Joseph Puder: Appeasement: Obama’s Secret Letter to Khamenei

The Wall Street Journal headline on November 6, 2014 stated that “Obama Wrote Letter to Iran’s (Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader of Iran) About Fighting Islamic State.” The article described the letter as “secret,” and goes on to say that the October, 2014 letter to Khamenei “[m]arked at least the fourth time Mr. Obama has written to Iran’s most powerful political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran’s Islamist government.”


President Obama’s “secret” letter has raised deep concerns among U.S. Middle Eastern allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates, who have expressed their concern that America’s desperate efforts to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue with Tehran might appear as appeasement, and that the U.S. might soften its demands for Iran’s nuclear disarmament. They are worried that the Obama administration’s eagerness to get an agreement might leave the radical Iranian regime with the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to the revelation concerning the “secret” letter to Khamenei, saying, “I think the struggle with ISIS doesn’t need to come at the expense of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.”

Reacting to Obama’s “secret” letter, Linda Heard’s column in the Saudi based Arab News (November 11, 2014), stated that

Iranian tanks rumbling over Iraqi soil is guaranteed to throw a match on the embers of sectarian conflict, would serve as a recruiting tool for Daesh [the Arabic term for ISIS], and inflame Sunni tribes. Furthermore, this does nothing to allay the concerns of Gulf States that the U.S. may be cooking up a Grand Bargain with Iran to act as its geopolitical proxy. Those fears are exacerbated by America’s pivot east, not to mention that the luster of Arab oil has diminished now that the U.S. is on its way to becoming the world biggest oil producer. The question uppermost is this; Is Obama throwing Sunni States under an Iranian bus?

During his first six months in office, President Barack Obama wrote two letters to Khamenei calling for improvement in Iranian-U.S. relations. To many Iranian liberals who sought more freedom from the oppressive clerical regime, it amounted to appeasement of the Ayatollahs. Moreover, it only served to heighten Khamenei’s contempt for the U.S. and President Obama.

Ayatollah Khamenei rejected Obama’s overtures for improved relations, and in the words of Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the latest letter smacks of “Obama chasing after Khamenei in the undignified and counterproductive manner of a frustrated suitor.” Suzanne Maloney, writing for the Brookings Institute (November 7, 2014) concludes:

There is simply no plausible scenario in which a letter from the President of the United States to Ali Khamenei generates greater Iranian flexibility on the nuclear program, which the regime has paid an exorbitant price to preserve, or somehow pushes a final agreement across the finish line. Just the opposite – the letter undoubtedly intensified Khamenei’s contempt for Washington and reinforced his longstanding determination to extract maximalist concessions from the international community. It is a blow to the delicate end-game state of play in the nuclear talks at the precise moment when American resolve was needed most.

The November 24, 2014 deadline for the final nuclear agreement between the five permanent representatives on the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France) and Germany with Iran is fast approaching. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the outgoing EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met in Muscat, Oman last weekend with Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister.

It is likely that the U.S. administration, through John Kerry, urged the Iranians to be more flexible and indicated its desire to reach an agreement, even if it leaves Iran with the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. The Iranians are bent on retaining their right to enrich uranium and keeping their existing nuclear infrastructure intact. Kerry, on the other hand, seeks to create the impression that the U.S. will adhere to President Obama’s pledge to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Former U.S. Representative Dan Burton wrote in the Washington Times (2/19/2014),

Based on Iran’s history of lies, deception and hostility, why should we believe they are playing square now? Giving Iran $7 billion in cash while leaving in place one of the most sophisticated enrichment programs in the world is not an act of faith; it is an act of appeasement. Appeasement did not work in the 1930’s with Adolf Hitler. It did not work in the 1990’s with North Korea. It will not work in 2014 with Iran.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who co-authored a bill with Bob Menendez (D-NJ) that imposed tough sanctions on Iran, reacted to President Obama’s letter saying that “The best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is to quickly pass the bipartisan Menendez-Kirk legislation — not to give the Iranians more time to build a bomb.” John Boehner (R-OH), Speaker of the House, said, “I don’t trust the Iranians — I don’t think we need to bring them into this.” Referring to the continuing nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, Speaker Boehner said he “would hope that the negotiations that are under way are serious negotiations, but I have my doubts.”

In an ironic twist, Khamenei actually blames the U.S. for creating ISIS and al-Qaeda as a way to weaken the Islamic world. It is perhaps a more honest response than the Taqiyya (a form of religious dissimulation or deception of one’s enemy) artists such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who have appeared to have charmed the Obama administration and the British government that recently reopened its Tehran embassy.

The Obama administration appears to have concluded that the Islamic Republic of Iran would be the best American deputy to guard the region and insure the region’s stability. For the Ayatollahs, this couldn’t be a better prospect. For a long time, Iran has sought to become the hegemon of the region. With the U.S. destroying Iran’s rivals, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, it paved the way for Tehran to spread the Shiite arc. Haider al-Abadi’s Iraq, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, and Hezbollah controlled Lebanon are now tributaries of Iran. The Arab Gulf states can expect increased intimidation from Iran. Israel faces an existential threat from a nuclear armed and hegemonic Iran.

And yet, other than in the realm of terrorism, Iran has little ability on its own to project power. Its air force is antiquated, and its regular army is relatively weak. Khamenei’s threat that “if America makes the wrong move toward Iran, the shipment of energy will definitely face danger” is rather hollow given U.S. capabilities. In fact, the U.S. Navy has the capacity to eliminate the entire Iranian navy in an hour. It is America’s consistent appeasement of Iran despite its unpunished attacks on Americans in Lebanon, (241 U.S. Marines killed in 1983, U.S. embassy in Beirut bombed) Saudi Arabia, (Khobar towers bombing 19 American servicemen killed and hundreds wounded), and Iraq (Improvised Explosive Devises killing numerous American soldiers) that has emboldened the Ayatollahs of Iran. President Obama’s letter to Khamenei appears to smack of further appeasement.