The crisis with Iran may prove to be the critical foreign policy issue of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and GOP candidates are already targeting President Obama for failing to back pro-democracy oppostion groups that could help destabilize a regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum recently blasted Obama for failing to intervene during the 2009 uprising when it briefly appeared the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in trouble. "We had no connection, no correlation and we did absolutely nothing to help them," Santorum said during a recent debate.
Documents obtained by The Washington Examiner suggest the Obama administration missed at least one major opportunity to help opposition groups in Iran that has not previously been reported. In November 2009, leaders of the Green party, which had staged a revolt on the streets of Tehran in June of that year, sent a long memo through channels to the Obama administration that some analysts said was a clear call for help.
"So now, at this pivotal point in time, it is up to the countries of the free world to make up their mind," states the opposition memo dated Nov. 30, 2009. "Will they continue on the track of wishful thinking and push every decision to the future until it is too late, or will they reward the brave people of Iran and simultaneously advance the Western interests and world peace."
The eight-page memo describes the current regime under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a "brutal, apocalyptic theocratic dictatorship."
The memo warns that Iran "with its apocalyptic constitution will never give up the atomic bomb, nor will it give up its terror network, because it needs these instruments to maintain its power and enhance its own economic and financial wealth."
The administration claimed in 2009 that the Green party in Iran did not want American help. And the State Department repeated that this week. "Most leaders in the Green movement made clear they did not desire financial or other support from the United States," a State Department senior official said. "As an organic movement, it was concerned that taking outside support would discredit it in the eyes of the Iranian people. We respect that and do not provide financial assistance to any political movement, party or faction in Iran."
But the memo tells a different story, some critics said.
"It's clear that the administration was not being asked to stay away," said Michael Ledeen, a scholar with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who worked as a senior official for Republican administrations. "The opposition represented the best option for the West."
The Obama administration did not respond to the secret memo, officials said.
But during the same period, the administration was conducting nonofficial discussions with the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that have never been reported. One of those discussions occurred in February 2011, when U.S. and Iranian representatives met just outside Stockholm, Sweden. "Discussions centered on everything from nuclear proliferation to Afghanistan, but the meetings didn't accomplish much," said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the meetings. That ex-official said there were other private meetings with Iranian representatives later in 2011 that were never reported by U.S. media.
White House officials contacted by The Washington Examiner would not confirm or deny meetings with Iranian officials in Sweden or elsewhere, beyond two "official" meetings between the two nations as part of negotiations with officials representing the U.N. Security Council. Those meetings took place in Geneva in December 2010 and in Istanbul in January 2011.
Failure to engage with Iranian opposition groups could become a growing embarrassment for Obama during the election campaign. Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials claim time is running short to halt the nuclear program. And gas prices continue to rise as Western nations tighten sanctions on Iran and fears of a possible military confrontation escalate.
And pressure may build on Obama to reach out to Iranian opposition groups such as the Green party.
Alireza Nader, a senior international policy analyst at RAND Corporation, told reporters last week that Iran could be nearing a point where the regime could be seriously threatened from within. He said that rounds of sanctions have been successful in isolating the regime, and growing internal discord that could bubble to the surface before a round of parliamentary elections in March. The Ahmadinejad government "is at its most vulnerable since the Iranian revolution [of 1979]," he said.
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at email@example.com.