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Iran to tell coalition forces to leave Iraq at summit in Egypt


The Guardian: Iran will tell the US and Britain to get their troops out of Iraq and leave the problem for neighbouring countries to sort out when regional and western foreign ministers, including the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, meet at a special Iraq summit in Egypt later this week. The Guardian

· Both sides unofficially express need for dialogue
· Tehran believes security is a regional concern

Simon Tisdall in Tehran

Iran will tell the US and Britain to get their troops out of Iraq and leave the problem for neighbouring countries to sort out when regional and western foreign ministers, including the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, meet at a special Iraq summit in Egypt later this week.

Although no bilateral meetings between Ms Rice and her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, have been planned in advance, both sides have indicated willingness to talk on the sidelines of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference about Iraq’s security, including insurgent activities and border issues.

But Iran’s message, whether delivered across the conference table or in private, is likely to be an uncompromising one, officials here indicated.

“We believe it would be to the benefit of both the occupiers and the Iraqi people that they [the coalition forces”> withdraw immediately,” said Mohammad Reza Bagheri, deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs with primary responsibility for Iran’s policy in Iraq.

“In Iraq there is an elected government and parliament and the other government institutions are functioning. They must be allowed to do as they wish. It is better that the US and Britain withdraw and let neighbouring countries assist them.

“Neighbouring countries are not willing to ransack the country. They do not want what is not theirs. When we speak of American and English people, historically they have acted as colonialists and ransackers,” Mr Bagheri added.

David Satterfield, the state department’s Iraq coordinator, said this week that the US would not spurn the opportunity for a “useful dialogue” with Iran.

Mr Satterfield said Ms Rice would call for an end to Iranian involvement in the infiltration of foreign jihadis and weapons into Iraq, as well as a halt to Iranian training of Shia militiamen.

Opposition sources here say that despite repeated government denials, Iran continues to operate training camps for Shia fighters in Tehran province and near the city of Shiraz, in southern Iran.

Speaking during an interview at the foreign ministry in Tehran, Mr Bagheri said Iran viewed all such allegations as false propaganda intended to discredit the Islamic revolution and divide the Muslim world. “The Americans have not been entirely successful in their policies in Iraq. They are trying to cover up their faults and wrongdoings by accusing Iran,” he said.

Iran had developed good relations with all groups in Iraq, including Kurds and Arabs, Mr Bagheri said. “We believe there is not much difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims, not just in Iraq but internationally. We support Hizbullah [in Lebanon”> which is Shia, and Hamas [in Palestine”> which is Sunni. We have the same level of friendship with [Abdul Aziz”> Hakim and Sciri [the Shia Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq”> as with Sunni leaders.”

Despite facing UN sanctions over its nuclear programme and western political and economic ostracism, Iran’s approach to the conference appears to be that the US needs its help more than it needs US approval. Officials here are well aware of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations and subsequent congressional calls for the Bush administration to talk to Iran.

Last week Ms Rice encouraged Mr Mottaki to go to Sharm el-Sheikh, saying Iran’s absence would be a “missed opportunity”. A meeting between them would be the highest-level official contact between Iran and the US since the 1979 Iranian revolution and the subsequent break in diplomatic relations.

From Washington’s point of view, bilateral talks, while potentially calming relations between the two sides, have added value as part of a broader effort to strengthen regional support for the Iraqi government of the prime minister, Nour al-Maliki, and underpin the Baghdad security “surge” led by the US commander, General David Petraeus.

Despite Iran’s hard line ahead of the conference, finding some common ground may still be possible. Mr Bagheri dismissed suggestions that Tehran regarded Mr Maliki as too “pro-Arab” and “pro-western” and was seeking to replace him with a more malleable figure. “We want a stabilised Iraq which is not destabilising for us. We want to be at ease mentally about what is happening there,” he said. “From the beginning of Mr Maliki’s government he was always supported by us. We believe that he is a good and strong manager who can drag Iraq to stability.”

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