WASHINGTON — In an unusual outreach to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Obama has written a letter about the fight against Islamic State terrorists, a common enemy in Syria and Iraq, according to diplomatic sources.
The United States and Iran are each engaged in military efforts to degrade the Islamic State group, essentially putting the longtime foes on the same side in the campaign against the terrorists. However, the Obama administration repeatedly has insisted that it is not coordinating and will not coordinate its military actions with Iran, though officials from both countries have discussed the matter more broadly.
Obama’s letter to Iran’s powerful religious leader was written against the backdrop of the looming Nov. 24 deadline in nuclear negotiations between the America and Iran, as well as five other world powers. While Obama has sent letters to Khamenei, any communication between the two men has been extremely rare.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported that Obama had sent the letter, said it described a shared interest between the United States and Iran in fighting Islamic State terrorists and stressed that any cooperation on that largely would be contingent on Iran agreeing to the nuclear deal. However, while not confirming nor denying the existence of the letter, administration officials said there were still no plans to cooperate or coordinate with Iran against the terrorists.
“The United States will not cooperate militarily with Iran in that effort,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “We won’t share intelligence with them.”
Diplomatic sources, on the condition of anonymity, separately confirmed the existence of the letter to The Associated Press.
The United States is taking action against the Islamic State alongside several other nations, including a handful of regional partners.
Iran is not part of the coalition but has been fighting the Islamic State on the ground. However, Iran’s interests in defeating the Islamic State differ from those of America. Iran is a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is a target of the terrorists and opposed by America.
U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that a nuclear accord with Iran could open the door to discussions on other issues, but they have sought to keep the delicate negotiations focused solely on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. The United States and its negotiating partners say Iran is pursuing a bomb, while Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The prospects for a final agreement remain uncertain, with Obama saying Wednesday that the ability to secure a deal is an “open question.”
The technical details of the talks have been closely guarded by the negotiating partners — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran. The broad parameters of a agreement include Iran cutting back on its number of centrifuges enriching uranium and redesigning a planned heavy water reactor so it doesn’t produce plutonium. Both materials can be used in nuclear warheads.
In exchange, the United States in particular would have to roll back some of the financial, trade and oil sanctions that significantly cut off Iran from global markets.