Iran, US Talk in Baghdad
- Iran, US to hold first talks in 27 years
From correspondents in Washington
May 28, 2007
WASHINGTON and Tehran open their first substantial talks in 27 years
in Baghdad today, with both countries setting modest goals and
limiting discussions to ways to quell the chaos in Iraq.
US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is set to meet Iranian ambassador
Hassan Kazemi in the highest-level official bilateral talks between
the two sides since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The US and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 after radical
students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans
hostage for 444 days.
US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the talks would be held
"in Baghdad, at an Iraqi government facility," giving no further
details for security reasons.
An Iraqi representative will join them at the start of the talks,
which will then continue behind closed doors. There will be no
official statement, but Mr Crocker said there could be a press
conference at the US embassy after the event.
Bad relations don't serve Iraq
The meeting follows a brief encounter between US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, on
May 4 at a conference on Iraq held at the Egyptian resort of Sharm
"Bad relations between the two countries does not serve Iraq, and Iraq
has paid the price for the tension between the two countries," said
Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
"We don't want Iraq to be an arena for fighting between the two
sides," Mr Dabbagh said on Wednesday.
Washington accuses Tehran of fomenting violence by arming and training
radical Shiite militias. Tehran in turn says peace will not be
restored in Iraq until US forces leave.
Nuclear program off limits
Washington also accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, demands
Tehran freeze its uranium enrichment operations, and has not ruled out
military strikes to thwart Iran's nuclear drive. Iran says its atomic
drive is peaceful and that it has every right to the full fuel cycle.
Iran's nuclear program however is not on the agenda for today's talks.
"These talks will not affect our nuclear issue, because we are not
interested," Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, deputy head of the Iran's
National Security Council, told ISNA news agency today. "The talks
will solely focus on the stability and security of Iraq as it has been
requested by Iraqi people and government."
Mr Casey confirmed only Iraq would be on the agenda.
"It's not a forum for discussion about other events."
Spy networks accusation
Iran today accused Washington of running spy networks aimed at
carrying out "sabotage" operations in its sensitive border provinces
in western, south-western and central Iran, according to Iran's state
media, possibly darkening the atmosphere in the talks.
Iran's intelligence ministry said yesterday it had broken up spy
networks led by coalition forces in Iraq, but the comments were the
first time the US has been directly accused.
The new allegations come at a time when Iran is also charging the US
of seeking to carry out a "Velvet Revolution" by peacefully toppling
the Islamic authorities through various initiatives.
Limited results expected
Despite the strong symbolism, the Baghdad meeting will likely yield
limited results, said Anthony Cordesman, with the Washington-based
Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think-tank.
"Iran's position on meeting with the US to talk about Iraq has been
hostile beyond the usual standards of pre-conference posturing and
leverage," said Mr Cordesman.
Mr Cordesman said the recent arrest in Iran of at least three
Iranian-American researchers accused of working to undermine the
Islamic regime were "a grim warning that dialogue with this Iranian
government may have very little near-term benefits".
US forces are also holding five Iranians arrested on January 11 in the
northern Iraqi city of Arbil. Iran says the men are diplomats, but US
officials suspect they are involved in supplying advanced roadside
bombs to Iraqi insurgents to use against US forces.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last week Tehran
would merely use the Baghdad talks to remind Washington of its
"occupiers' duty" in Iraq.
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