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Iran official acknowledges Islamic Republic has written back to Obama after getting letters

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TEHRAN, Iran — A top security official in Iran said Wednesday the Islamic Republic has written back in response to letters sent by U.S. President Barack Obama, the first acknowledgement of such correspondence. However, it's not clear whether Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote the letters himself.

The letter writing is part of a recent thaw in relations between the two countries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year. It also comes as a U.S.-led coalition battles the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq and as Iran and world powers negotiate a permanent deal regarding the country's contested nuclear program.

"This is not the first time that such a thing has taken place," said Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, during an appearance on state television Wednesday night. "It had previously taken place and necessary response was given to some of them."

Obama's recent letter to Khamenei described a shared interest between the U.S. and Iran in fighting Islamic State militants and stressed that any cooperation on that would be largely contingent on Iran agreeing to the nuclear deal, according to the Wall Street Journal. Shamkhani said the letter "mainly focused on nuclear issues."

We responded "that we can't accept at all to have a decorative, caricaturistic nuclear industry," Shamkhani said.

There was no immediate response in Washington to Shamkhani's comments.

Iran and six world powers — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — are negotiating a final nuclear accord now. The stakes are high as the two sides face a Nov. 24 deadline. A deal is supposed to put in place measures that would prevent Iran from making an atomic weapon in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Iran has said its program is for peaceful purposes.

The talks reportedly remain stuck over the size and output of Iran's uranium enrichment program, a technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons and how the sanctions must be lifted.

U.S. and Iranian officials held a series of secret meetings last year that ultimately paved the way for the historic interim nuclear deal in Geneva. Obama and Iranian President Rouhani also held a historic phone call last fall, the first direct communication between their nation's leaders since the Islamic Revolution.

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