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US: Obama wrote to Iran's supreme leader in May: report

25 Jun 2009 3:18 AM

WASHINGTON, June 24 AFP - President Barack Obama's administration wrote to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before the disputed elections offering to improve relations, a report said on Wednesday.

The Washington Times cited an "Iranian with knowledge of the overture" as saying the letter was sent between May 4 and 10 and suggested regional and bilateral cooperation and talks on Iran's nuclear program.

An administration official declined to talk about the letter, but did not deny its existence, a day after Obama fired off his most overt condemnation yet of the Iranian government's suppression of post-election demonstrations.

"We're not going to get into the specifics of our different ways of communicating," the official said.

The official added however that the Obama White House had indicated for a long time that it wanted to talk to Iran and had sought to communicate "in a variety of ways".

"We have made it clear that any real dialogue - multilateral or bilateral - needed to be authoritative."

The official also noted that the United States and other key powers had made an offer to Iran of dialogue on its nuclear program in early April - to which Iran had yet to respond.

The Times report said the letter was passed to the Iranian foreign ministry by a representative of the Swiss embassy, which takes care of US interests in Iran, as the two arch-foes have no diplomatic relations.

It said the supreme leader had confirmed the existence of the letter in an oblique reference during his speech last week.

The president pointed out several times before the Iranian election that the ultimate arbiter on policy in the country was Khamenei, perhaps hinting that the supreme leader was the ultimate target of US engagement policies.

Obama came to office in January pledging to seek to open talks with Iran on its nuclear program, but has so far been rebuffed.

In a White House press conference on Tuesday, the president appeared for the first time to suggest his offer may depend on the end-game of the post-election crisis.

"We're still waiting to see how it plays itself out," Obama said of the current crisis.

"My position coming into this office has been that the United States has core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn't possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders.

"What we've been seeing over the last several days, the last couple of weeks, obviously is not encouraging, in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take."