Clinton Reveals Small Contacts With Iran
By Glenn Kessler
THE HAGUE--As the day wore on at the international conference on Afghanistan Tuesday, it was looking pretty grim for the reporters covering Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The high-minded speeches by foreign ministers on helping Afghanistan were not the reason many of the reporters had made the trip. We came mainly because this was the first opportunity for Clinton to cross paths with Iranian officials. The Obama administration has made outreach to Tehran a top priority, and anticipation ran high that something might happen. After all, when Clinton announced the plans for the conference a few weeks ago, the invite to Iran was the top news out of the announcement.
But nothing seemed to be happening. Clinton and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh were seated at the same horse-shaped table, but the table was long and narrow. In fact, the table looked more like a test tube--and Clinton was at one end and Akhundzadeh was on the other side and about 30 seats away. They could barely wave to each other if they had wanted to.
The Dutch put on a rather efficient show, given the few weeks' notice, with perfectly working computer wires and an endless supply of tasty (and free) food for the reporters. But the high hopes for an Iranian-American meeting were fading.
Then super-diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke saved the day. Somehow Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, maneuvered his way into talking with Akhundzadeh. Clinton felt compelled the confirm the encounter, adding that it "did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch."
Clinton herself also dispatched an aide to deliver an unsigned document to the Iranian delegation concerning the fate of three Americans in Iran. Usually, such communications between the two countries are handled through the Swiss government because Iran and the United States do not have diplomatic relations.
Interestingly, Clinton only revealed this development in response to a question at a news conference. She kept her prepared remarks squarely focused on Afghanistan, perhaps knowing full well that virtually every question from reporters would concern Iran.
Clinton's staff declined to provide many details about either the Holbrooke meeting or the document tranfer. They would not say who delivered the aide-memoire to the Iranian delegation, when it was delivered or why a decision was made to approach Iran in this way. They also would not provide any details about Holbrooke's discussion, including how long it lasted.
Akhundzadeh later denied there was ever a meeting with Holbrooke, though that may depend on the definition of "meeting." Clinton herself called it a "brief and cordial exchange."
In any event, the reporters suddenly had a story to justify the travel with Clinton. And if the administration had any doubt about whether news crews are highly interested in its outreach to Iran, those doubts have been put to rest.
Programming note: We're off the plane. Clinton flew Tuesday night to join President Obama in London for his tour of Europe, but the diplomatic reporters stayed behind and are flying home by commercial jet. Once the secretary of state joins the president, the White House correspondents pick up the story--and future posts about their travel will appear on our presidential blog, 44.
By Washington Post Editor |
April 1, 2009; 5:32 AM ET
Clinton in Europe March 2009
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