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Iran’s 2003 Grand Bargain Offer and Trita Parsi's role PDF Print


In April of 2003, Sadegh Kharazi, the Iranian ambassador to France asked Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, to take the Iranian secret  proposal known as "grand bargain offer" to US government.

The corrupted Congressman Bob Ney and his assistant Trita Parsi played a key role in this issue. Following the decision taken by Kharazzi and Guldimann in Tehran, the Swiss ambassador went to Washington, met with Bob Ney and gave him the proposal. Trita Parsi was assigned by Ney to "manage the  issue". At the time, Trita Parsi worked for corrupted Congressman Bob Ney and advised him on Iran issues.

According to Guldiman memo, the Iranian offer was so secret that only four persons in Iran were informed :

"Kharazi told me that he had two long discussions with the leader on the roadmap. In those meetings which both lasted two hours, only President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi were present. The question is dealt with in high secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed.”

The secrecy of Iranian offer implied that only 4 people were informed in Iran meaning that the Revolutionary Guards, the National Security Council, the cabinet ministers, and the Iranian parliament were all kept in the dark on this historical shift in Iranian foreign policy. Under such conditions, we note the extraordinary level of trust between the Iranian regime, Bob Ney and Trita Parsi.



Full story

The Facade,  Tehran’s Party-Line Story

In April of 2003, the Iranian regime extended an olive branch to the United States. The highest-ranking leaders of the theocratic regime developed a proposal for dialogue, peace and friendship between the two countries. Sadegh Kharazi, the Iranian ambassador to France asked Tom Guldiman, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, to take the proposal, known as “Iran’s Grand Bargain Proposal” to US leaders.

Accompanied with a short memo written by Guldiman, the proposal was faxed to the State Department on May 4th, 2003. A few days later, Ambassador Guldiman came to Washington to deliver the proposal personally.

The affair remained unpublicized for 3 years until early 2006, when international pressure over Iran’s nuclear issue was mounting on Iran, Trita Parsi president of National Iranian American Council (NIAC) released a copy of the Iranian offer to the press. According to Parsi, in 2003, the Iranian regime was determined to initiate a dialogue with the United States to resolve all the outstanding issues between the two countries, but an arrogant US government, judging that Iran was at the verge of collapsing, killed the opportunity: (Trita Parsi's interview with Democracy Now, Feb. 26, 2007)

"In May 2003. The United States had just defeated Saddam in less than three weeks, and I think there were a lot of feelings inside Iran that they needed to present some sort of a negotiation deal with the United States…

Iranians were basically offering significant policy modifications in the hope that this would be able to open up a new chapter in the relationship with the United States, when the United States,

And the argument by the hardliners, the hawks in the Washington -- in the White House at the time was basically that Iran is weak and it’s giving this proposal precisely because of the fact that it is fearful of the United States and that the US can achieve more by taking on the Iranian regime and just removing it than by negotiating. So we had this situation in which, back then, because of America's strength, the Bush administration argued that it could not negotiate… What was really interesting is that when the Iranians put this on the table and they were basically offering significant policy modifications in the hope that this would be able to open up a new chapter in the relationship with the United States.”

After Trita Parsi gave the copy of Iranian offer to the press in 2006, NIAC and its lobby partners used this issue in a large scale media and public campaign to present the Iranian regime as the party seeking dialogue and the US is presented as the wrmongering party that rejected Iranian peace offer and uses the nuclear issue as pretext to invade Iran.

Tehran’s Motives 

Between 2002 and 2003, Iran’s ayatollahs were faced with serious challenges and priceless opportunities. Confronted with increasing popular discontent and paralysis of the political system due to the continued factional divergences, the clerical regime was in the middle of a power shift towards the more unified, militant, and conservative faction that Ahmadinejad represents.

With the fall of two unfriendly neighboring regimes, Tehran’s theocratic regime sensed the opportunity to expand its ideological, political, and military hegemony in the region. On the other hand, the US military presence surrounding Iran and the disclosure of the Iranian nuclear program and its subsequent referral to the UN, were major threats to the Iranian regime’s strategic ambitions.  

To fend the perils and seize the opportunities, Tehran desperately needed to buy time; hence a sophisticated misinformation campaign in the US, which started with the grand bargain offer of 2003. 


Ongoing negotiations between Iran and US in 2003

Parsi’s numerous declarations are all missing one element: when the Swiss ambassador came to Washington to deliver the Iranian offer, there were already secret but official negotiations going on between the two countries, led by high ranking Iranian diplomats. The Iranian foreign minister and the ambassador to the UN were personally involved. The chronology of these negotiations was reported in the New York Times:

 “On May 3rd, Ambassador Zarif (Iranian ambassador to the UN) meets Ambassador Zalmy Khalilzad and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Geneva. The US delegation is headed by Dr. Khalilzad. The US has already invaded Iraq and is in control of its Government.”

During the May 3rd meeting, the two countries agreed on another meeting on May 24th in Geneva. Meanwhile, these official negotiations ceased for another reason: 6-7

“During the May 3rd meeting, Khalilzad tells Zarif that the US has learned that a terrorist bombing incident is planned to happen in the Persian Gulf area. He asks that Iranian Government utilize members of Al-Qaeda in Iranian prisons for information on the planned incident. The incident happened on May 12 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.” (See also The Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report on Iran 2004, (p. 29)

The US blamed the terrorists operating from Tehran and did not show up for the next meeting on May 24th.


