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Dear Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei…

Besides this latest reported letter, President Barack Obama (left) has purportedly written to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) on three previous occasions.
Besides this latest reported letter, President Barack Obama (left) has purportedly written to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) on three previous occasions.

U.S. President Barack Obama has penned several letters to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the past five years, leading American media have reported.

Obama's latest letter, his fourth, was sent to Khamenei in mid-October, according to a November 6 report by "The Wall Street Journal."

Obama stressed in the letter that any cooperation with Iran in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants is contingent on whether Tehran and major world powers can reach a deal over Iran's nuclear program by a November 24 deadline, the newspaper reported.

Responding to the report, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said on November 7 that Washington is "in no way" coordinating with Iran militarily to counter IS militants and that there is "no linkage" between U.S. efforts to end a standoff over Iran's nuclear activities and the campaign against IS fighters.

Here is a glance at Obama's previous reported missives to the Iranian leader.

First Letter

Obama sent his first letter to Khamenei a few weeks prior to the 2009 presidential election in Iran that resulted in the disputed re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Iranian and Western media reported.

The letter reportedly called for improving relations between the two countries, which have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran that saw the ouster of the U.S.-backed shah.

The Iranian leader confirmed the correspondence in his Friday Prayers sermon delivered on June 19, 2009.

Khamenei, who spoke in the sermon about the postelection antigovernment demonstrations, accused the United States of sending mixed messages.

"The president of America was quoted as saying: 'We were expecting the day that Iranians would take to the streets.' On the other hand, they send us letters, they express interest in [re-establishing] ties, they express respect for the Islamic republic. Which one of these remarks should we believe?" he said.

Second Letter

Obama sent a second letter to Khamenei several weeks later, according to Iranian and Western media reports.

The conservative Iranian website "Tabnak" reported in September 2009 that Obama used an "unprecedented" and "very polite" tone in the letter while proposing changes in bilateral ties.

The U.S. newspaper "The Washington Times" quoted Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), as saying that Khamenei responded to Obama's first letter and that Obama had sent a second letter.

In a speech delivered on November 3, 2009, Khamenei again mentioned the correspondence while rejecting Obama's outreach.

Khamenei, who has the final say in the Islamic republic, characterized the U.S. president's expressed desire for change as merely lip service.

"This new U.S. president had nice words, he has given us messages repeatedly -- spoken and written [messages] -- saying: 'Let's turn the page, let's create a new situation, let's work with each other to solve the world's problems,'" he said.

The Iranian leader, however, said the Islamic republic had witnessed from the U.S. side only the opposite of what Washington was saying.

Third Letter

Obama penned another letter to Khamenei in 2012, according to conservative Iranian lawmaker Ali Motahari, who claimed that the U.S. leader had called for direct talks with Tehran.

"The letter said that closing the Strait of Hormuz is [Washington's] red line, and it also called for direct negotiations," Motahari said in January 2012.

The first part of the letter contained threats, while the second part was friendly in tone, Motahari added.

The United States broke its diplomatic ties with Iran following the 1979 embassy takeover and the hostage-taking of American diplomats in Tehran.

Tensions between the two countries have eased greatly since last year's election of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who has promised moderation at home and on the international scene.

Obama and Rohani spoke by telephone in September 2013.

The call marked the first direct talks between the leaders of the two countries since the 1979 revolution.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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