American - Iranian Meeting Aborted?

Was a "chance" meeting was orchestrated between US President Bill Clinton and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami during last year's General Assembly Millennium, but the plan was aborted because it became known two days in advance?

Iranian journalist Amir Taheri, who writes for the pan-Arab daily "Ash-Sherqalawsat" quoted one Kewe Afrasiebi, a "former UN expert" of Iranian origin, who claims to have assisted Giandomenico Picco, Special Representative for the Year of Dialogue Among Cultures. Initial contact was made in Helsinki last August, and Secretary General Kofi Annan, together with Picco, would have arranged the September session so as to allow for a handshake or an ice-breaking chat on the side.

While US Ambassador Holbrooke was opposed to the idea, thinking it could hurt Mr. Khatami's standing in Tehran, US diplomat Jose Marti was dispatched to liaise with the Iranian side and work out an agenda, while another US diplomat, "John Blum," drafted a letter indicating the President's interest in meeting his Iranian counterpart. As a first step, Secretary of State Albright attended a presentation by Mr. Khatami on cultural dialogue, while a meeting was held in New York between Iranian cleric Mehdi Kharoubi and Jewish community leaders. This was an attempt to quell opposition to the presidential meeting, which ultimately did not occur.

The writer claims that Iranian Foreign Minister Kharaji managed to block the tete-a-tete, even though Mr. Khatami intimated in television interviews with Mike Wallace and Christiane Amanpour that such a meeting might occur. On the other hand, the Iranian president had to take pains to avoid the fate of former Prime Minister Bezarzan, who was forced to resign the after meeting with Carter's National Security Advisor, Mr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, during the early days of the revolution in 1979.

Another attempt at a "chance" meeting was contrived during a photo session of heads of state participating in the Millennium summit. President Clinton was available, but the Iranian president left before the photo was taken, according to Afrasiebi, who added that whoever manages to restore relations with the United States will have the upper hand in the Iranian power struggle. While the report seems to contain credible facts, one vulnerability is the name of its claimed source. Unless Mr. Picco states otherwise, Mr. Afrasiebi is unknown at the UN; nor is "John Blum" listed with the US mission. Mr. Teheri, however, is a well-known journalist with good links to sources seeking leaks.