Reuters: Washington’s top official in Iraq said he told an Iranian delegation that Tehran should stop supporting militias in Iraq but described rare talks between the two foes on Monday as positive. By Ross Colvin
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Washington’s top official in Iraq said he told an Iranian delegation that Tehran should stop supporting militias in Iraq but described rare talks between the two foes on Monday as positive.
United States Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the talks, the first high-profile discussions between the two countries in almost three decades, ended without setting a date for another meeting.
“The talks proceeded positively. What we need to see is Iranian action on the ground,” Crocker told reporters.
There was no immediate comment from the Iranian team after the talks.
“I laid out before the Iranians a number of our direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq, their support for militias that are fighting both the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces,” Crocker said.
“The fact (is) that a lot of the explosives and ammunitions that are used by these groups are coming in from Iran … Such activities … need to cease and … we would be looking for results,” he added.
Crocker said the Iranian delegation, led by Iraq Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, did not respond directly to the charges other than to express their support for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
As if to underscore the sole topic of the meeting — sectarian violence in Iraq — a car bomb exploded in the busy commercial area of Sinak in central Baghdad, killing 19 people and wounding 46 others shortly after the talks broke up.
Washington has long accused Tehran of fomenting violence in Iraq by supporting Shi’ite militias. The U.S. military has put on display what it says are Iranian-made rockets, mortars and sophisticated roadside bombs seized in Iraq.
Iran denies the charge and has called on U.S. forces to leave Iraq, saying their presence is fuelling sectarian violence between majority Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs who were dominant under Saddam.
Maliki said before the start of the meeting in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad that Iraq would not be a launchpad for any attacks on neighboring states, an apparent reference to Iranian fears of a U.S. attack.
Crocker and Kazemi-Qomi met at Maliki’s office, shaking hands before sitting across the table from each other.
While mid-ranking officials from Iran and the United States have met occasionally in the past, Monday’s talks are the most widely publicized bilateral talks since the start of the 1980s.
Washington severed formal diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980.
U.S. and Iranian officials did not expect any breakthroughs from the talks, which came as U.S. warships hold war games in the Gulf and after Tehran said it had uncovered spy networks on its territory run by the United States and its allies.
The talks did not touch on Tehran’s continued stand-off with the West over its nuclear program.
Iran says its atomic work is for the peaceful generation of electricity but the United States says it is being used to develop a nuclear bomb.
(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Tehran)