Former President Barack Obama, standing with Former Vice President Joe Biden, talks about the Iran Nuclear Deal on July 14, 2015. (Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
Here’s a question that Iran critics such as U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may want to ask: Did former President Barack Obama have a secret quid pro quo with Iran in 2008 or 2012?
The question has new resonance, and not just because of trumped-up charges that the Trump administration had a quid pro quo with Ukraine, but because of reports that Iran indeed did have uranium at a site the country had called a carpet-cleaning factory.
Specifically, on Nov. 11, the BBC reported the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed its inspectors “detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.”
The revelation seemed to confirm charges that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leveled in his 2018 U.N. speech, showing photos of a complex in Turquzabad that he called “a secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and materiel from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.”
The IAEA’s report raises questions about the process Obama went through to create the Iran deal that was put in place without congressional approval—and which the Trump administration has rightly rejected.
Unlike Ukraine, the regime in Iran is one of the United States’ most hated enemies. According to Gallup, the American people since at least 1990—and likely since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979—have held a consistently negative view of Iran, understandably so given the country’s American hostage-taking, American soldier-killing, “Death-to-America”-chanting ways.
Yet, in 2008, then-candidate Obama openly signaled he hoped to engage Iran in a conversation about working together. Moreover, one critic asserted that Obama sent former Clinton State Department official William Miller to Iran to indicate that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with Obama’s policies.
Another critic characterized this outreach as “a private citizen going to foreign soil obviously in order to evade U.S. intelligence monitoring and establishing a backchannel with a sworn enemy of the United States who was actively disrupting our efforts in the military in the Middle East.”
Miller has recanted, but the Iranians maintained intransigence to Bush pressure, confirming Obama’s public premise.
Fast forward: As 2012 approached, a Chamberlain-minded mediaite called on Obama to pause his Iran “policy of pressure, pressure and more pressure” and engage President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he dubbed a “pragmatist.”
But Syria began to descend into civil war, aided by Iranians and their proxies, as one opponent, a Sunni jihadi force we now know as Islamic State, metastasized across Syria and Iraq. Gulf powers began to beg Washington to help “moderate” Sunni opposition.
One excellent exegesis by Michael Doran in Mosaic magazine reports that then-CIA Director David Petraeus “put together a plan to train and equip Syrian rebels in Jordan and to assist them once back in Syria,” garnering support from then-Secretary of State Clinton, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.
But Obama said no.
Doran claims one potential reason was Obama’s “fear of antagonizing Iran”—leading not only to the Syrian slaughter, but the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Instead, in July 2012, Jake Sullivan, then-State Department director of policy planning, traveled secretly to Oman to meet with Iranian officials.
What Sullivan said isn’t known, but we do know that at almost this exact time, a hot mic caught Obama telling another foreign leader—of Russia no less–“this can be solved, but it’s important … to give me space. This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Was a similar message delivered in Oman?
That is, did Obama collude with not just Russia but Iran to win the 2012 presidential election?
In early 2013, with Obama safely reelected and his newfound flexibility in hand, his administration developed another secret bilateral channel to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government—not Hassan Rouhani’s so-called moderate government starting in June 2013, as the Obama administration later claimed, but the hard-line one.
By February 2013, the backchannel had widened to include not only Sullivan, but then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and then-Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, all in communication with their Iranian counterparts.
Yet asked about it that same month, then-State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland denied “direct, secret bilateral talks with Iran.” Faced with the truth, a reporter later asked if it was “the policy of the State Department to lie in order” to conceal secret negotiations; Nuland’s replacement replied, “There are times when diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress.”
By a series of odd coincidences, Nuland went on to hold the Ukraine portfolio, joined Joe Biden in calling for the Ukranian prosecutor looking into Burisma to go, interfaced with the likely whistleblower, and worked with Christopher Steele in delivering anti-Trump material to the Department of Justice.
Burns also resurfaced to defend career diplomats coming out to criticize the president.
“For them to be dismissed unfairly and accused of acting out of some political motive I think is just wrong,” said Burns, now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It gives a lie to the deep state caricature. These aren’t people plotting behind anyone’s back. They are stepping up to do their jobs.”
With Ukrainian quid pro quo accusations (and the Turquzabad revelations) ringing in our ears, we don’t know whether Miller actually went to Iran in 2008, or what he said if he did, nor do we know what Sullivan said in his secret July 2012 meeting with the Iranians either.
But given House and Senate Democrats’ sudden interest in investigating foreign quid pro quos, now may be the time for Cotton, Cruz, and others to start asking when we’re going to get details on Miller’s and Sullivan’s Iran contacts as well.
Christopher C. Hull holds a doctorate in government from Georgetown University. He is president of Issue Management Inc., senior fellow at Americans for Intelligence Reform, and author of “Grassroots Rules” (Stanford, 2007).
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.