Reuters: The United States is open to holding more talks with Iran about Iraq's security, but it must first be confident that the talks are likely to make progress, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
By Adrian Croft
BAGHDAD, June 10 (Reuters) – The United States is open to holding more talks with Iran about Iraq's security, but it must first be confident that the talks are likely to make progress, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
At the same time, David Satterfield, the U.S. State Department's coordinator on Iraq, stepped up a war of words with Tehran over the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, saying "other states" must respect Iraqi sovereignty and not seek to turn Iraq into a battleground for their disputes with the United States.
U.S. and Iranian officials met three times last year to seek common ground on stabilizing Iraq in discussions arranged by Baghdad, but the talks have since stalled.
While there was no plan for another meeting, "this channel is one we have not closed and will not close," Satterfield told a news briefing.
"But it is important that we know that such talks are likely to be productive and successful before they are scheduled."
Washington accuses Tehran of arming, financing and training Shi'ite militia groups that launch attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran denies this and says the presence of American troops is to blame for the violence.
The United States and Iran are also at loggerheads over Iran's nuclear program and the Iraq talks have been one of the few forums in which they have had direct diplomatic contact.
In May, Tehran dismissed any prospect of imminent talks, accusing U.S. forces of a "massacre" of Iraqis, an apparent reference to an offensive against militants loyal to anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Washington responded it was "meaningless" to have talks with the Iranians "as long as they don't change their behavior."
Tehran is concerned that a new security pact being negotiated by Baghdad and Washington could lead to permanent U.S. bases in its neighbor, which the United States denies it wants.
Satterfield said the agreement poses no threat to Tehran and, referring to Iran, added: "Other states must also respect Iraq's sovereignty and not make Iraq a forum for their conflicts whether with respect to us, the United States, or others."
Satterfield said the United States was confident it could meet an end-July target to reach an accord with Iraq that will allow U.S. troops to remain when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year.
In Washington, the Bush administration moved to blunt criticism that it had not consulted Congress about the accord, saying officials involved in the talks with Iraq had offered to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
A committee aide said the briefing of committee staff would go ahead, but said the briefers were not senior officials. Last week the panel's chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, and other senators asked that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates appear before them to answer questions about the proposed accord with Iraq — and that request still stands, the aide said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington, editing by Patricia Zengerle)