News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqINTERVIEW-Iraq frustrated at delays to Iran/US talks- Zebari

INTERVIEW-Iraq frustrated at delays to Iran/US talks- Zebari

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Reuters: Iraq expects to host more talks between U.S. and Iranian officials on improving Iraq’s security but is frustrated by repeated delays, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday.
By Dean Yates

BAGHDAD, April 13 (Reuters) – Iraq expects to host more talks between U.S. and Iranian officials on improving Iraq’s security but is frustrated by repeated delays, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday.

Zebari said his government had been trying since November to get a fourth round of talks held in Baghdad. Both Tehran and Washington had committed to fresh dialogue although Zebari said he did not have a date for a meeting.

The U.S.-Iranian security talks are one of the few forums in which officials from the two bitter foes have direct contact. Diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran have been frozen for almost three decades.

“We need a commitment by the parties to stick to the agreed date. This is not happening,” Zebari said in an interview.

“We agree on a date, we pass it to both sides. We get the the approval from both sides, then when the date comes there is always some last-minute stumbling block or change of mind.”

U.S. and Iranian officials met three times last year to seek common ground on stabilising Iraq in talks arranged by the Baghdad government. The last time was in August.

Washington accuses Iran of giving weapons, training and funds to Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

Tehran denies the charges and blames the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 for violence in its neighbour. Both sides are also embroiled in a row over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In February, Iran postponed a fourth round of talks two days before they were to be held, prompting U.S. officials to question Tehran’s commitment to the dialogue. Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad blamed “technical issues” for that delay.

“RENEWED COMMITMENT”

Despite the frustrations, Zebari said he expected to get another round convened.

“I think we will be able to get one. Recently we have had a renewed commitment from both sides,” he said.

The top two U.S. officials in Iraq accused Iran last week of fuelling recent fighting in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, where security forces have battled Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

For several days late last month splinter Mehdi Army groups, that Washington says are equipped by Iran, also fired barrages of rockets and mortars at the Green Zone government and diplomatic zone in Baghdad. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has said many of those munitions were made in Iran in 2007.

Asked if Iraq had made any representations to Tehran about the most recent U.S. allegations, Zebari said:

“There has been, but not through (the Foreign Ministry) channels, I think through the prime minister’s channels.

“Our position is we need to ask Iran and other neighbours to refrain from interfering in our internal affairs.”

Zebari said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki would attend a regional meeting on Iraq in Kuwait on April 22. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also be there.

But Zebari said he had no plans to try to get Mottaki and Rice to meet on the sidelines of the meeting of Iraq’s neighbours as well as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The meeting is a follow-on from two other gatherings of Iraq’s neighbors that were held in Turkey and Egypt last year. (Editing by Matthew Jones)

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