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For Iran, WikiLeaks cables validate its skepticism of Obama's sincerity

Iranians and analysts alike say the leaked diplomatic cables show a half-hearted attempt at engagement, undermined by an assumption that engaging Iran was pointless.

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'A clear conviction' that engagement would fail?

That secret briefing came just 17 days before Obama made his first official diplomatic gambit. In a message to Iranians to mark the Persian New Year, on March 20, 2009, he called for a “new beginning” with Iran, in which “the old divisions are overcome.”

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“There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences,” Obama said, and then quoted the ancient Persian poet Saadi, who described all the “children of Adam” as “created of one essence.”

Recognizing the significance of the US president’s words, Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei listed Iran’s many grievances against the US in a speech the next day, then asked: “They say they extended their arm towards Iran. What kind of hand? If it is an iron hand covered with a velvet glove, then it will not make any good sense.”

But then Ayatollah Khamenei added: “You change, and we will also change our behavior, too.”

The leaked cables show a determined effort by the Obama administration, however, to ratchet up pressure on Iran by convincing China and Russia – via a Saudi guarantee of fuel supplies for China if Iran’s dried up, and a revamped European missile shield for Russia – to vote for more stringent UN sanctions.

Even if the US had not pursued such steps, described by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at one point as aiming to impose “crippling” sanctions on Tehran, it is not clear that Iran would anyway have agreed to negotiate – or could have, considering Iran’s own political infighting.

“The US undertook its engagement strategy with Iran with the clear conviction that it would fail [while] preparing (and disseminating in private) an alternative pressure strategy. This is the most serious indictment of all,” writes Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University, in his blog about the WikiLeaks documents.

“Iran could hardly have been unaware of all this, so the chance that they would respond favorably – even before the contested election in June 2009 and the brutal crackdown that followed – was essentially zero,” says Dr. Sick. Iran repeatedly accused America, along with Britain and Israel, of orchestrating the massive street protests in the wake of the 2009 election.

“The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Obama was never sincere about his engagement strategy,” adds Sick, who was the chief White House aide on Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution and hostage crisis. “It has yet to be tried.”

Long before the WikiLeaks release, Iran frequently stated its belief that the US was not serious in talking to the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program, or any other issue.

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