Iran’s Ayatollah Sends New Letter to Obama Amid Nuclear Talks

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Tone Described as ‘Respectful’ but Noncommittal on Cooperation Against Islamic State.

Iran’s paramount political figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded to overtures from President Barack Obama seeking better relations by sending secret communications of his own to the White House.

The Iranian cleric wrote to Mr. Obama in recent weeks in response to an October presidential letter that raised the possibility of U.S.-Iranian cooperation in fighting Islamic State if a nuclear deal is secured, according to an Iranian diplomat. The supreme leader’s response was “respectful” but noncommittal, the diplomat said.

A senior White House official declined to confirm the existence of that letter. But it comes as the first details emerge about another letter Mr. Khamenei sent to the president early in his first term.

That letter outlined a string of abuses that in the supreme leader’s view the U.S. had committed against the Iranian people over the past 60 years, according to current and former U.S. officials who viewed the correspondence.

The White House official confirmed that the president received that letter in 2009, but declined to comment on the content of any presidential correspondence.

Neither the White House nor the Iranian government has officially confirmed any correspondence between the two. Iranian officials, in recent months, though, have told Tehran’s state media that some of Mr. Obama’s letters were answered, without specifying by whom.

“The letters of the American president have a history of some years, and in some instances, there have been responses to these letters,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, in November. He added that there were “contradictions” between policies laid out in the letters and U.S. actions, according to a translation of Mr. Shamkhani’s comments by Al Monitor, a Mideast-focused website.

Despite its airing of grievances, the first letter in many ways began in earnest the recent historic thaw after more than 30 years of frozen U.S.-Iranian ties, because Mr. Khamenei also didn’t rule out the possibility of accommodation with the U.S.

That omission—and the sheer fact of the letter itself—fueled initial White House hopes for some sort of breakthrough in relations on Mr. Obama’s watch.

“He left the door open,” said one former Obama administration official who saw the letter, the contents of which have never been reported.

That effort is now at a crossroads, with Mr. Obama saying this month that nuclear negotiations with Iran either yield a comprehensive agreement by March 31 or Washington will take steps, including possibly military action, to deny Tehran the capacity to build a nuclear bomb.

Congressional Republicans have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month on Iran, setting off a political firestorm in Washington.

Iran says its program is purely peaceful.

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