A letter that just might unfreeze U.S.-Iranian relations will soon be on its way from Barack Obama's administration to Iranian officials. But will it do the job?
U.S. state department officials have been working since Obama's election on November 4 of last year, on many different drafts of a letter to Iran. The goal would be to unfreeze U.S.-Iranian relations and open the way for face-to-face talks. The letter will be in reply to a lengthy congratulatory letter sent by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on November 6.
The Guardian.co.uk reports that diplomats say Obama's letter will be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one used by the Bush administration, which saw Iran as part of "an axis of evil".
So far, there have been at least three rough drafts of the letter. All of them give assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and most likely sent directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
One draft proposal suggests that Iran should compare its relatively low standard of living with that of some of its more prosperous neighbours, and think about the benefits of losing its pariah status in the west. Although the tone is conciliatory, it also calls on Iran to end what the US calls "state sponsorship of terrorism".
The letter is now being looked at by the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as part of a sweeping review of US policy on Iran. A decision on sending it is not expected until the review is complete.
Ahmadinejad said yesterday that he was waiting patiently to see what the Obama administration would come up with.
"We will listen to the statements closely, we will carefully study their actions, and, if there are real changes, we will welcome it."
Ahmadinejad, who confirmed that he would stand for re-election again in June, said it was unclear whether the Obama administration was intent on just a shift in tactics or was seeking fundamental change. He called on Washington to apologise for its actions against Iran over the past 60 years, including US support for a 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected government, and the US shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988.
US concern about Iran mainly centres on its uranium enrichment programme, which Washington claims will provide the country with a nuclear weapons capability. Iran claims the programme is just for civilian purposes.
These diplomatic moves have an increased urgency because of fears that Israel might take unilateral action and bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.
The scale of the problem facing the new American president was reinforced yesterday when a senior aide to Ahmadinejad, Aliakbar Javanfekr, said that Iran had no intention of stopping its nuclear activities. When asked about a UN resolution calling for the suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment, Javanfekr, the presidential adviser for press affairs, replied: "We are past that stage."
Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based analyst, said a US letter will have to be accompanied by security guarantees and an agreement to drop economic sanctions.
"If they send such a letter it will be a very significant step towards better ties, but they should be careful in not thinking Tehran will respond immediately,"