On the Plane

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  | Trip:  Clinton in Europe March 2009
Previous: The Waiting Game: Is the Third Time a Charm? | Next: Clinton's 'Red Carpet Treatment' En Route to Iraq


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I have a hard time believing anything Clinton has to say about most anything. She has a habit of adding color to her stories and explainations. She did say the U.S. would inialate Iran during her bid for the big seat. That was not smart but then again, she is a Clinton.

Posted by: SouthernCross2 | April 1, 2009 2:20 PM

What's particularly amazing is that Clinton managed all this while ducking incoming sniper fire. She truly is one of America's greatest heroes. I'd press her reset/overcharge button anytime, rowr.

Posted by: Rory | April 1, 2009 2:43 PM

Southerncross2- your biases are still showing- what a shame as they obvously cloud your mind- whatever one there is-

Thankfully the President has full confidence in her and the rest of the world seems to be responding very well to her.

Hillary Clinton is the best weapon besides himself that President Obama has to change the way the people of the world view the United States and Americans.

We are lucky she accepted this job and is doing it well.

Posted by: peter DC | April 1, 2009 2:48 PM

Really silly that it's taken this long for the news to get onto the Post web site, as it was in the Guardian (UK newspaper) this morning. Is the Post just behind on its news, or are the US folks being deprived of internationsl news?

Posted by: anderson in uk | April 1, 2009 2:50 PM

I doubt that whatever the unnamed U.S. aide delivered to the Iranian delegation was an aide-memoire, which is either a reminder (literally "memory aid") or a document summarizing the points of a proposed diplomatic agreement.

Oh, and SouthernCross2, I think you meant "annihilate." Or is "inialate" a new word that I've somehow missed?

Posted by: ajsmithva | April 1, 2009 2:56 PM

As an Iranian, I don't think it is a good idea for dictators of tehran to win more international acceptance.
Mr. Obama should watch out what he is doing because whatever favor he does to "Iran" will go to the credit line of dictators. People of Iran have absolutely no say and no rights in the presence of this Islamic regime that is anti-Iranian to the bone.

Posted by: Ramin Tafreshi | April 1, 2009 3:05 PM

As an Iranian, I don't think it is a good idea for dictators of tehran to win more international acceptance.
Mr. Obama should watch out what he is doing because whatever favor he does to "Iran" will go to the credit line of dictators. People of Iran have absolutely no say and no rights in the presence of this Islamic regime that is anti-Iranian to the bone.

Posted by: Anahita Lavasani | April 1, 2009 3:06 PM

Wow, were SouthernCross2's comments about Secretary of State Clinton an April Fool's joke, or is that person truly so out of touch?

I applaud this new administration for making ANY EFFORTS to resolve differences diplomatically, and establishing small beginnings with countries that we have not attempted to even listen to for the past 8 years.

Posted by: Rick | April 1, 2009 3:45 PM


I suppose you will applaude when Iran bombs Israel out of existance too. I am not sure what kind of "change" the left is expecting with the Islamic regieme in Iran, but the approach this administration is taking cannot yield a positive change for our country.

Posted by: Barry | April 1, 2009 4:39 PM

Holbrooke is a super diplomat? Horse manure. Why then did Bill Clinton make sure Wes Clark his little lackey was always along with Holbrooke during the Bosnia mess, to keep Holbrooke in check?
Actually neither Holbrooke or Clinton seem to have much in the way of credibility or integrity. Couple of lightweight liberal weenies is all they are.

Posted by: Larry G | April 1, 2009 5:16 PM

I am always curious about how much money Bill will make on the visit. I know he did very well with the Chinese. Maybe Hillary can make some with the Iranians.

Posted by: longbow | April 1, 2009 7:04 PM

Inialate??? 'nuff said.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | April 1, 2009 7:25 PM

President Barack Obama used the occasion of the Persian New Year to reach out last week to the Iranian government, offering in a video message a new era of "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."

Change in America's Iran policy is much-needed and is long overdue. Yet, that change is not conceivable without understanding the dynamics of Iranian politics. Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has sought a coherent Iran policy and has been interested in negotiations with this regime. But all have failed for one reason or another.

Every Iran observer acknowledges that there are two Irans: the one of octogenarian mullahs and the one in vibrant cities. And these two Irans are worlds apart.

As long as Iran remains synonymous with the fundamentalist regime that rules it, U.S. policy options are very limited: More concessions or military action, both of which are doomed to failure.

