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Viewing cable 09ISTANBUL83, US-IRAN RELATIONS: WHY IRAN REFUSED THE US

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ISTANBUL83 2009-03-03 06:06 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET Consulate Istanbul
VZCZCXRO7492
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHIT #0083/01 0620654
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 030654Z MAR 09
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8801
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000083 
 
SIPDIS 
 
LONDON FOR GAYLE; BERLIN FOR PAETZOLD; BAKU FOR MCCRENSKY; 
ASHGABAT FOR TANBORN; BAGHDAD FOR BUZBEE AND FLINCHBAUGH; 
DUBAI FOR IRPO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/03/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINS KDEM IR
SUBJECT: US-IRAN RELATIONS:  WHY IRAN REFUSED THE US 
BADMINTON TEAM 
 
REF: IRPO DUBAI 95 
 
Classified By: Deputy Principal Officer Sandra Oudkirk; Reason 1.5 (d) 
 
1.  (S) Summary: A trusted contact claims he was told by a 
close advisor to Iranian President Ahmadinejad that Iran 
denied visas for the planned February 4, 2009 visit of the US 
women's badminton because of the USG's "bad faith" in 
announcing the visit earlier than Iran had requested. 
According to the contact, Supreme Leader Khamenei only agreed 
to the visit after Ahmadinejad urged him to do so, and only 
on the understanding that no public announcements would be 
made until after the team's arrival in Iran.  Instead, the 
USG announced the visit on February 2, as the team was 
awaiting Iranian visas in Dubai.  The regime wanted to 
maintain full control of media coverage of the event, to 
avoid a replay of the 1998 US wrestling team visit, when 
Iranian crowds were filmed waving American flags and cheering 
the US team.  The regime believed the USG issued the early 
announcement to create a similar dynamic, and now Khamenei 
and Ahmadinejad feel "burned."  Comment: If accurate, this 
scenario underscores the challenges to building trust with a 
regime that feels an obsessive fear of losing control over 
both the process and substance of possible engagement with 
the USG.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (S) "A first test":  A trusted contact of ConGen 
Istanbul's Iran Watcher who recently returned from a visit to 
Tehran recounted a detailed explanation he said he received 
from a close advisor to President Ahmadinejad over why Iran 
refused to issue visas in early February to the US women's 
badminton team.  In comments that track with IRPO Dubai's 
reftel reporting, our contact says he was told that Supreme 
Leader Khamenei was initially opposed to allowing the visit, 
but President Ahmadinejad urged him to accept it.  Even 
though planning for this cultural exchange began before the 
Obama administration took office, the regime including 
Ahmadinejad believed this represented an important early 
gesture by the new administration to build confidence and 
show respect, and therefore a "first test" whether Iran could 
work effectively with the Obama administration. 
 
3.  (S) Maximum GOI control: According to the presidential 
advisor, the Iranian side insisted on a "carefully 
calibrated" sequence of timing as a key requirement for 
allowing the visit to proceed.  Iran believes it had a clear 
understanding with the USG (working through the US and 
Iranian badminton federations, which in Iran's case took 
instructions directly from the President's office) that 
announcement of the badminton team's travel to Iran and 
participation in the Fajr Tournament would be embargoed until 
the tournament's opening ceremony on February 5.  Iran 
demanded this condition because Iran's leaders still remember 
with discomfort the 1998 US wrestling team's visit to Iran, 
when -- because of what Iran now sees as a failure on its 
part to insist on airtight control over media coverage of the 
event -- Iranian and international press broadcast scenes of 
Iranian crowds cheering wildly as the US team entered the 
arena carrying an American flag and continued to cheer the US 
team during its matches, sometimes even waving American flags 
in support.  Khamenei demanded that there be no possible 
repeat of such a scene within Iran.  Given that the badminton 
tournament was a women's sporting event and women's sports 
are not televised in Iran, the regime felt confident it could 
maintain full control over the event itself, allowing press 
coverage only of the opening and closing ceremonies.  To 
maximize its control, the regime insisted on an embargo over 
any announcement or media coverage of the US team's 
participation until the team's arrival, i.e., after the team 
had been issued visas in Dubai and flown to Tehran.  This 
important detail was explicitly agreed between the sports 
federations, representing (in Iran's view) an understanding 
between the highest levels of the USG and GOI, the 
Ahmadinejad advisor insisted to our contact. 
 
4.  (S) "We were burned":  Thus, when surprised regime 
leaders saw the February 2 State Department announcement of 
the badminton team's participation in the Fajr Tournament, 
according to our contact, they immediately assumed "bad 
faith" on the part of the USG, concluding that this was an 
deliberate effort by the administration to gain advantage 
over the GOI and undercut the regime's control of media 
coverage of the event.  The regime's immediate response, 
ordered by Khamenei, was to refuse to issue the visas.  As 
the Ahmadinejad advisor explained to our contact:  "Battles 
of this nature, when foreign visitors come to Iran to 
participate in sensitive or symbolic events, must be on our 
terms and under our full control.  We had an understanding 
 
ISTANBUL 00000083  002 OF 002 
 
 
with the U.S. over how this would proceed, and we were 
burned."  He added that Ahmadinejad, having personally 
persuaded a reluctant Khamenei to allow the visit, felt 
particularly aggrieved, and speculated to his close advisors 
afterwards that this was evidence of "anti-Iranian influence" 
among recently appointed foreign policy officials in the USG. 
 In typical Iranian fashion, GOI spokesmen blamed the 
cancellation on other factors, including (from the MFA) the 
"time consuming process" of visa issuance and (from Keyhan 
and other conservative mouthpieces) the USG's failure to 
condemn Israel over Gaza.  But according to our contact, 
Tehran assumes Washington "fully understands the real reason" 
for the cancellation. 
 
5.  (S) Comment:  Although it may seem far-fetched that such 
a non-political exchange visit would be cancelled over a 
seemingly mundane detail like the timing of the press 
announcement of the visit, in Iran's case this scenario is 
entirely plausible.  If accurate, this scenario highlights 
the challenges to building confidence with a regime that 
feels an obsessive fear of losing control over either the 
substance or process of possible engagement with the USG. 
Indeed, this underscores that to Iran the process of 
negotiations may often be as critical to demonstrating 
"goodwill" and to ensuring eventual success as the substance 
of the negotiations.  This scenario also illustrates the 
regime's rigid expectation that, with regard to early 
confidence-building measures from the USG (especially 
involving CBMs likely to generate press coverage), the GOI 
must feel fully in control over how such measures play out, 
and that at the first sign of any deviation from what it 
believes is an agreed process, its first instinct -- 
reflective of its acute fixation on self-preservation -- will 
be to shut the process down and blame the other side.  End 
comment. 
 
WIENER