By: Gareth PorterWASHINGTON, May 24 (IPS) - Iran offered in 2003 to accept peace with Israel and to cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups and pressure them to halt terrorist attacks within Israel's 1967 borders, according to the secret Iranian proposal to the United States.
The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-U.S. agreement covering all the issues separating the two countries, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, was conveyed to the United States in late April or early May 2003. Trita Parsi, a specialist on Iranian foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who provided the document to IPS, says he got it from an Iranian official earlier this year but is not at liberty to reveal the source.
The two-page document contradicts the official line of the George W. Bush administration that Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel and the sponsorship of terrorism in the region.
Parsi says the document is a summary of an even more detailed Iranian negotiating proposal which he learned about in 2003 from the U.S. intermediary who carried it to the State Department on behalf of the Swiss Embassy in late April or early May 2003. The intermediary has not yet agreed to be identified, according to Parsi.
The Iranian negotiating proposal indicated clearly that Iran was prepared to give up its role as a supporter of armed groups in the region in return for a larger bargain with the United States. What the Iranians wanted in return, as suggested by the document itself as well as expert observers of Iranian policy, was an end to U.S. hostility and recognition of Iran as a legitimate power in the region.
Before the 2003 proposal, Iran had attacked Arab governments which had supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The negotiating document, however, offered "acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration", which it also referred to as the "Saudi initiative, two-states approach."
The March 2002 Beirut declaration represented the Arab League's first official acceptance of the land-for-peace principle as well as a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal to the territory it had controlled before the 1967 war.. Iran's proposed concession on the issue would have aligned its policy with that of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others with whom the United States enjoyed intimate relations.
Another concession in the document was a "stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory" along with "pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967".
Even more surprising, given the extremely close relationship between Iran and the Lebanon-based Hizbollah Shiite organisation, the proposal offered to take "action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon".
The Iranian proposal also offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for "full access to peaceful nuclear technology". It offered "full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols)".
That was a reference to protocols which would require Iran to provide IAEA monitors with access to any facility they might request, whether it had been declared by Iran or not. That would have made it much more difficult for Iran to carry out any secret nuclear activities without being detected.
In return for these concessions, which contradicted Iran's public rhetoric about Israel and anti-Israeli forces, the secret Iranian proposal sought U.S. agreement to a list of Iranian aims. The list included a "Halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the U.S.", as well as the "abolishment of all sanctions".
Also included among Iran's aims was "recognition of Iran's legitimate security interests in the region with according defense capacity". According to a number of Iran specialists, the aim of security and an official acknowledgment of Iran's status as a regional power were central to the Iranian interest in a broad agreement with the United States.
Negotiation of a deal with the United States that would advance Iran's security and fundamental geopolitical political interests in the Persian Gulf region in return for accepting the existence of Israel and other Iranian concessions has long been discussed among senior Iranian national security officials, according to Parsi and other analysts of Iranian national security policy.
An Iranian threat to destroy Israel has been a major propaganda theme of the Bush administration for months. On Mar. 10, Bush said, "The Iranian president has stated his desire to destroy our ally, Israel. So when you start listening to what he has said to their desire to develop a nuclear weapon, then you begin to see an issue of grave national security concern."
But in 2003, Bush refused to allow any response to the Iranian offer to negotiate an agreement that would have accepted the existence of Israel. Flynt Leverett, then the senior specialist on the Middle East on the National Security Council staff, recalled in an interview with IPS that it was "literally a few days" between the receipt of the Iranian proposal and the dispatch of a message to the Swiss ambassador expressing displeasure that he had forwarded it to Washington.
Interest in such a deal is still very much alive in Tehran, despite the U.S. refusal to respond to the 2003 proposal. Turkish international relations professor Mustafa Kibaroglu of Bilkent University writes in the latest issue of Middle East Journal that "senior analysts" from Iran told him in July 2005 that "the formal recognition of Israel by Iran may also be possible if essentially a 'grand bargain' can be achieved between the U.S. and Iran".
The proposal's offer to dismantle the main thrust of Iran's Islamic and anti-Israel policy would be strongly opposed by some of the extreme conservatives among the mullahs who engineered the repression of the reformist movement in 2004 and who backed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year's election.
However, many conservative opponents of the reform movement in Iran have also supported a negotiated deal with the United States that would benefit Iran, according to Paul Pillar, the former national intelligence officer on Iran. "Even some of the hardliners accepted the idea that if you could strike a deal with the devil, you would do it," he said in an interview with IPS last month.
The conservatives were unhappy not with the idea of a deal with the United States but with the fact that it was a supporter of the reform movement of Pres. Mohammad Khatami, who would get the credit for the breakthrough, Pillar said.
Parsi says that the ultimate authority on Iran's foreign policy, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was "directly involved" in the Iranian proposal, according to the senior Iranian national security officials he interviewed in 2004. Kamenei has aligned himself with the conservatives in opposing the pro-democratic movement.
*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.
**Text of Iran proposal http://ipsnews.net/iranletterfacsimile.pdf