AFP: The US State Department sought Monday to play down plans for the highest-level contact with Iran in decades, saying it would focus
on Iraq and have little impact on ruptured bilateral ties. WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (AFP) – The US State Department sought Monday to play down plans for the highest-level contact with Iran in decades, saying it would focus on Iraq and have little impact on ruptured bilateral ties.
Spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed plans by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Baghdad, to reach out to Tehran for assistance in quelling the unrest that has plagued Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003.
But he said any such contacts would have no consequence for bilateral relations with the Islamic republic that were broken off after US diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage in 1979.
“It’s a very narrow mandate that he has, and it deals specifically with issues related to Iraq,” McCormack told reporters at a State Department briefing.
Khalilzad told ABC television Monday that talks with Tehran, which the US has assailed as a sponsor of terrorism and would-be nuclear power, were to “encourage Iranian positive behavior and discourage negative Iranian behavior” toward Iraq.
“We are not seeking hostile relations between Iraq and Iran … I think we will be talking very frankly and encouraging Iran not to interfere with the new Iraqi affairs,” he said, adding that he had previously met Iran officials when he was a US envoy in Afghanistan.
McCormack said there were precedents for dealing with Iran within the “six plus two” process, the program that groups six neighbors of Afghanistan with Russia and the United States to deal with Afghan issues.
The United States has also sought Tehran’s help to seal off its border to Iraqi insurgents and to avoid meddling with the country’s Shiite majority.
The US administration has used the United Nations or Swiss channels to keep indirect contacts with Iran, which President George W. Bush famously labeled part of an “axis of evil.”
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signaled last month that Washington was looking at the possibility of direct contact with Iran as part of efforts to get on top of the violence in Iraq.
“We’re considering whether that might be useful,” Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 19.
McCormack was unable to say whether Khalilzad had actually held or scheduled any meetings but insisted that an approach to the Iranians was logical given their proximity to the Iraqis.
“They share a long border, and there are a number of issues of which they can work together … in an atmosphere of mutual respect and transparency,” he said.
“And inasmuch as Ambassador Khalilzad needs to work through any of those issues in Baghdad (with the Iranians), it would be specifically related to Iraq,” McCormack said.