United States and Iran hold talks on Iraq security

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

In talks mediated by Iraqi officials on Monday, the United States Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker met for approximately four hours with Iranian officials in Baghdad's Green Zone, in what Ambassador Crocker described as a "businesslike" meeting.

It was the first formal meeting between the United States and Iran in 27 years. The meeting focused solely on the security situation in Iraq and the common interests of all three parties in improving stability in the country.

The U.S. and Iran broke off diplomatic contact following the 1980 hostage crisis and relations between the two continue to be strained over several issues, including Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. ambassador Crocker made a point of indicating that the meetings were not to be characterized as bilateral between the U.S. and Iran. "The Iraqis were not only present and participating; in a very real sense, they took the lead in organizing discussion," said Crocker.

The first session was hosted by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while the final session was hosted by Iraq's National Security Advisor Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

In a teleconference Monday following the meeting, Crocker suggested that the U.S. was able to find some common ground with Iran. "At the level of policy and principle, the Iranian position, as articulated by the Iranian Ambassador, was very close to our own," said Crocker. He indicated that the common principles are "support for a stable, secure, democratic, federal Iraq that is able to control its borders, is at peace with its neighbors and is bringing prosperity to its citizens."

However, Crocker did point out some areas of concern for the U.S. with regard Iran in what the U.S. sees as "Iranian behavior inconsistent with stated Iranian policy." U.S. concerns on alleged Iranian support for insurgent militias in Iraq was brought up at the meeting. "We told the Iranians today that their support for armed militia groups that are challenging the authority of the Iraqi Government and attacking coalition soldiers needs to stop."

Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, suggested some common ground was found with the United States and described the talks as "positive". "Some problems have been raised and studied and I think this was a positive step," said Kazemi-Qomi. "In the political field, the two sides agreed to support and strengthen the Iraqi government, which was another positive item achieved in these talks," Kazemi-Qomi told Iranian television.

Iraq's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, stressed that the U.S. needed to admit its current policies in Iraq were not working. "We are hopeful that Washington's realistic outlook toward the current issues in Iraq, a confession about its failed policy there and the region as well as an indication of determination to change the policy would guarantee the success of the current talks and possible further negotiations."

Iran signaled it would be willing to participate in further talks with the United States. Kazemi-Qomi declared the meeting "a first step in negotiations between these two sides."

On the question of whether or not further meetings between Iraq, Iran and the United States might be held, Crocker stated that "the Iraqi side indicated that they would want to issue an invitation for another meeting sometime in the near future." Once the U.S. received an invitation, Crocker said they would "give it close consideration, but nothing was fixed in this meeting with respect to a follow-on meeting."