WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama secretly penned a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month to discuss mutual efforts to wipe out ISIS terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Obama linked cooperation against ISIS — which has been ruthlessly targeting Shiite holy sites and followers of the branch of Islam practiced in Iran — to negotiations over a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the paper reported.
Diplomats have set a looming Nov. 24 deadline for the conclusion of talks on an emerging nuclear deal — although Obama said in a Wednesday press conference he hoped the matter could be resolved in three or four weeks.
Under any final deal, Iran would give up its nuclear capability in exchange for a lifting of tight sanctions against its economy.
Asked about the letter at a news conference, House Speaker John Boehner — who gets top security briefings — replied: “I don’t trust the Iranians. I don’t think we need to bring them into this, and I would hope that the negotiations that are under way are serious negotiations, but I have my doubts.”
It was Obama’s fourth letter to Khamenei — a string that began soon after he took office in 2009.
The Iranians have already been assisting in the battle against ISIS on their own. Just this week, photos appeared on Iraqi websites showing that famed Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleymani had been present during a rare Iraqi army victory in a battle against ISIS extremists.
The White House is eyeing a possible final deal with Iran as a unique opportunity to score a diplomatic achievement.
But with Republicans having seized control of the Senate, getting a deal that could win support in Congress has grown more difficult. Even the preliminary deal with Iran drew blowback from Senate Republicans and Democrats.
Obama on Wednesday dodged a question about whether he could lift sanctions on Iran unilaterally — saying the time to “engage Congress” would be after any deal gets reached.
“If we do have a deal that I have confidence will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that we can convince the world and the public will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, then it will be time to engage in Congress,” Obama said.
“And I think that we’ll be able to make a strong argument to Congress that this is the best way for us to avoid a nuclear Iran.”