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Persian Letters

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

Iranians walking their dogs in public could be sentenced to 74 lashes and a fine of more than $3,500.

Their pet dogs could also be confiscated, taken to the zoo, or left in a desert.

That is according to a draft bill proposed by 32 Iranian lawmakers who have claimed that walking dogs and other "harmful" animals in public is not only a health hazard but also a "blind imitation of decadent Western culture."

The draft bill is the latest measure by Iranian hard-liners who have over the years denounced dog ownership and called for action against dog owners. Iranian authorities and conservative clerics say that, according to Islam, dogs are considered to be dirty animals.

The lawmakers have argued that they're proposing the draft bill in an effort to confront the "growing trend" of dog walking in public and dog ownership in big cities, particularly in Tehran.

The lawmakers submitted their proposals for tougher punishments for dog owners earlier this week. According to the text of the proposed article of the Islamic Penal Code, posted on the website of Iran's Parliament Research Center, monkey owners could also face punishments. Lawmakers have said that they will issue a list of other animals that are "dirty," "dangerous," or "harmful" to public health three months after the approval of the bill by Iran's Health Ministry.

"Those walking or petting publicly animals such as dogs and monkeys [whose] presence in public places damages the health or calm of others, especially women and children, and those who trade them or keep them at home while ignoring warnings by the police, will be sentenced to fines ranging from 10 million to 100 million rials [$377-$3770] or 74 lashes and the confiscation of the mentioned animals,' the proposed law reads.

It also says that following court orders, the confiscated animals will be transferred to a "zoo, forest, or desert" based on the condition of the animals, while owners will have to take care of all the financial charges before the transfer takes place.

The law will not apply to those who need dogs to perform their work, including police forces, farmers, and licensed hunters.

If passed, the bill would also criminalize "the promotion of dog walking" by the media.

Dog owners have faced harassment in the Islamic republic. In past years, pet dogs have been impounded on several occasions in the Iranian capital and held in a special "dog prison."

The measures have been condemned by Iranian animal lovers including the Iranian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals, which in 2012 documented a dog detention center in Tehran.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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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