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Periodically, Mann interrupts herself. "This is off the record," she says. "This is going to have to be on background."

She's not allowed to talk about confidential documents or intelligence matters, but the topic of her negotiations with the Iranians is especially touchy.

"As far as they're concerned, the whole idea that there were talks is something I shouldn't even be talking about," she says.

All ranks and ranking are out. "They don't want there to be anything about the level of the talks or who was involved."

"They won't even let us say something like 'senior' or 'important,' 'high-ranking,' or 'high-level,' " Leverett says.

But the important thing is that the Iranians agreed to talk unconditionally, Mann says. "They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the U.S., and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in twenty-five years."

She believed them.

But while Leverett was still moving into the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, Mann was wrapped up in the crisis over a ship called the Karin A that left Iran loaded with fifty tons of weapons. According to the Israeli navy, which intercepted the Karin A in the Red Sea, it was headed for the PLO. In staff meetings at the White House, Mann argued for caution. The Iranian government probably didn't even know about the arms shipments. It was issuing official denials in the most passionate way, even sending its deputy foreign minister onto Fox News to say "categorically" that "all segments of the Iranian government" had nothing to do with the arms shipment, which meant the "total government, not simply President Khatami's administration."

Bush waited. Three weeks later, it was time for his 2002 State of the Union address. Mann spent the morning in a meeting with Condoleezza Rice and the new president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who kept asking Rice for an expanded international peacekeeping force. Rice kept saying that the Afghans would have to solve their own problems. Then they went off to join the president's motorcade and Mann headed back to her office to watch the speech on TV.

That was the speech in which Bush linked Iran to Iraq and North Korea with a memorable phrase:

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

The Iranians had been engaging in high-level diplomacy with the American government for more than a year, so the phrase was shocking and profound.

After that, the Iranian diplomats skipped the monthly meeting in Geneva. But they came again in March. And so did Mann. "They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives," Mann says.

The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 05:42:39 PM EST
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