AP: The United States didn’t invite Iran to an international conference on Iraq reconstruction, which became awkwardly clear Thursday when a European diplomat said Iran is welcome in spite of long-standing enmity between Washington and the Islamic regime in Tehran. Associated Press
By ANNE GEARAN
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON – The United States didn’t invite Iran to an international conference on Iraq reconstruction, which became awkwardly clear Thursday when a European diplomat said Iran is welcome in spite of long-standing enmity between Washington and the Islamic regime in Tehran.
The European Union and Iraq are joining the United States in hosting the conference on June 22 in Brussels. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced plans for the conference last month while in Iraq, and the State Department released details this week. Iran’s participation had not been mentioned until a reporter asked about it during a press conference with European diplomats at the State Department.
Rice gave no direct response. Instead, she ticked off U.S. and international complaints about Iran, including allegations that Iran supports terrorists, thwarts Mideast peace and may be developing a nuclear weapon. Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students in 1979.
“We don’t have relations with Iran. Everybody understands that. And we have our differences with Iran,” she said.
Then Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, noting that his country has the presidency of the European Union, told reporters: “Luxembourg has relations with Iran. Iran are invited.”
Rice quickly followed Asselborn’s statement by saying the United States has no objection to including Iran. “We want Iran and Iraq to have good, neighborly, transparent relations. And to the degree that this serves that cause, we’re all for it,” she said.
It is not clear whether Iran will attend the one-day conference.
Separately, Rice said the United States has a heavy joint agenda with Europe that should not be affected by the European Union’s stumble over ratification of a common constitution. Voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution, which would have streamlined operations of the 25-member alliance.
“We understand that this has been a difficult period and that there will be some period of reflection going forward, but we continue to hope for an outward-looking Europe, not an inward-looking one,” Rice said.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner tried to be reassuring. A united Europe will continue to work alongside the United States to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and on Iraq, she said.
“We are able to work with you as well today as we did yesterday. And some people have suggested we will now be too absorbed in our own crisis to pursue our external policies. I promise you, this will not be the case.”
Rice also offered a skeptical view about Iranian presidential elections scheduled for later this month. Iran’s hard-line watchdog Guardian Council has severely limited the number of candidates who can participate, although it recently bowed to pressure and allowed two reformist candidates to run.
“I mean, it’s … not a very pretty picture of this election, quote-unquote, that is going to take place in a couple of weeks when candidates have been summarily dismissed by an unelected Guardian Council,” Rice said.
Iran shares a long border with Iraq, and the two nations fought a lengthy war in the 1980s. They share many historical, religious and cultural bonds, however, and some members of Iraq’s new government have old ties to Iran.
The United States has said little in public about Iranian influence over Iraq since the successful Iraqi elections in January, but Rice brought it up Thursday.
“I have never believed that the Iraqi people, having thrown off the yoke of Saddam Hussein, now wish to subject themselves to the rule of the Guardian Council of Iran,” she said. “And so I really do believe that the Iraqis, left to their own devices, will find their own path.”
Rice said she discussed Iran with the Iraqi foreign minister during a meeting in Washington on Wednesday.
“We would like nothing better than for Iran to be devoted to a stable Iraq in which Iran is not trying to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs,” Rice said.