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Oh My

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AP Photo / Vahid Salemi

The original report comes from an openly pro-regime, quasi government news agency, Tasnim News Agency. And the official is Ali Shamkani, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. (Here's a backgrounder on Shamkani from al-Monitor.) But there seems little reason to doubt that the Shamkani quote itself is genuine.

Here is the actual quote (translation from Farsi, of course, from Tasnim) ...

“In the course of the talks for exchanging prisoners, the Republican rivals of the current US administration who claim to be humanitarians and advocates of human rights sent a message telling us not to release these people (American prisoners) and continue this process (of talks) until the eve of US presidential elections,” Shamkhani said Thursday in an address to a rally held in the central city of Yazd to mark the 37th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution’s victory.

“However” he said “we acted upon our independent resolve and moved the process forward.”

Now, remember, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) did pen an open letter (signed by all his Senate colleagues) cautioning the Iranian leadership not to conclude a nuclear deal with President Obama. But that was really more a PR stunt in the context of DC politics than any sort of effort to open a backchannel communication. Still, the backstory makes it hard to dismiss this allegation out of hand.

Shamkani was appointed to his role by a reformist. But his elevation and his appointment to earlier roles was more seen as carrying symbolic significance vis a vis Iran's Arab neighbors. Shamkani is an ethnic Arab. And the only ethnic Arab to have risen so high in the government hierarchy.

The claim - true or not - is also reminiscent of long-standing claims - never definitively proven - that emissaries from the Reagan campaign asked the Iranians to delay the release of the Embassy hostages until after the 1980 election.