AP: Iran will not necessarily have direct talks with the United States if it attends an upcoming regional conference about Iraq’s security crisis, an Iranian official said Sunday. Associated Press
By NASSER KARIMI
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran will not necessarily have direct talks with the United States if it attends an upcoming regional conference about Iraq’s security crisis, an Iranian official said Sunday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said Iran will announce “in the near future” whether it will attend the March 10 conference in Baghdad. Syria, the United States, Britain and France have said they will participate.
Hosseini claimed the U.S. has proposed holding direct discussions with Iran over Iraq. Iranian officials have made those claims in the past, but U.S. officials have not confirmed proposing any talks.
“Recently, the United States has proposed negotiations with Iran through different channels over the Iraq issue,” Hosseini said. “Meeting with Americans on the sidelines of the Baghdad conference is not on the agenda of Iran, for the time being.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the surprise announcement Tuesday that a U.S. diplomat will be at the conference and that she herself will go to a later session. In December, the White House dismissed the recommendation from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that it reach out to Syria and Iran to try to stabilize Iraq.
On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told CNN’s “Late Edition” that he would represent the United States at the conference. He also said the U.S. has not decided if there will be any bilateral talks but “will be prepared to play our role as constructively as possible.”
Khalilzad said there were recent indications that Iran was interested in dialogue over Iraq, and the U.S. was “prepared to talk” with the Iranians about U.S. accusations that Iran is sending weapons to Iraqi militants.
Iran has said in past months it would be willing to discuss Iraq’s violence with the United States, but tensions have increased dramatically between the two countries recently.
President Bush has stepped up accusations that Iran is backing Shiite militants in Iraq. The U.S. military has strengthened its presence in the Gulf and detained a number of Iranians in Iraq. Washington is also leading a push for stronger sanctions against Iran over its nuclear defiance.
Syria’s Al-Baath state newspaper said in an editorial Sunday that the Baghdad conference should open the way for future talks between Syria and the United States, whose relations have been strained for years.
“How could attendees of a conference who are sitting at the same table ignore each other?” said Al-Baath. “The entire region sees in the conference a glimpse of hope and optimism to start a series of solutions.”
Washington accuses Syria of allowing militants to cross into Iraq, a claim Syria denies. Last week, a the Syrian government called Washington’s decision to attend the conference a step toward comprehensive dialogue with Syria on the Middle East.
Associated Press Writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.