(CNSNews.com) – Responding to media reports claiming that President Obama has written to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about a “shared interest” in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), state-funded Iranian television pointed out Thursday that the supreme leader just last month accused the U.S. of having created the jihadist group.
In comments reported by state media on Oct. 13, Khamenei accused “the enemies of Islam” – the U.S. and Britain – of creating both ISIS and al-Qaeda in order to confront Iran, and in a bid to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.
Khamenei said the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS was not genuine, and he urged Shi’a and Sunni alike not to “help the enemy by desecrating their sanctities and provoking one another’s sentiments.”
“If anyone fuels the fire in this regard, he or she will definitely be helping sinister America and Britain which are the creators of the ISIL and al-Qaeda.”
Iran is supporting the Shi’a-led Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS in that country, having deployed units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, the unit that is responsible for Tehran’s terror operations abroad.
At the same time, however, Iran’s opposes the U.S. campaign against ISIS, in part because airstrikes against the jihadists in Syria are taking place without the permission of the Assad regime, Iran’s ally; and because the strategy includes arming Syrian rebels who are at war both with ISIS and with the regime.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Obama in a mid-October letter to Khamenei “described a shared interest in fighting” ISIS.
It cited unnamed sources as saying Obama had written that any cooperation against ISIS depended on Iran reaching an agreement in negotiations with six world powers on its nuclear programs. The agreed-upon deadline for an agreement is less than three weeks away.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told a briefing he was “not in a position to discuss “private correspondence between the president and any world leader.”
Asked about Iran’s previous criticism of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS mission, Earnest said “there is a pretty clear interest that Iran has in this fight against ISIL. It’s not in the interest of Iran or frankly anybody else in this region of the world to have this extremist group rampaging across the countryside carrying out terrible acts of violence.”
"That said, because of Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, for a variety of reasons, it’s difficult for the United States to work very closely with Iran in this endeavor,” he added.
“That’s why we’re not cooperating with them militarily; we’re not sharing intelligence with them.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also declined to comment on the purported letter, but reiterated administration policy that it will not link the nuclear and ISIS issues in its engagement with Tehran.
“We don’t look at it as a linked situation. Our concerns about Iran’s engagement are more expansive than that,” she said. “Obviously, we understand that they have concerns about the threat of ISIL, which they have expressed as well. But I would not look at it as a path to a different type of coordination.”
Psaki confirmed that U.S. and Iranian officials have discussed ISIS “on the outskirts of meetings” on the nuclear issue.
In building the coalition against ISIS, Secretary of State John Kerry frequently has stated that every country has a role to play.
Asked what contribution Iran – which is not a declared member of the coalition – could make, Psaki said it could convey to the Iraqi government that it “should continue to rule in an inclusive manner. We believe that that is a useful role that can be played.” (ISIS has capitalized on widespread Sunni resentment over Shi’ite domination of the former government.)
Over recent months administration officials have on occasion touched on the possibility of deeper cooperation with the Iranians on the ISIS issue.
Kerry said in an interview last June that the administration was “open to discussions if there’s something constructive that can be contributed by Iran.” Asked whether that could include military cooperation, he replied, “I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability.”
With its stronghold in northern Syria, ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah in Anbar province last January, and then in June began seizing territory across northern Iraq, committing atrocities as it did so.
The U.S. began carrying out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq on August 8, and together with coalition partners expanded the mission to neighboring Syria on September 22.
Even before the Syrian part of the military campaign had begun, Iran signaled that it was uneasy about the airstrikes.
An article last August in Keyhan, a hardline publication whose editor is appointed by and serves as an adviser to Khamenei, reflected a deep suspicion about U.S. motives.
“It is hard to look at U.S. actions in the Middle East and still believe that the goal of its military deployments in Iraq is humanitarianism and not protecting U.S. interests,” it said.
“A policy as such has absolutely nothing to do with ‘humanitarianism.’ The logic of U.S. military intervention is completely based on a cynical calculation meant to boost U.S. military and corporate power in the Persian Gulf.”