U.S. Willing to Talk With Iran About Iraq
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer 6 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - The United States said Thursday it was
prepared to talk with Iran about Iraq, but said any
discussions must be restricted to that topic and not
include other contentious subjects like Tehran's
suspected nuclear weapons program.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is
authorized to talk with Iran about Iraq, much as the
United States has talked with Iran about issues
relating to Afghanistan, White House press secretary
Scott McClellan said.
"But this is a very narrow mandate dealing
specifically with issues relating to Iraq," McClellan
said. U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program are
being dealt with at the United Nations. "That's a
separate issue from this," McClellan said.
The White House statement came after Ali Larijani,
Iran's top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the
country's Supreme National Security Council, said
Tehran was ready to open direct talks with the United
States over Iraq, marking a major shift in Iranian
President Bush has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's
affairs and of sending weapons and men to help
insurgents in Iraq.
Months ago, however, Bush authorized Zhalilzad to
speak with Iranian diplomats about Iraq-related
issues. The ambassador followed up by approaching the
Iranians in Baghdad. The response was that Iran was
not interested in a dialogue exclusively about Iraq,
said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was not authorized to make public
If Iran is willing to talk about its military support
for Iraqi militia, including explosives, the United
States would be interested in pursuing talks, the
But if Iran wants to talk about intervening in the
Iraqi political process, the Bush administration would
not be interested, he said.
In weighing Larijani's initiative, Bush administration
officials are trying to determine whether the Iranian
senior nuclear negotiator was speaking for the Iranian
The next step is for Iranian diplomats in Baghdad to
indicate what Iran proposes specifically to talk to
the United States about, the official said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently said Iran's
Revolutionary Guards had been assisting the smuggling
of explosives and bomb-making material into Iraq.
Tehran has denied the U.S. charges, saying the
occupying forces were responsible for the instability
Larijani also said any talks between the U.S. and Iran
would deal only with Iraqi issues. But it's the first
time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that Iran had
officially called for dialogue with the United States,
which it has repeatedly condemned as "the Great
"To resolve Iraqi issues and help establishment of an
independent and free government in Iraq, we agree to
(talks with the United States)," Larijani said after a
closed meeting of the parliament Thursday.
The proposal to hold direct talks on Iraq came in
response to a request a day earlier from senior Iraqi
Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.
Al-Hakim has close ties to Iran, and heads one of the
main Shiite parties in Iraq, the Supreme Council for
the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
"I demand the leadership in Iran open a clear dialogue
with America about Iraq," al-Hakim said. "It is in the
interests of the Iraqi people that such dialogue is
opened and to find an understanding on various
Larijani said Iran will officially name negotiators
for direct talks with the United States but declined
to give further details.
"These talks will merely be about resolving Iraqi
issues," he told the parliament, without singling out
Predominantly Shiite Iran also has expressed grave
concerns about the prospect of more violence in Iraq,
where bloody sectarian fighting and reprisal killings
have broken out in recent weeks.
The United States broke off diplomatic relations with
Iran in 1979 after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was
seized by students to protest Washington's refusal to
hand over Iran's former monarch to Iran for trial.
Militant students held 52 Americans hostage for 444
Tehran-Washington relations began thawing after the
1997 election of former President Mohammad Khatami,
who called for cultural and athletic exchanges to help
bring down the wall of mistrust between both
But relations worsened after President Bush named Iran
as part of an "axis of evil" and after the election of
hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and
growing differences over Iran's nuclear activities.
The U.S. accuses Iran of using its civilian nuclear
program as a cover to build atomic weapons, but Tehran
denies this, saying its nuclear program is geared
merely toward generating electricity, not a bomb.