Iran News ...


7/19/07

Iran and U.S. Governments Ready For New Direct Talks

By Andrew Tully
 
WASHINGTON, July 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran and the United States say they're hoping to hold a second round of direct talks on ways to stabilize Iraq. If a meeting can be arranged, it would be the first since the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad met with Iranian diplomats in the Iraqi capital nearly two months ago.
 
 
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on July 17 that any such meeting would be tightly focused on how to bring peace to Iraq and persuading Iran to stop giving aid to violent militias there.

"If there were to be such a meeting, then it would be an opportunity to directly convey to the Iranian government that their behavior in Iraq is not consistent with their stated public objectives for Iraq," McCormack said.

McCormack said Iranian activity in Iraq threatens not only the safety of U.S. forces there, but also the ability of the Iraqi government to establish security and stability for its people.

'Positive Role' In Iraq

A reporter asked McCormack if the United States believes Iran has increased its activities in Iraq since U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker met in Baghdad on May 28 with Iranian diplomats. McCormack declined to say whether there had been an increase, but said there hasn't been a decline.

While accusing Iraq of foul play in Iraq, McCormack briefly struck a conciliatory tone. He said that until recently, Iran has been helpful by not interfering with the efforts of the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to stabilize his country. McCormack said he hoped Tehran was finally prepared to do the same in Iraq.

"It could be helpful, it could be useful to be able to have that direct exchange and to convey a message once again directly to them. But we'll see. This is entirely dependent upon the Iranians and what they decide to do vis a vis Iraq," McCormack said. "We would hope that they would want to play a positive role in Iraq. They've stated that they want to play a positive role in Iraq, and they've demonstrated in other areas such as Afghanistan that they can -- should they wish to -- play a positive role."

Tensions Remain High

McCormack spoke only hours after Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told a news conference in Tehran that his country was willing to hold more talks with the United States. But he said the United States had yet to request a meeting.

Since the last face-to-face meeting, tensions have risen between Iran and the United States. Washington has been demanding that Iran release four Iranian-Americans who are being held on charges of endangering Iran's national security. U.S. officials say the charges are fabricated.

Iran, meanwhile, wants U.S. officials in Iraq to release five Iranians accused of training and equipping Iraqi Shi'ite fighters. Iran says the prisoners are diplomats.

McCormack was also asked if these issues, as well as perhaps Iran's nuclear program, might be topics at a meeting of U.S. and Iranian officials. He said no, and that the ground rules for this meeting would be every bit as strict as those for the meeting in May.

"As in past instances when we've discussed this, a couple things apply: One, it applies solely to Iraq. Two, it's not a negotiating channel," McCormack said.

McCormack declined to give details of how the two countries would go about setting up a meeting. In Tehran, Mottaki said a request for talks would go through official channels, indicating the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.

Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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