Cablegate: Greek Teheran Envoy Urges U.S.-Iran Talks, Offers

O 111511Z JUN 08

S E C R E T ATHENS 000833


E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/10/2018


Classified By: DCM Tom Countryman. REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

1. (S) SUMMARY: In seperate coversations with A/PolCouns and
DepPolCouns, former Greek Ambassador to Iran and new head of
the MFA D1 Directorate for International Organizations
Merkourios Karafotias offered his interpretation of Iranian
motives in recent events and urged the U.S. to open discrete
talks with Teheran -- which Karafotias offered to help
initiate. (Karafotias said he was not acting on a request
from the Iranians, nor was it clear whether his superiors in
the MFA had knowledge of his efforts.) Iranian bellicose
statements and actions were their clumsy way of etting
Washington's attention. Such talks, Karafotias argued, while
likely rocky at first, could lead to lessened tensions and
more energy supplies. END SUMMARY.

2. (S) Karafotias, who completed a three-year tour as
Greece's Ambassador in Tehran in May, said current Western
policy towardIran was "not the best" and was effectively
serving Iran up on a platter to the Russians and Chinese.
The fact that the Russians and Chinese were historical
enemies of Iran was an indication how far Western policy
toward Iran had gone awry. Within this context, the Iranians
were interested in dialogue with the Europeans, but it was
the Americans they really cared about. Whenever Karafotias
met with Iranians the first thing they asked about was what
was up in Washington. The Iranians believed they could
handle their neighbors and it was only the U.S. that scared

3. (S) Iran's aggressive statements had "nothing to do with
reality" and were only the Iranians' clumsy way of trying to
get the U.S. to pay attention so discussions could begin.
The Iranians believed they were getting contradictory signals
from Washington and were searching for ways to start a
dialogue. Even Iranian support for Hizballah in Lebanon,
while pressuring Israel, was really an attempt to get
Washington's attention. When asked why, if the Iranians
wanted talks so badly, they did not take some initial
positive step, such as halting weapons support for Shia
forces in Iraq, coming clean with the IAEA, or cutting
support for terrorists in Lebanon, Karafotias said it was a
combination of national pride and ignorance of Western ways.
From the Iranian vantage point, the louder and more bellicose
the statements, the greater the chance of getting U.S.
attention and beginning a dialogue. The Iranians, Karafotias
said, did not give a wit for the Shia in Iraq or Hizballah
but by supporting them, they hoped to talk to Washington.

4. (S) The Iranians would want to see several things emerge
from such talks: U.S. investment in Iran, deals with U.S.
companies on energy extraction technology, and security
guarantees from the U.S. On the latter, Karafotias said the
Iranians, despite their strong statements, wanted to
re-create some elements of the relationship the U.S. had with
the Shah. Iran did not now want to be a proQe region, but it
did want the attention and respect it thought it still deserved.
Iran was no longer interested in exporting Islamic revolution.
Indeed, Iran was now amongst the least strict Islamic countries.
What could result from an improved relationship would be eased
tensions and more energy supplies.

5. (S) As for how such talks could take place, Karafotias
suggested a secret meeting on a small Greek island,
preferably during the off-season and out of sight of any
journalists. Greece, he said, had a "special relationship"
with Iran -- the Iranians "listened to the Greeks.
Karafotias said he met regularly with Iranian officials and
could help facilitate the process. (He had also met with the
Israeli Ambassador a few days before, presumably to discuss a
similar Iranian-Israeli dialogue.) But we would have to be
prepared for some Iranian gamesmanship. The first meeting or
two would likely be dominated by Iranian venting at the
wrongs they perceived had been done them. But after several
meetings, the Iranians would calm down and real progress
could take place. Indeed, with some effort, the nuclear
problem would "melt away." That issue, he argued, should be
seen as the effect, not the cause, of bad relations between
Iran and the West.

6. (S) COMMENT: It is difficult for us to judge Karafotias'
authority, either with the Iranians or within the MFA.
Greece has, however, been proactive in representing U.S.
interests to the Iranians in such matters as the case of
missing Amcit Levinson. Moreover, judging by Iranian
high-level visits to Athens, the Greeks do appear to have a
working relationship with the Iranians. Should Washington
decide to open a channel to Teheran, the Greeks could perhaps
help facilitate the contact.


7. (S) DepPolCouns inquired about further information on
missing Amcit Levinson, whose case Karafotias had addressed
with the Iranians while in Teheran (refs A and B). While
warning that his information might be only "half right" and
that the Iranians may well have "lied" to him, Karafotias
said he got the distinct impression that they did not know
what happened to Levinson. He believed that if the Iranians
did have him, they would have made a show for world public
consumption, much the way they did in the case a year ago of
Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari. Karafotias
speculated that Levinson may have been murdered by
bandits/smugglers operating in northern Iran.


8. (SBU) `haps, in his early fiftieQ@e walked with a crutch, tn
injury he acquiredpan. On his earlierened the Gr` in 1986. of years
dealing wiQh Greek-Turkish relations. He did a stint in the
President's office and was also posted in Baku. In Iran, he
infrequently traveled outside the country, as many other
ambassadors did, preferring to stay in Teheran to learn the
Iranian mindset.


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