Reuters: The United States is ready to resume talks with Iran on improving security in Iraq, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, but he accused Tehran of arming and training radical Iraqi Shi’ite fighters. By Francois Murphy
PARIS (Reuters) – The United States is ready to resume talks with Iran on improving security in Iraq, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, but he accused Tehran of arming and training radical Iraqi Shi’ite fighters.
Tehran on Thursday postponed what would have been a fourth round of talks, blaming “technical issues”. The move has prompted Washington to question Tehran’s commitment to dialogue.
“We see Iran’s intentions in Iraq as unchanged over the course of the last several years,” David Satterfield, the U.S. State Department’s Iraq coordinator, told reporters during a visit to Paris for meetings with French officials.
“We see an Iran intent on continuing to promote violence within Iraq, which is directly contradictory to Iran’s public pledge of support for a stable, peaceful, sovereign Iraq,” Satterfield added.
He said Iran was arming and training “the most violent, most radical elements” in the country, including fighters that had been drawn away from the Mehdi Army of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and into Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The U.S.-Iranian security talks are one of the few forums in which officials from the two bitter foes have direct contact. Diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran have been frozen for almost three decades.
Washington has used the talks to urge Iran to stop giving weapons and training to Shi’ite militias in Iraq, including armor-piercing bombs known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that have killed hundreds of U.S. troops.
Tehran denies the charges and blames the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 for violence in its neighbor. Both sides are also embroiled in a row over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“We remain prepared, as does the Iraqi government, for such talks,” Satterfield told reporters. But he said Iran’s intentions were clearly not friendly.
“We very much believe that Iran wishes to see the forced departure of foreign forces, particularly U.S. forces, from Iraq in the most humiliating and devastating manner possible.”
Iraq said on Thursday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would visit Baghdad on March 2 for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other senior officials in what would be the first visit by a president of the Islamic Republic.
Satterfield said the improving security situation in Iraq and action by Damascus had stemmed the flow of Islamist fighters entering the country from neighboring Syria.
But he said Syria had not acted for Iraq’s sake.
“Whatever they have done has been solely for (Syrian) regime security purposes,” he said.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)