Daily Telegraph: When nations as estranged as America and Iran hold face-to-face meetings for the first time in years, choreography matters as much as the words exchanged across the table. The Daily Telegraph
By Damien McElroy in Baghdad
When nations as estranged as America and Iran hold face-to-face meetings for the first time in years, choreography matters as much as the words exchanged across the table.
At a much-anticipated security summit in Iraq at the weekend, both the speeches and actions suggested Iran was not giving friendly signals to the United States. After a long day of diplomatic exchanges in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzhad, the US ambassador to Iraq, struggled to find words that cast the encounter in a positive light.
It was, he said, a “businesslike” meeting with “lively discussions”.
Yet as he entered the press room in the Iraqi foreign ministry, his Iranian counterpart walked out.
A man claiming to be a journalist who was part of Teheran’s delegation, circulated a transcript of the Iranian speech inside the talks. He wore the type of windcheater fashionable in Teheran since the extremist politician Mahmoud Ahmedinejad became president.
Iran’s primary demand was a call for a timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq. Did Iran state that America’s presence in Iraq was the cause of terrorism? “Yes,” the Iranian said.
Did Teheran offer any concessions that would flow from an American timetable for withdrawal? “No,” he said, with a smirk.
The Islamic Republic’s many points of disagreement with the country it officially derides as the “Great Satan” have coalesced into a low-level war in Iraq.
Iran is accused of supplying Shia insurgents with the training, finance and deadly munitions to kill American troops.
American forces in turn have detained Iranian operatives it accuses of belonging to the al Qods force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Iran insists the detainees enjoy diplomatic immunity and should be released, but America retorts it is holding no diplomats in Iraq.
Iran’s demand for US troops to begin withdrawing from its neighbour was met on Saturday night by President George W Bush with a commitment to increase the number of American military personnel by 4,400 servicemen.
The Baghdad summit, the first to be held in the city since 1990, was short on achievements.
One important aim was to work toward securing Iraq’s borders from infiltration, but in the end delegates could not even agree on the location of the next meeting.
Turkey has offered to host foreign ministers next month but Iraq is holding out for a return to Baghdad.
If the meeting is held in Istanbul, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, will attend, setting the stage for a highly symbolic meeting between cabinet officials from Washington and Teheran.
Two well-aimed projectiles – one hit a flat roof annexe to the main ministry building – appeared to have destroyed the Iraqi case.
Intense security was imposed for the meeting, with the majority of delegates flown in and out on a chartered jet.
With a direct mortar hit the extremists made clear the distance between international diplomacy and the determined streetfighters who have enfeebled the three-year old Iraqi government.
Despite the talk on Saturday of improving security in Iraq, at least 58 people were killed yesterday across the country in a wave of suicide bombs.
In the bloodiest attack, Shia pilgrims were targeted by a car bomb in Baghdad after returning from ceremonies marking the religious festival of Arbaeen in the city of Karbala. Police said 32 people died and dozens more were wounded when their convoy was hit by the explosion.
The Iraqi High Tribunal yesterday denied reports that the judge who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death has fled to Britain to seek political asylum. Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman and his family had in fact been “on vacation” in London since December, the court said.