During my experience actually negotiating with senior counterparts from the Islamic Republic, I saw first-hand how my Iranian interlocutors were able to negotiate productively, deliver on specific commitments, and make concessions and calculate trade-offs across a range of issues. In this regard, recent statements by Kenneth Timmerman on C-Span’s Washington Journal that my husband, Flynt Leverett, and I have been spreading “lies” about Iran’s substantial cooperation with post-9/11 American efforts in Afghanistan are beneath contempt. Mr. Timmerman was not in government, and does not know what he is talking about. I was one of very few U.S. officials authorized to deal directly with Iranian officials regarding Afghanistan–Timmerman’s neoconservative friends at the Pentagon were deliberately kept out of those discussions–and I saw what the Iranians did to help us in Afghanistan. ~Hillary Mann Leverett
Leverett is responding here to Jeffrey Goldberg’s supposedly damning revelations that she has changed her views on the value of engaging Iran. There are a few things to say here. One is that Goldberg is resorting to the same kind of attack that was directing against Trita Parsi and NIAC late last year, and he is employing the same kind of tactic that proponents of invading Iraq used against skeptics in 2002-03, which was to denounce war opponents as “pro-Saddam” or “apologists for despotism.” What also occurs to me is that Mrs. Leverett’s own career provides an interesting example of how direct contact and engagement with actual Iranian officials regarding matters of common interest caused her to change her mind about the prospects for diplomatic engagement. Sometimes I think there is so much resistance to significant, sustained engagement with Iran because it would become much harder to support the idea that engagement is a dead end once enough American officials discovered that their counterparts were capable of negotiating and brokering deals that serve the interests of both governments.
Timmerman’s insult is worse than Leverett allows here, because it is hardly a state secret that Iran was helpful in aiding our fight against the Taliban in 2001-02. However, it is one of those inconvenient facts that does get lost over the years. I distinctly remember The Economist reporting that Iran had agreed to help American pilots in their territory in the event that they crashed there, which the magazine report mentioned as one of several examples of Iranian cooperation during the initial stage of the Afghan war. I also recall The Economist article remarking on how this foundation of cooperation had fallen apart once Mr. Bush denounced Iran as part of the “axis of evil.”