At the same time, Obama also employed separate efforts by U.S. think
tanks in sending messages to Teheran, Middle East Newsline reported. One such effort was conducted by the
Pugwash group, which met Iranian officials in Europe throughout late 2008.
The Pugwash effort was headed by former Defense Secretary William Perry.
[There were] "wide-ranging, atmospheric discussions: how to move beyond
the 1953 coup and the 1979 revolution; how to move beyond the historical
baggage that is holding back U.S.-Iranian relations," Jeffrey Boutwell,
executive director of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs,
Pugwash told The Cable blog that in 2008 Pugwash interlocutors with
Iran met Obama advisers. He said the Pugwash sessions included senior
Iranian officials in a discussion on Teheran's nuclear program.
The sources said Obama drew from the secret discussions with Iran when
he appealed for a dialogue with Teheran. In his first television
interview — with the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite channel — Obama
said he was launching a reconciliation effort with Iran.
"I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran,
to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are
potential avenues for progress," Obama said on Jan. 26. "And we will over
the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach.
And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are
willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."
The sources said Obama has also used longtime colleagues as well as
think tanks for a dialogue with Syria, Iran's leading ally. The United
States Institute of Peace, financed by Congress, told a Jan. 29 news
conference that a delegation met Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus
in late January. The delegation included Ellen Laipson, a member of the
"His [Assad] phrasing was 70 percent of our interests are potentially
shared and 30 percent are not," Bruce Jentleson, disarmament adviser to
former Vice President Al Gore and a delegation member, said. "And he said:
let's work on the 70 percent."