NewsSpecial WireSenior Democrat’s Iran visit raises eyebrows

Senior Democrat’s Iran visit raises eyebrows

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Iran Focus: London, Oct. 13 – A five-day visit to Iran earlier this month by a senior Clinton administration official has fuelled rumours among Iranian political pundits that some Democratic Party leaders may be attempting to establish unofficial channels of communication with Tehran in a bid to outmanoeuvre the Bush administration in its handling of the thorny issue of Iran. Iran Focus

London, Oct. 13 – A five-day visit to Iran earlier this month by a senior Clinton administration official has fuelled rumours among Iranian political pundits that some Democratic Party leaders may be attempting to establish unofficial channels of communication with Tehran in a bid to outmanoeuvre the Bush administration in its handling of the thorny issue of Iran.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry official was quoted by government-controlled newspapers in Tehran on Thursday as saying that James Rubin, the chief spokesman for the State Department from 1997 to 2000, travelled to Iran recently to visit a relative of his wife, Iranian-born Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent.

The Iranian official noted that Rubin had entered Iran after “receiving a visa and following legal procedures”, adding that Rubin did not meet any Iranian official during his visit.

Both the announcement and the official’s request for anonymity were unusual by Iranian standards. The Foreign Ministry official was in fact reacting to a report that had appeared earlier this week on Baztab, a Persian-language website that belongs to Mohsen Rezai, a former Revolutionary Guards commander with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Baztab has learnt the James Rubin… came to Iran last week on a secret visit”, the website reported on Tuesday. “The Iranian authorities have not made any comments so far to confirm or deny this report and efforts to find out about Rubin’s meetings in Iran have come to no avail”.

The website quoted the Tehran correspondent of Britain’s Sky News – where Rubin is a regular commentator – as saying that the former U.S. official visited Iran in the company of his wife and toured the cities of Tehran, Qom and Isfahan.

“This was just a family visit; they didn’t meet any officials”, Siamak Zand, the Sky News correspondent, told the website Baztab.

Coming at a time of rising tensions between President George W. Bush’s administration and Iran’s hardline-dominated government, the surprise visit has raised some eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic.

“This may have been just as innocuous as the Iranian government has portrayed it; an uneventful family visit”, said Hassan Baradaran, a writer on Iranian affairs based in Paris. “But if the Democrats wanted to send someone to Tehran just to test the waters, Rubin would have been the guy to pick”.

Baradaran noted that from Tehran’s perspective, Rubin had the right credentials; he was a senior foreign policy advisor to former President Bill Clinton and the national security adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Both Clinton and Kerry have been vociferous in their criticism of the Bush administration’s Iran policy, advocating a more conciliatory approach to Tehran in search of a possible “grand bargain”.

“Iran and how to deal with the growing crisis generated by Tehran’s nuclear program, its role in Iraq and Lebanon and other flashpoints of the Middle East could be the most important foreign policy issue in the next presidential elections in the United States”, Baradaran said. “Iran is bound to be a big issue for any Democratic candidate in ’08, and some might be tempted to pre-position themselves”.

While the timing and the circumstances of Rubin’s visit to Tehran aroused much speculation among Iranians in Iran and abroad, experts warned against any comparison to the “October Surprise” conspiracy; an alleged plot that claimed representatives of the 1980 Ronald Reagan presidential campaign had conspired with the Islamic Republic of Iran to delay the release of Americans held hostage in Tehran until after the 1980 U.S. presidential election. The allegations were never proven.

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