Tenet's Words Could Foreshadow Events in Iran

Revelations by former CIA director George Tenet speak volumes about the Bush administration's efforts to build a case for the war in Iraq. But Tenet's account may also reveal what is behind early efforts to contact members of the Iranian dissident community.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The State Department is calling Iran's decision to attend this week's conference on stabilizing Iraq positive. Iran's foreign minister will join representatives from Iraq's neighbors, Europe and the G8, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Asked today about a possible meeting between Rice and her Iranian counterpart, President Bush assured reporters that the secretary, in his words, won't be rude.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm sure she'll be polite, but she will also be firm in reminding the representative of the Iranian government that there's a better way forward for the Iranian people than isolation.

BLOCK: NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been thinking about Rice's trip and one potentially sore subject that may come up.

DANIEL SCHORR: If and when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Iranian officials in Egypt this week, she may have some explaining to do, thanks to George Tenet. His new memoir, the former CIA director writes that while his agency was left out of the loop, the Pentagon was in contact with exiled Iranian opposition figures.

The Defense Department was said to have work through Michael Ledeen, a Middle East specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian wheeler-dealer. Remarkably, both of them had played parts in the Iran-Contra affair in the mid-1980s, trying to negotiate an arms-for-hostages deal. Both of them have had Pentagon backing but were profoundly distrusted by the CIA.

So it's perhaps not surprising that the Pentagon kept the CIA in the dark on Iran. Tenet says he only learned about the Iran operation at a meeting with Italian intelligence officers. Son of Iran-Contra, Tenet called it in his memoir trying to destabilize the Iranian government.

American-Iranian relations have had their ups and downs. In 1953, a Democratic government was unseated with CIA assistance and the shah was returned to the throne. The shah was ousted in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran for 444 days brought relations to a low ebb.

More recently, relations have become tense over Iran's nuclear program and Iran's alleged involvement in Iraq. A shared interest in stabilizing Iraq provides an opportunity to figure out the possibilities for improving relations between the U.S. and Iran. But the revelations that the Pentagon was initiating efforts to destabilize the Iranian government - regime change they call it -that may further complicate relations.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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