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Rice: "I Don't Remember" Iran Overture -- Now

TPM Muckraker | February 8, 2007
Spencer Ackerman

One outstanding controversy that Condoleezza Rice addressed -- or sort-of addressed -- in this morning's testimony has to do with a reported overture made by Iran to the U.S. in 2003. Only she may have contradicted what she told NPR last year.

Last June, Glenn Kessler of the Post reported that the State Department's New Eastern Affairs Bureau received a fax from the Iranians shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

Quite a missed opportunity, if true. That's why Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) asked Rice about it in today's hearing. Rice didn't deny that the Iranians made such an overture. But she did say that "I don't remember reading" such a fax. "I can't say categorically" that it didn't happen, she specified, but she said she thought she would remember hearing about a step as dramatic as Iranian recognition of Israel.

Kessler, however, cited an interview Rice gave to NPR last year in which she appeared to have a clearer memory of what the Iranians put on offer:

Earlier this month, she made the first official confirmation of the Iranian proposal in an interview with National Public Radio.

"What the Iranians wanted earlier was to be one-on-one with the United States so that this could be about the United States and Iran," said Rice, who was Bush's national security adviser when the fax was received. "Now it is Iran and the international community, and Iran has to answer to the international community. I think that's the strongest possible position to be in."

Similarly, Rice's then-Mideast aide at the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett, told Kessler he saw the document, describing it as "a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement."

Dodd asked Rice to provide the cable traffic from the State Department during that period to the committee in closed session, so stay tuned: we may have some harder evidence in the near future of what Iran was willing to concede in the wake of the Iraq war -- years before the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the increased tension with the Bush administration.

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