Over the weekend, I and several colleagues finally got our grubby mitts on the full text of the March May 2003 offer that Iran puportedly sent to the US via the Swiss Ambassador.

At least, I think so.

To recap:

  • In July 2003, the Financial Times’ Guy Dinmore reported the details of an offer from Iran “conveyed by Tim Guldimann, the Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, in a recent visit to Washington.”
  • Dinmore released additional details in March 2004, describing the offer in some detail and citing an official who claimed the Bush Administration had “rebuked the Swiss foreign ministry for overstepping its diplomatic mandate.”
  • Bart Gellman and Dafna Linzer picked the story back up in October 2004, describing the offer as a grand bargain.
  • Things pretty mcuh died down until Flynt Leverett, former Senior Director for the Middle East Initiative at the National Security Council, mentioned the offer in a January 2006 op-ed for the New York Times and subsequent interviews.

The accounts vary in some small details—was the document a one-page fax or a more detailed offer hand delivered by Guldimann? (Background on the two page version).

All accounts seem to agree that the proposal was written by Iran’s then-Ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharazi. (Kharazi, by the way, is no longer Iran’s Amabassador to France in part because he favored negotiations with the United States—or at leas that is what he told AFP. “I am one of those who are in favour of negotiations with the United States, and I have paid the price.”)

The offer appears to have been one of a series of overtures that included efforts by the Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Mohammed Javad Zarif, a message passed through IAEA DG Mohammed ElBaradei, and “soundings” from Iranian envoys to Sweden and Britain.

The big question is whether the any of the offers reflected a consensus effort by the leadership in Tehran. Leverett thinks so, but other’s aren’t so sure.

Debate over whether the letter reflected a consensus, however, was not why the Administration didn’t respond. It was a lack of consensus in Washington, according to Gellman and Linzer, who report then-Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley wasn’t able to produce consensus on a national security presidential directive on Iran.

Regular readers may recall that I scoffed when Hadley announced that “we decided to shelve the NSPD and go ahead and implement the policy” because “No NSPD means no policy.”

That seems to have been the problem, no NSPD meant no agreement on how to respond to the offer—other than to hassle Guldimann for doing his job.

_Late update: I missed a passing reference in a Barbara Slavin article that contained more reporting than entire stories in other papers_.

Paul Adds:

This piece by Garth Porter in the American Prospect deserves a read as well….more detail on the story behind the offer.