Washington Post: The United States and Iran will hold a second round of critical talks on the future of Iraq in the next 10 days, possibly as early as Saturday, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials. The initiative comes despite mounting tensions between the two nations on such issues as Iran’s nuclear program and the fate of imprisoned Americans in Tehran. Washington Post
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007; Page A14
The United States and Iran will hold a second round of critical talks on the future of Iraq in the next 10 days, possibly as early as Saturday, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials. The initiative comes despite mounting tensions between the two nations on such issues as Iran’s nuclear program and the fate of imprisoned Americans in Tehran.
U.S. and Iranian officials yesterday welcomed a second meeting between their top envoys in Baghdad. “We look positively at holding a second round of talks,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a Tehran news conference.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the meeting is needed because Iran’s actions are leading to further instability in Iraq.
“We think that . . . it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting to directly convey to the Iranian authorities that if they wish to see a more stable, secure, peaceful Iraq — which is what they have said they would like to see — that they need to change their behavior,” he told reporters.
The first meeting between U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi on May 28 was designed to create mechanisms for improving cooperation to stabilize Iraq. But tensions have increased. The Green Zone in Baghdad has come under sustained shelling three times, and the southern city of Basra has been pounded — both by Shiite militias that are supported and armed by Iran, U.S. officials said yesterday.
“If there is another meeting, I suspect that we would convey to the Iranians that they say they would like strategic stability in Iraq, and if that is in fact the case, they’re certainly going about it in an odd way,” McCormack said.
The State Department said that Tehran must end its support for militias that are exacerbating sectarian tensions and stop providing explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, which are used against armored vehicles and have been tied to many U.S. deaths.
Even as Washington agreed to the second round of talks, the State Department lashed out at Iran for “parading” imprisoned Americans Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh on Iranian television yesterday. It called on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to intervene to block a documentary scheduled to run tonight with alleged confessions from the Americans.
“These two individuals have labored for years to build bridges of understanding between our two countries; their efforts should be recognized as a benefit to both our nations,” McCormack said in a statement yesterday. “We call upon Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei to treat these people with the respect they deserve, to put an end to any further broadcasts, and to release all Americans currently being held on groundless charges.”
The detained Americans include Esfandiari, a Potomac resident and scholar at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Tajbakhsh, of the Open Society Institute; and California businessman Ali Shakeri, who are all jailed in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Parnaz Azima, a correspondent with Radio Farda, has been blocked from leaving Iran.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Human Rights Watch called on the United States yesterday to release five Iranians it has detained in Iraq since January. The advocacy group said that the Iranians should be turned over to the Iraqi government for trial if they committed crimes rather than be held without charges along with thousands of other “security detainees,” largely foreign fighters, in Iraq.
Even as U.S. and Iranian officials prepare to talk, the Bush administration is discussing a third Security Council resolution that would impose tough new sanctions on Tehran for not complying with a U.N. mandate to suspend its uranium-enrichment efforts.
The ongoing U.S.-Iran dialogue, the first overt diplomacy between the two nations in almost three decades, is part of the scramble to produce progress on several fronts in the Middle East as the Bush administration moves into its final phase. But U.S. officials concede that they remain a long way from any real breakthroughs.
The White House is already playing down expectations after President Bush’s announcement Monday of a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference this fall to bring together major parties involved in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. White House press secretary Tony Snow said that it should be viewed not as a “big international peace conference” but rather as an exploratory meeting.
“This is a meeting to sit down and try to find ways of building fundamental and critical institutions for the Palestinians that are going to enable them to have self-government and democracy,” Snow told reporters.