Reuters: An Iranian delegation failed to meet U.S. officials in Baghdad for talks on security in Iraq and was forced to go home last week without meeting the Americans due to a mix-up over dates, Iraq’s foreign minister said.
By Waleed Ibrahim and Aws Qusay
BAGHDAD, March 9 (Reuters) – An Iranian delegation failed to meet U.S. officials in Baghdad for talks on security in Iraq and was forced to go home last week without meeting the Americans due to a mix-up over dates, Iraq’s foreign minister said.
Observers who closely follow the talks were left puzzled after Iran said they would start on March 6, the United States ambassador said no date had been set, and Iraq’s deputy prime minister said only that they would take place within the week.
Speculation veered between a deliberate snub by the Americans, who are at odds with Tehran over its nuclear programme, or a more likely breakdown in communication.
In his first comments on the mix-up, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday that “confusion in communication” was to blame.
The Iranians had proposed March 6, he said, but the Americans had not actually accepted the date before the Iranian delegation was sent from Tehran.
“It was a misunderstanding … They (U.S. officials) did not determine their agreement about this date. As you know, they need their experts, their translators. They needed more time,” he told Dubai-based Sharqiya television in an interview.
“Now what we have to do as the Iraqi government is fix another suitable date for the two sides and get a promise from both of them to commit to the date,” he said
The United States and Iran, which have not had diplomatic ties for almost three decades, held three rounds of talks last year on ways to help end violence in Iraq. Washington accuses Tehran of aiding Shi’ite militias, a charge the Iranians deny.
A fourth round of talks has been repeatedly postponed by Iran for “technical reasons”. The talks are one of the few forums in which officials from the arch-foes have direct contact.
Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, told Reuters on Sunday that his country was still committed to holding further talks, despite insisting that the March 6 date had in fact been proposed by the Americans.
The U.S. embassy has referred all queries on the Iraq-hosted talks to the Iraqi government.
“We are very keen to help the Iraqi government regarding security. This will not affect the Iranian stance towards talks with the Americans,” Qomi said.
U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith told a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday that the United States was “looking forward” to a new round of talks.
Smith said there was clear evidence that “elements from inside Iran” were still backing militias in Iraq, saying captured fighters had confirmed their accusations and U.S. forces regularly found caches containing Iranian-made weapons.
(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, writing by Ross Colvin)