As Iran nuclear talks approach crunch time, one wild card has emerged—it turns out that President Obama and Iran's ayatollah are even bigger pen pals than realized, relatively speaking. The Wall Street Journal reports that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent Obama a letter "in recent weeks" whose tone it describes as "respectful but noncommittal." It was in response to a letter Obama wrote in October suggesting cooperation between the two countries in fighting the Islamic State if a nuclear deal were struck. As to whether the exchange might lead to an actual deal, well that part's a little hazy.
But the Journal also provides the first details on an earlier exchange of letters between the two leaders early in Obama's tenure, in which Khamenei laid out a set of grievances and, significantly, did not rule out the idea of a compromise in nuclear talks. Analysts see the very fact of their existence almost as more important than the details they contain. “You don’t know how important it is for the supreme leader of Iran to actually write a letter to the US," says a former US official. “It’s a sign he recognizes the country.” A post at Al Jazeera America parses recent public comments from Obama and Khamenei, along with other diplomatic moves, and concludes that "the two sides are closing in on a deal." (Read more Iran stories.)