AP: Iraq is planning a second meeting with American and Iranian officials on improving security in the war-torn nation as a follow up to talks last month that broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze, Iraq’s foreign minister said Thursday.
By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iraq is planning a second meeting with American and Iranian officials on improving security in the war-torn nation as a follow up to talks last month that broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze, Iraq’s foreign minister said Thursday.
Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview with The Associated Press that he thinks the meeting will take place in weeks rather than months – hopefully with more senior officials than the ambassadors who met in Baghdad on May 28 to give the new talks more clout.
Having the meeting take place for the first time in 27 years in Iraq and on one subject- that’s Iraqi security – I think was a major breakthrough, Zebari said.
He said Iraq is already discussing the time and venue of the next gathering with both sides and will soon invite them to participate.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indirectly signaled Iran’s interest in continuing the talks after discussions Sunday in Tehran with Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was more cautious, saying in an AP interview last Friday that we haven’t determined when and if it makes sense. She said Iran’s recent detention of at least four Americans is unwarranted but will not stop Washington from trying to engage Iran on other matters, including its disputed nuclear program and alleged support of insurgents in Iraq.
Mottaki said Iran was also willing to continue talks despite the U.S. detention of five Iranian officials in Iraq in January. The U.S. military has said the Iranians are suspected of links to a network supplying arms to insurgents – an accusation that Iran has denied, insisting they were diplomats.
Iraq has appealed for the release of the Iranians and Zebari said we are hopeful they would be released, especially during June. That’s when their status will be reviewed by the U.S. military because they have been detained for six months, he said.
Zebari said releasing the Iranians will help in confidence building and preparing the ground for further U.S.-Iranian discussions.
We are hopeful that the Americans have got our message, he said.
In a new wrinkle, Zebari said, three Iranian diplomats were picked up Wednesday by an Iraqi patrol north of Baghdad, released after Foreign Ministry intervention, and then picked up by an American patrol.
Zebari said the Foreign Ministry was trying to get them released and the Americans promised us that they would be released.
The May 28 U.S.-Iran talks in the offices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were the first formal and scheduled meeting between Iranian and American government officials since the United States broke diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy.
The Iraqi foreign minister called that meeting between Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and al-Maliki positive. The U.S. and the Iranians defined their positions and their expectation from the other side but there was no agenda, he said.
But I think if this were to develop further, we need to have far more substantive discussions on the real issues that affect the three of us, Zebari said.
Iran considers the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq as a threat to its security and has demanded they leave. Washington, meanwhile, accuses Iran of arming and financing Shiite militias fighting American and Iraqi troops in Iraq – charges Iran denies.
Iran is a player whether we like it or not. The United States is a player. The Iraqi government is the owner of this, so we have a vested interest in trying to establish some dialogue – direct contact – because we believe this will help to ease the regional tension there, he said.