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The Urban Legend of Iran’s 2003 detente deal


As tensions increase with Iran, many Bush critics have seized upon a tale peddled by disgruntled officials and credulous journalists that the Bush administration, in a fit of arrogance, turned down a 2003 Iranian offer to settle outstanding nuclear, proliferation, and geopolitical disputes. Therefore, the logic goes, the responsibility for subsequent problems lies not with Tehran, but with the White House.

I’ve been plenty critical of Bush administration’s foreign policy–especially the fact that its actions seldom match its rhetoric and thus undercut U.S. credibility. No argument that the Administration’s Iran policy is inconsistent and confusing.

However, there was no 2003 Iranian offer. Rather, a freelancing Swiss diplomat created the “offer” to seize the limelight. Flynt Leverett, a Rice NSC appointee who quit to work for John Kerry, for purposes known only to himself, spun the incident into an opportunity lost. Too bad he misrepresented the incident which occurred after he left the NSC. His tale is demonstratively false. I wrote about it here.

USA Today correspondent Barbara Slavin, made the allegation a centerpiece of her new book on Iran. She took issue with my article, so we exchanged correspondence in this week’s Weekly Standard, here.

No matter how frustrated journalists may be with the Bush administration, it’s surprising how credulous many are to political operatives using them and how few fact check. Another example is a glowing Esquire feature about Leverett, who seems to paint himself as the next Joe Wilson: The author writes that Colin Powell summoned Leverett on 9-11 to help him plan a response. Basic fact-checking: Powell was in Peru that day.

There have always been sloppy journalists willing to air any tale so long as it conforms to their political outlook. The danger is, though, that by legitimizing fiction, they exculpate the Iranian regime for its behavior. Bush’s Iran policy may leave much to be desired. But, enough with Washington navel-gazing. Not every Iranian action is a reaction to a White House decision. The truth is quite the opposite.


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