Reuters: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said no decision had been made on holding bilateral talks with Iran on the sidelines of a regional meeting this week in Baghdad, and any talks would focus on arms smuggling. BAGHDAD, March 4 (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said no decision had been made on holding bilateral talks with Iran on the sidelines of a regional meeting this week in Baghdad, and any talks would focus on arms smuggling.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Khalilzad said the aim of the March 10 meeting of regional countries and world powers was to get Iraq’s neighbours to contribute to stabilising the country. He said it was not clear who would attend from Iran.
“We have not decided at this point with regard to anything bilateral (with Iran) but we will be prepared to play our role as constructively as possible,” Khalilzad said.
“There have been some recent indications that they are interested in a dialogue with regard to Iraq.”
The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and is involved in a war of words to stop Tehran’s nuclear programme which Iran says is aimed solely at producing electricity.
Washington also accuses Iran and Syria of fomenting violence in Iraq by smuggling weapons and supporting armed groups, charges both countries deny.
The March 10 meeting will bring together working-level officials in Baghdad before a second, involving ministers, that may be held as early as April, according to U.S. officials.
With violence raging four years after the U.S. invasion, President George W. Bush is under pressure from allies and some at home, including the high-level Iraq Study Group, to engage the two countries in dialogue on Iraq.
Khalilzad said a key concern was roadside bombs known as “explosively formed projectiles (EFPs)”, which have killed a large number of U.S. soldiers. U.S. military officials say the components are made in Iran.
“It is my understanding that EFPs do come across the border and there is continuing support and assistance from elements in Iran to elements in Iraq. That continues,” he said. The U.S. military believed the Quds force, part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was behind the shipments of weapons, he said.
“Should the opportunity arise to talk to the Iranians we will focus on the weapons that come across the border,” he said. “The purpose of any talks that take place, the bilateral talks, will be very much the security of our forces.”
Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, interviewed on the same programme on CNN, said that while U.S. forces were determined to hunt down any Iranians responsible for smuggling such weapons into Iraq, they would do so only inside Iraq.
“We will not go into Iran to deal with them. I will deal with them inside of Iraq,” Odierno said.
Iran, which has close links to many of the Shi’ite parties dominating Iraq’s government, has said it is considering the invitation to the March 10 meeting.