What's poignant about these wary U.S.-Iranian feelers is that just over a year ago, they yielded a plan for an "anti-terrorist" deal that both countries should have loved: Iran would hand over some senior al Qaeda operatives in its custody and the United States would transfer to Iran some prisoners it was holding from the Iraqi-backed Mujaheddin-e Khalq organization, a group America has officially branded as terrorist.
The State Department is said to have favored such a deal, but the Pentagon balked -- arguing that the Mujaheddin-e Khalq might be useful in fomenting regime change in Tehran. Sadly, this internal dispute between administration pragmatists and ideologues over Iran is similar to the feuds that have obstructed policy on North Korea and Iraq.
During and immediately after the Afghanistan war, meetings were held at least once a month. One former U.S. official says flatly that without Iranian help, it would have been impossible to establish the new government in Afghanistan under President Hamid Karzai.
A new issue arose as al Qaeda operatives fled from Afghanistan into Iran after the war. The Iranians arrested more than 500 of them in late 2001 and early 2002, according to one senior Iranian official. He said Tehran transferred many to be interrogated in their countries of origin, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Italy and the Netherlands. A number of al Qaeda operatives charged with mounting terrorist attacks in Iran remained there, and they will be tried in Iranian courts later this year.
Lost Chances in Iran (washingtonpost.com)