But how can the U.S. reach out to the Iranian people? In dealing with tyrannies, it always is prudent to reach out to the organized opposition – and that is where Obama really should think outside the box. The key to such change is the administration's approach to the mullahs and their main opposition, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK).

In 1997, the Clinton administration proposed direct dialogue with Tehran. To set the stage, Secretary of State Madeline Albright designated the MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

One senior Clinton official acknowledged at the time that the "inclusion of the People's Mojahedin was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate president Mohammed Khatami."

The Bush administration not only continued with the same policy, but went even further by bombing MEK's camps in Iraq during the 2003 invasion as part of a quid pro quo with Tehran.

It is evident that making concessions to Tehran is counterproductive. Constraining the PMOI was a gift to the mullahs, who perceived the move as a sign of weakness and became even more brazen in their dealings with the West.

Last Jan. 26, a reluctant European Union finally agreed to abide by seven judgments of courts in the United Kingdom and the EU, and removed the MEK's terrorist designation – the first time a group was removed from such a list. In 2008, UK courts came to the conclusion that designating the MEK as terrorist was "perverse."

If President Obama is serious about change in the U.S. Iran policy, he should take the bold initiative of revoking the MEK's terrorist designation as the most vivid hallmark of that policy change. Such a move would even make talks with Tehran more effective since it sends the mullahs a message of strength. This indeed is the change which is not only overdue, but one which puts the United States on the right side of histo

Posted by: Majid Saatchi | April 1, 2009 8:22 PM

Option for a new U.S. policy on Iran

Posted by: Majid Saatchi | April 1, 2009 8:29 PM

the Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK)of Iran. or better yet of Iraq are bunch of terrorist who were allied with the hang dictator of Iraq.They have to be put in trial for betraying their country and becoming an agent of Saddam for killing thousands of Iranian. The European and American should keep this terrorist group in bay until they have brought to judgement by the families of those who were killed before, during and after the war with Iraq by their this group's terrorist acts.

Posted by: Fonz | April 1, 2009 10:38 PM

Was the sniper fire this time coming from the Iranians or was it from Iraquis hiding in the area?

Posted by: P | April 1, 2009 11:23 PM

Was the sniper fire this time coming from the Iranians or was it from Iraquis hiding in the area?

Posted by: P | April 1, 2009 11:24 PM

The MEK is a terrorist organization and a cult. They don't allow spouses to see each other, sex and children are forbidden. Once you get in you can't leave. Iranians in Iran hate them for siding with Saddam Hussein against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. The MEK/NCR are dilusional if they think they will ever rule Iran. They have a really good PR campaign with foreign politicians, however, and a track record of giving good tips about Iran's nuclear activities. They will soon be a people with no homeland, since Iraq wants to deport them and Iran considers them enemies of the state (which they clearly are).

Posted by: Frank | April 2, 2009 8:57 AM

Finally couple of guys with Brain,

First SouthernCross2; Right on you pegged her correct. This former communist/ socialist lady was shoved down Obama's throat by the you know who " Zionist lovers" she voted for invasion of Iraq in order to kiss up to Bush. She voted and instigated to brand Iranian Revolutionary Gaurds as Terrorist Organization. By her standard we should then call all US Armed forces terrorists!!

She made a remark as to US would annihilate
Iran so as to appease to Israel, her real Boss!

Now if US really wants to re-instate relation with Iran, they should not have her anywhere near the Iranian delegates. That would be an insult.

2) Frank and Fonz, your assessment of MEK/NRC is 100% correct with one exception, these chicken communists disguised under wholly clothes will never get to the heart of Iranian people. They are bitter, because they were the main instrument of toppling the shah with the help of Britian and lack of competence on the part of Jimmy Carter. Yet Once the regime took over, they were the first to go after for excecution, again with the help of old dog Britian, their boss. They have more sex than you can think. They have forcefully kept many young Iranian men and women despite their will in camp Ashraf in Iraq and else where. They are now being toyed with by the European political figures for possible future poppets. The proud Persians will never allow MEK or NRC to rule in Iran. They may not like Islamic Republic, but they sure hate these bastards! Better Islamic Republic than being under yoke of MEK and the like

Posted by: Nick | April 2, 2009 4:13 PM

So what is the story behind a US airforce plane landing in Theran and picking up Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh few days ago ?

Posted by: Robet jackson | April 2, 2009 5:14 PM

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