The offer was highly confidential

In early May, Guldimann, who was not involved in the official negotiations, arrived in Washington. He brought with him the Iranian proposal which had been already faxed to the State Department on May 4th.  Guldimann wanted to personally brief State Department officials. According to Guldimann's memos, the affair was extremely confidential: 2

"S. Kharazi asked me whether I could present the enclosed roadmap very confidentially to someone very high in the DoS in order to know the US reaction to it. He said that the lack of trust with the US imposes them to proceed very carefully and very confidentially. After discussing this problem with him, I understood that they want to be sure that if the initiative failed and if anything about the new Iranian flexibility became known, they would also for internal reason not to be bound to it." (emphasis mine)

The affair was apparently so covert and important, that only four people were informed in Iran, The Supreme Leader, President Khatami, Foreign minister Kamal Kharazi and Sadegh Kharazi:

"Kharazi told me that he had two long discussions with the leader on the roadmap. In those meetings which both lasted two hours, only president Khatami and foreign minister Kamal Kharazi were present. The question is dealt with in high secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed."

The secrecy implied that the Revolutionary Gurads, the National Security Council, the cabinet ministers, and the Iranian parliament were all kept in the dark on this alleged historical shift in Iranian foreign policy.

Bob Ney and Trita Parsi's role

While the offer was kept secret among a few Iranian leaders, they agreed to use Bob Ney channel to deliver the message to the White House. In a long interview with the "Democracy Now", Parsi explained this part of the story:

“The Iranians gave a proposal to the Swiss ambassador that he then sent to the Swiss foreign ministry in Bern, who faxed it onto the State Department, but the Swiss ambassador also made a personal visit to Washington, D.C. to brief the State Department about the proposal, and he also made sure that he met with Congressman Ney, who has been a longtime advocate for negotiations and dialogue between the United States and Iran, and he handed him the proposal, as well.

I was an advisor to Bob Ney at the time. And Tim met with Bob and handed over the proposal to him. And Bob afterwards sent it to be hand-delivered to the White House to Karl Rove, and Karl Rove called back within two hours, and they had a brief discussion about the proposal.”

Parsi admitted that: “he was the point person for Ney in helping to manage this issue.”

In his book, Parsi explains the decision by Swiss ambassador and Iranians to use Bob Ney channel:

" Getting the proposal to the United States was a major operation. As the caretaker of U.S. interests in Iran, the Swiss ambassador in Iran, Tim Guldimann, served as the go-between when the two countries needed to communicate. The channel was set up in 1990, right before the first Persian Gulf War, because Washington recognized that it needed to communicate with Iran to avoid potential misunderstandings during the war. The Americans had sought out the Swiss and given them very strict directions about the channel. Information was to be strictly conveyed—in both directions— without any interpretation by the Swiss. The Swiss embassy in Tehran would send Iranian messages to the Swiss embassy in Washington via the Swiss Foreign Ministry, which in turn would deliver it to the U.S. State Department.

The Iranians, well aware of the infighting and turf wars that characterized the Bush administration, apparently feared that the proposal might not reach the White House if it was sent to the State Department. Even if Powell received it, there was no guarantee that he could bring it to Bush’s attention, given the tensions that existed between Powell and White House officials. Another channel was needed besides the State Department; someone who had direct access to the president. Guldimann, whose frequent briefings of U.S. officials in Washington regarding events in Iran were much appreciated, had the answer—Representative Bob Ney of Ohio.

The powerful Republican chairman of the House Administration Committee was an unusual lawmaker. He was the only Persian-speaking member of Congress, having learned the language from his Iranian roommates at Ohio State University. After college, he spent a year in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz as an English teacher. As the revolution swept Iran, Ney returned to the United States and embarked on a career in politics, where his experience in Iran often came in handy. His knowledge and expertise on Iran had won him the respect of lawmakers and White House officials alike.

In early May 2003, Guldimann visited Washington and briefed Ney personally on the proposal. The Swiss diplomat gave the congressman a copy of the two-page proposal, which included an outline of Iranian and American aims and a proposed procedure on how to advance the negotiations, as well as an eleven-page account by Guldimann of his conversations with Iranian officials. Guldimann’s account clarified Tehran’s position and the authenticity of the proposal. A few days earlier, on May 4, Guldimann had faxed the proposal to the State Department—together with a one-page cover letter detailing Tehran’s intentions with the proposal and its authenticity. Another copy was sent to the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, Kevin Moley.

Ney, who had advocated U.S.-Iran dialogue since Khatami became president in 1997, quickly realized that the document could create a major breakthrough in U.S.-Iran relations and aid America’s war against al- Qaeda.“This is it,” he told me at the time with unveiled excitement.“This is the one that will make it happen.”He promptly sent a staffer to hand-deliver the document to Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, whom Ney had known since his college years.Within a few hours, Rove called Ney to verify the authenticity of the proposal, assuring the Ohio lawmaker that he would deliver the “intriguing” document directly to the president. The first step of the operation had been successfully completed—the proposal had reached the highest levels of the U.S. government.Washington’s response, however, would surprise everyone, including the Swiss." (p 246-247)

It is hard to explain why Iran did not use Javad Zarif, its UN ambassador who was at the same time conducting the negotiation with US to send the grand bargain offer. Why Iran did not ask Zarif, one of the most skilful diplomats, to deliver the message to his contacts in the White House and the State Department during his May 3rd meeting in Geneva? 

Couldn't the Swiss ambassador deliver the message directly to the White House without asking for Ney and Parsi’s help? What did explain this level of trust between Iran and Bob Ney and his assistant Trita Parsi?

In order to respond to these questions and understand the complicity and trust between the Iranian regime and Trita Parsi, we should see how Tehran turned to Parsi again in 2006 to "use" the grand bargain issue in a large scale campaign to present Iran as a victim of George Bush warmongering and therefore, influence public opinion and policy makers.