News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran minimises brief US encounter

Iran minimises brief US encounter

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AFP: Iran on Sunday minimised the extent of contacts with arch-enemy the United States at a conference in Egypt on Iraq’s security, saying the only meeting between the two sides lasted just minutes. by Farhad Pouladi

TEHRAN, May 6, 2007 (AFP) – Iran on Sunday minimised the extent of contacts with arch-enemy the United States at a conference in Egypt on Iraq’s security, saying the only meeting between the two sides lasted just minutes.

Contact between Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was restricted to Mottaki saying a general “hello” to a gathering of top diplomats, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

The only talks at the meeting Thursday and Friday were between US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. But Hosseini played down the significance of even this rare contact.

“It was a passing conversation about the agenda. I wonder if you could call it a meeting? It was a passing and quick encounter that lasted three minutes,” he said.

On Mottaki’s contact with Rice, Hosseini emphasised: “There was no negotiation at all.

“There was no special meeting. There was a luncheon hosted by the Egyptian foreign minister and there were 30 foreign ministers. He (Mottaki) entered the hall, said hello, and there were others present too,” he added.

Expectations had been high at the conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Thursday and Friday that Mottaki and Rice would hold the highest level bilateral contact between the two sides since the United States cut relations in 1980.

But the lack of talks underlined the hostility between Washington and Tehran, who remain at odds over the Iranian nuclear programme and Iran’s role in Iraq.

The atmosphere between the two sides never warmed with Mottakki slamming the US role in Iraq in his speech and then walking out of a dinner, where he was seated close to Rice, in protest at the violinist’s dress, which he reportedly considered too revealing.

Mottaki, in an interview with Al-Arabiya to be broadcast later Sunday, said there was no point holding talks with Rice just to please official protocol.

“We look at this matter from the point of view of content and not one of formality,” he said.

Mottaki added talks could only be held if the United States showed signs of changing its conduct in Iraq and also the proper preparations were made. But he also left the door open for such an encounter in the future,

“We have, as appropriate, told them that if they are really determined to solve the Iraqi issue some set steps have to be taken. We cannot say when (there will be talks) but it could be soon.”

Tensions have also intensified in recent months over the arrest by the United States of seven Iranians accused of being operatives of the elite Qods brigade intent on stirring trouble.

Hosseini indicated that there is hope that the detainees, whom Tehran insists are merely diplomats, would be allowed their first meeting with families since their detention.

“They made a promise for the end of this week (for a meeting with the families) but it needs more certainty and emphasis,” he said, apparently referring to the Iraqi government.

The United States arrested five Iranians in late January who were working at an Iranian office in the northern city of Arbil. It is still not clear where and when the two others were arrested.

In contrast to the lack of contact between Iran and the United States, Rice held half an hour of talks with her Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem. However Iran said it was unperturbed by the meeting with its top regional ally.

“Syria is an independent country and has made its decisions without taking into account the opinions of third parties. This will have no impact on ties between Iran and Syria,” said Hosseini.

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