President Barack Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei regarding the two countries’ shared interest in defeating ISIL, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
In the letter, Obama reportedly told Khamenei that any cooperation on ISIL was largely contingent on Iran reaching a nuclear deal with the West. The Journal report, which cites former and current U.S. officials, comes weeks ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he could not confirm that Obama had sent the letter. Nonetheless, he said that U.S. policy on Iran has not changed.
"I'm not in a position to discuss private correspondence between the president and any world leader," said Earnest during a White House briefing. "I can tell you that the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged."
Like Washington, Tehran’s Shia leadership opposes the military offensive of the Sunni-led Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but Khamenei has warned the U.S. against using the ISIL threat to push what he called a hostile agenda in the Middle East.
While Earnest would not comment on the letter, he did say that the U.S. had discussed the campaign against ISIL with Tehran on the sidelines of negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear program.
"The United States will not cooperate militarily with Iran in that effort," said Earnest of the fight against ISIL. "We won't share intelligence with them. But their interests in the outcome is something that's been widely commented on — commented upon and something that on a couple of occasions has been discussed on the sidelines of other conversations."
Obama is believed to have written letters to Khamenei on at least three other occasions since taking office in 2009, the Journal reported. The powerful 75-year-old cleric is believed to have the final say in Iran on important political matters. Khamenei has never directly responded to the overtures, according to unnamed U.S. officials cited by the report.
The Obama administration reportedly launched talks with Iranian officials in the Omani capital of Muscat in 2012, but kept it under wraps from Washington’s Middle Eastern allies of the talks until late 2013, the Journal reported.
Arab leaders, who are apprehensive about Iran’s growing influence in the region, worry that an improved U.S.-Iran relationship would come at the expense of their interests across the Middle East.
House Speaker John Boehner said in a separate briefing regarding the reported letter that he did not trust Iran's leaders and did not think they should be brought into the fight against ISIL.
Al Jazeera and Reuters