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Months before September 11, Mann had been negotiating with the Iranian diplomat at the UN. After the attacks, the meetings continued, sometimes alone and sometimes with their Russian counterpart sitting in. Soon they traded the conference room for the Delegates' Lounge, an airy two-story bar with ashtrays for all the foreigners who were used to smoking indoors. One day, up on the second floor where the windows overlooked the East River, the diplomat told her that Iran was ready to cooperate unconditionally, a phrase that had seismic diplomatic implications. Unconditional talks are what the U.S. had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the U.S. and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement. "It was revolutionary," Mann says. "It could have changed the world."

<...>

By that time, Leverett and Mann had met and fallen in love. They got married in February 2003, went to Florida on their honeymoon, and got back just in time for the Shock and Awe bombing campaign. Leverett quit his NSC job in disgust. Mann rotated back to the State Department.

Then came the moment that would lead to an extraordinary battle with the Bush administration. It was an average morning in April, about four weeks into the war. Mann picked up her daily folder and sat down at her desk, glancing at a fax cover page. The fax was from the Swiss ambassador to Iran, which wasn't unusual -- since the U.S. had no formal relationship with Iran, the Swiss ambassador represented American interests there and often faxed over updates on what he was doing. This time he'd met with Sa-deq Kharrazi, a well-connected Iranian who was the nephew of the foreign minister and son-in-law to the supreme leader. Amazingly, Kharrazi had presented the ambassador with a detailed proposal for peace in the Middle East, approved at the highest levels in Tehran.

A two-page summary was attached. Scanning it, Mann was startled by one dramatic concession after another -- "decisive action" against all terrorists in Iran, an end of support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a promise to cease its nuclear program, and also an agreement to recognize Israel.

This was huge. Mann sat down and drafted a quick memo to her boss, Richard Haass. It was important to send a swift and positive response.

Then she heard that the White House had already made up its mind -- it was going to ignore the offer. Its only response was to lodge a formal complaint with the Swiss government about their ambassador's meddling.

A few days after that, a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia killed thirty-four people, including eight Americans, and an intelligence report said the bombers had been in phone contact with Al Qaeda members in Iran. Although it was unknown whether Tehran had anything to do with the bombing or if the terrorists were hiding out in the lawless areas near the border, Rumsfeld set the tone for the administration's response at his next press conference. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy."

Colin Powell saw Mann's memo. A couple weeks later he approached her at a State Department reception and said, "It was a very good memo. I couldn't sell it at the White House."

In response to questions from Esquire, Colin Powell called Leverett "very able" and confirms much of what he says. Leverett's account of the clash between Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah was accurate, he said. "It was a very serious moment and no one wanted to see if the Saudis were bluffing." The same goes for the story about his speech in Israel in 2002. "I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say."

On the subject of the peace offer, though, Powell was defensive. "I talked to all of my key assistants since Flynt started talking about an Iranian grand bargain, but none of us recall seeing this initiative as a grand bargain."

On the general subject of negotiations with Iran, he responded with pointed politesse. "We talked to the Iranians quietly up until 2003. The president chose not to continue that channel."

That is putting it mildly. In May of 2003, when the U.S. was still in the triumphant "mission accomplished" phase of the Iraq war, word started filtering out of the White House about an aggressive new Iran policy that would include efforts to destabilize the Iranian government and even to promote a popular uprising. In his first public statement on Iran policy since leaving the NSC, Leverett told The Washington Post he thought the White House was making a dangerous mistake. "What it means is we will end up with an Iran that has nuclear weapons and no dialogue with the United States."



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 05:34:41 PM EST
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