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Iran denies report it sent message on direct talks to U.S. via Iraq


Source: Tehran Times

The Iranian ambassador to Iraq on Friday dismissed a report by New York Times that Tehran had sent a message to the United States about bilateral talks through Iraqi officials. "The news is not true and has no basis in fact," Ambassador Hassan Danaeifar told ISNA.

On Thursday, the New York Times quoted Western officials as saying that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had told the Obama administration this month that Iran was interested in direct talks with the United States on Iran's nuclear program, and said that Iraq was prepared to facilitate the negotiations.

According to the report, in a meeting in early July with the American ambassador in Baghdad, Mr. Maliki suggested that he was relaying a message from Iranian officials and asserted that Hassan Rohani, Iran's incoming president, would be serious about any discussions with the United States, according to accounts of the meeting.

Although Mr. Maliki indicated that he had been in touch with confidants of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he did not disclose precisely whom he was dealing with on the Iranian side. Some Western officials remain uncertain whether Iran's leaders have sought to use Iraq as a conduit or whether the idea is mainly Mr. Maliki's initiative.

According to the New York Times, U.S. State Department officials declined to comment on Mr. Maliki's move or what steps the United States might have taken in response. American officials have said since the beginning of the Obama administration that they would be open to direct talks with Iran.

"Iraq is a partner of the United States, and we are in regular conversations with Iraqi officials about a full range of issues of mutual interest, including Iran," said Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman.

Gary Samore, who served as the senior aide on nonproliferation issues at the National Security Council during President Obama's first term in office, said that it was plausible that Iran would use Iraq to send a message about its willingness to discuss nuclear issues.

"The Iranians see Maliki as somebody they have some trust in," said Mr. Samore, who is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. "From Maliki's standpoint, it would serve a number of different purposes. He does not want to be squeezed between Washington and Tehran."

"The establishment of a bilateral channel is a necessary but not sufficient condition for coming to an agreement," Mr. Samore said.

Mr. Maliki, Western officials said, is not the only Iraqi politician who has encouraged a dialogue between the United States and Iran. Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of a major Shiite party in Iraq, is also said to have made that point, according to the report.

During the war in Iraq, Iraqi officials also urged direct dealings between the United States and Iran.

Talks were held in Baghdad, but they were focused on the conflict in Iraq and not the nuclear question.

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