The fear of intervention by the US in Iran became more urgent among Iran's leaders when America invaded Iraq the following year. Indeed, it later became known that, in early 2003, the Iranian Foreign Ministry quietly sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations, in which the Iranian government said it was prepared to make concessions about its nuclear program and to address concerns about its ties to groups such as Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, in return for an agreement from the White House to refrain from destabilizing the Islamic Republic and start lifting long-in-effect sanctions.
As we know, the United States rejected the letter out of hand. But today we learn more details about what was in that letter, and the incredible opportunity that the Bush administration simply and unbelievably threw away:
Iran offered to cut off aid and support for the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, and promised full transparency on its nuclear program in a secret letter to the United States soon after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the British media reported.
According to the BBC, the letter, which it obtained, was unsigned, but the US State Department understood that it came with the approval of the highest Iranian authorities.
The Islamic republic also offered to use its influence to support stabilisation in Iraq, and in return asked for a halt in hostile American behaviour, an abolition of all sanctions, and the pursuit and repatriation of members of the Mujahedeen Khalq (People's Mujahedeen MKO).
It simply wasn't enough to reject the offer. For good measure, we insulted the intermediaries who brought it to us:
"As soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President's (Dick Cheney) office, the old mantra of 'we don't talk to evil' ... reasserted itself," Wilkerson told the broadcaster.
"To our embarrassment at State ... the cable that I saw go back to the Swiss actually upbraided the Swiss for being so bold and audacious as to present such a proposal to us on behalf of the Iranians."
All of this comes via former Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's Chief of Staff while Powell was Secretary of State.
Knowing exactly what we lost makes the tragedy of this rejection that much more apparent. We are now reduced to the position of pleading, cajoling and threatening the Iranians for everything they would have given us willingly only four years ago. Such an incredible display of hubris has certainly cost lives in Iraq, and will only cost more as more troops "surge" into Iraq and in the conflict (overt or covert) that the Bush administration seems determined to manuever us into with Iran. And for what did we throw this all away? The opportunity to gloat? The appearance of toughness? Pride? Stupidity?