News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran says it's ready for talks with the U.S....

Iran says it’s ready for talks with the U.S. on Iraq


Bloomberg: Iran is ready to hold talks with the U.S. on Iraq, the country’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said, signaling a shift in Iran’s policy toward the U.S. for the first time in more than two decades. March 16 (Bloomberg) — Iran is ready to hold talks with the U.S. on Iraq, the country’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said, signaling a shift in Iran’s policy toward the U.S. for the first time in more than two decades.

“We will appoint a negotiating team for talks soon,” Larijani told Iran’s parliament during a closed session, the state-run Iranian news agency IRNA reported. The comment came in response to an offer by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of one of Iraq’s main Shiite parties, who yesterday called on Iran to “start a dialogue” with the U.S.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad is already authorized to talk with Iran on this one issue, White House spokesman Fred Jones said in Washington. As for starting broader discussions on Iran’s nuclear program, Jones said this is not an issue to be discussed between Iran and the U.S. “It is a matter to be discussed with the international community,” he said.

U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have talked publicly this week about the potential for a civil war breaking out between Iraq’s Shiite majority and the Sunni minority that ruled the country under Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld and other U.S. policy makers have said they are still optimistic that Iraq’s feuding political factions will settle their differences and create a durable national government.

Iran accepted al-Hakim’s offer to “help establish an independent government and real freedom in that country,” IRNA quoted Larijani as saying. Khalilzad last week also called for “limited” discussions with Iran over its relationship with Iraq. Iranian officials initially rejected the idea.

President George W. Bush’s spokesman, Scott McClellan, said today that talks have been held with Iran in the past on issues such as Afghanistan. Khalilzad’s role in discussing Iraq with Iran is “a very narrow mandate,” he said.

The U.S. cut diplomatic ties with Iran after Islamic militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, holding 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. Since 1995, the U.S. has also banned most trade and investment by U.S. companies in Iran.

Interfering in Affairs

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran, run by Shiite clerics, of interfering in Iraq’s domestic affairs. Rumsfeld on March 7 accused Iran of sending Revolutionary Guards into Iraq to foment violence.

Today’s announcement may be an attempt by Iran to lessen tensions over its nuclear program. On March 8, the UN’s nuclear watchdog confirmed the referral of Iran to the Security Council after three years of UN inspections that failed to declare Iran’s atomic work peaceful. The U.S., which says Iran is planning to build an atomic bomb, had pushed for Iran’s referral for years.

Iran, the world’s second-largest holder of oil and gas reserves, maintains its nuclear plans are intended to produce energy for civilian purposes.

The Bush administration, in an updated national security strategy, identified Iran’s nuclear threat as the biggest future challenge to the U.S.

`No Greater Challenge’

“We face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran,” the 49-page foreign policy doctrine scheduled for release today says. “We will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse consequences of their bad conduct.”

IRNA didn’t report any comment from Larijani on Iran’s nuclear program.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei urged the U.S. and Iran to “tone down” their rhetoric and consider direct talks, following the March 8 meeting in Vienna. The two countries may need direct negotiations to resolve their dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, which adds to instability in the Middle East, he said.

“Once we get to security issues, the U.S. should be engaged in the dialogue,” ElBaradei said.

At the Security Council, Iran could face censure or economic sanctions, depending on the support of the Council’s five permanent members, which include Russia and China.

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