to lift economic sanctions, quash terrorism-related lawsuits, and sign off on plans to allow Iran to continue “civilian” nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment, Newsmax sources say.
At roughly the same time that Samavati was meeting at the State Department, U.S. flag officers were involved in separate talks with senior Iranian government officials on Kish Island to discuss the possibility of transferring U.S. military equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan through Iranian territory.
If the talks bear fruit, it would be the first time since the Iran-contra affair of the mid-1980s that the United States has cooperated militarily with the Islamic Republic government.
On April 22, the Obama administration made another gesture toward Tehran when the Justice Department asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit against Iran brought by former U.S. diplomats who were held hostage for 444 days at the U.S. embassy 30 years ago.
To date, federal courts have awarded more than $8 billion in compensatory damages to the families of victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorist attacks, money that will become an issue in any settlement of outstanding U.S.-Iranian claims.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran is “studying precisely” a U.S. proposal for open talks between the two governments, state-owned Press TV reported last week.
Some are skeptical about the chances for such talks.
“The Obama administration’s Iran policy is riddled with contradictions,” says Roozbeh Farahanipour, an opposition activist who helped lead the student rebellion in July 1999 and now lives in Los Angeles.
“They want to establish relations with the Islamic Republic which legitimizes the regime, while Iranians don’t view the theocracy as a legitimate government,” Farahanipour told Newsmax. “The Americans talk of the need for government around the world to respect human rights, while they are engaging with a regime that had the highest rate of executions per capita last year. The U.S. government talks of the dangers posed by extremists having access to nuclear weapons, while they quietly concede to the Islamic Republic that they proceed with their nuclear program unabated.”
Samavati’s trip to Washington was the third of five secret contacts between the Iranian regime and the Obama administration, according to accounts published in Iran and to sources who spoke to Newsmax on a background basis because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The first, informal probe occurred in December during a reception in Istanbul shortly after the Department of Justice arrested the head of the Alavi Foundation, Farshid Jahedi, for obstruction of justice.
Jahedi had been served with a grand jury subpoena to turn over documents relating to the ownership of a 5th Avenue office building that the Shah of Iran built and the state-run Bank Melli partially owns. The FBI arrested Jahedi on Dec. 19 when they observed him trying to dispose of the documents in a public trash can.
Family members of victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorist attacks have attempted for more than a decade to seize the property of the Alavi Foundation, believed to be worth several hundred million dollars. But the foundations status as a New York state charitable corporation has stymied them.
Worried that Jahedi’s arrest could lead to the seizure of the foundation assets, Iranian presidential adviser Mohammad Nahavandian asked an American diplomat at the reception whether the Obama administration would be open to discuss the issue.
When he received a positive response, Nahavandian flew to the United States for discussions with members of Obama’s transition team, Iranian sources told Newsmax.
The Alavi Foundation is not just any charity. It is a highly sensitive issue in Iran because it is considered the “New York branch” of the Bonyad-e Mostazafan va Janbazan, a mega-conglomerate cobbled together from state-run corporations and the former shah’s real estate holdings.
Until 1992, the Alavi Foundation was known as the Mostazafan Foundation of New York. Under Iranian law, the Bonyad-e Mostazafan is deemed to be the personal property of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The English translation of the group’s name is the Foundation of the Oppressed and War Veterans.
Intelligence experts who have followed the Bonyad’s operations say it has been a primary source of the Iranian funds sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon and elsewhere to finance terrorist attacks. Because of its unique legal status, its funding does not depend on the Iranian parliament and remains secret.
So alarm bells sounded in Tehran when the FBI started closing in on its New York office and a federal prosecutor finally handed down a complaint alleging Iranian government ownership of Alavi.
Nahavandian’s informal talks in Washington, which focused primarily on the Alavi foundation and Jahedi’s arrest, went well enough that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed to send a Samavati-led team of advisers back to Washington in February.
Samavati was empowered to discuss a much broader range of issues than Nahavandian had been, including Iran’s nuclear program, the fate of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, and the al-Qaida operatives in Iran.
Many Iran analysts believe the Tehran regime is getting ready to use Levinson and recently convicted Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi as pawns in an effort to get the United States to release IRGC officers U.S. forces detained in Iraq on charges of providing money, weapons, and targeting orders to insurgent groups.
For more on this, read “Obama Being Tested by Iran.”
Yet another aspect of the secret U.S.-Iran discussions involves talks to win Iranian approval to allow the United States to move military equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan across Iranian territory.
The agreement was discussed during a secret meeting in February between a top U.S. military commander and Sadeq Mir-Hejazi, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Kish island, a free-trade zone Iran operates in the Persian Gulf.
When the negotiations were mentioned during a debate in the Iranian Parliament on April 15, the head of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi told worried lawmakers that Iran had won “significant concessions” from the United States, although he didn’t specify what they were. An account of the stormy Majles session was published on peiknet.com, a Persian-language Web site.
“I am stunned that no one has noticed this story in the United States,” said Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former Iranian intelligence officer turned human rights activist who has been monitoring the Web sites.
Sources in Baghdad close to the U.S. military command told Newsmax that the agreement will involve shipping equipment being drawn down from Iraq to the Iranian port of Chah Bahar — outside the Persian Gulf in the Sea of Oman — then moving it by land through southeastern Iran into Afghanistan, where Balouchi militants regularly clash with Iranian security forces.
“Yes, there will be some equipment that is being and will continue to be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Col Joseph D. Kloppel told Newsmax. “However, there are no plans for any equipment or personnel to move through Iran or any part of its territory.”
The two sides also discussed the possibility that the United States could use Iranian air space to fly armed Predator drones from U.S. aircraft carriers against al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
The potential of a U.S.-Iran military agreement, while limited in scope, comes as sources in Baghdad say Iran has resumed support for the “Special Groups,” a cluster of Iraqi Shiite insurgents who operate under the direction of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The U.S. military in Iraq has captured a number of IRGC officers working with the Special Groups, as well as a senior Hezbollah commander who was providing terrorist training to Iraqi insurgents. In congressional testimony last year, Gen. David Petraeus identified the Special Groups as “greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”
Iran backed off from its support for the Special Groups in response to increased U.S. military pressure last year, according to reports in the U.S. media.
Opposition activist Roozbeh Farahanipour, who now leads the Glorious Frontiers Party, Marze Por Gohar, believes that the Obama administration’s steps show that the U.S. government has chosen to back an oppressive regime over the Iranian people.
“We’ve seen this song and dance before, namely when the United States was actively supporting the Shah against the people of Iran. Iranians eventually overthrew their oppressor and they didn’t forget who helped keep the Shah in power,” he said.
The State Department has refused to comment on this story despite numerous inquiries from Newsmax during the past 10 days.
Defense Department officials said they are aware of U.S.-Iran talks involving the shipment of equipment to the NATO-led stabilization force in Afghanistan, but that Iran had rejected a U.S. request to move equipment through Iranian territory.
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