Reuters: The United States on Wednesday played down the prospect of higher-level talks with Iran after Iran’s foreign minister was quoted as saying his government was open to moving negotiations to a more senior level. By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday played down the prospect of higher-level talks with Iran after Iran’s foreign minister was quoted as saying his government was open to moving negotiations to a more senior level.
Asked whether Iran was ready to hold higher level talks with the United States, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said: “It can be considered if Iran receives a formal request from America.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack indicated that no such request was likely, despite an agreement in Baghdad on Tuesday to form a joint panel with Tehran to improve security in Iraq.
“I don’t see that happening at this point in time,” he told reporters when asked about Mottaki’s reported remark. “We have an established channel with Ryan Crocker.”
Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, accused Iran in Tuesday’s talks of increasing support for militias involved in bloodshed in Iraq but, in a rare sign of cooperation, agreed with Tehran to set up the security panel.
He also said he had challenged Iran over its suspected support for other radical groups in the Middle East such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Two rounds of Baghdad talks this year represent the highest profile face-to-face dialogue between Iran and the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered to sit down with Iranian officials for talks, but only if Iran freezes its nuclear fuel program first — something Iran, which says its atomic plans are peaceful, has said it will not do.
Shi’ite Muslim Iran blames the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq for the continued bloodshed between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and Sunni Arab minority.
Mottaki rejected accusations that Iran backed Iraqi militants.
“We have always announced our clear responses … the Americans are trying to run away from their own mistakes (in Iraq),” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mottaki as saying.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, told reporters in Washington the new security panel would focus on three specific issues — how to fight al Qaeda and Islamist extremists, how to combat the activities of armed militias and how to better monitor and control the borders of Iraq.
Sumaidaie said that despite the “bravado and strong language” used during the meeting between the Iranian and U.S. envoys on Tuesday there appeared to be a faction in the Iranian leadership that needed a rapprochement with the United States and the West.
“What emerged (from the meeting on Tuesday) was that Iran wants to be engaged and play. Iran has a vital interest in loosening the isolation which is impacting heavily on its economy,” Sumaidaie said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated that Tehran hoped that by talking to the United States it could help restore stability to Iraq.
“We are ready to do whatever is necessary to help the security and unity of Iraq and support the Iraqi government and people,” the official IRNA news agency IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
“Our goal of these talks is to help the Iraqi government and people.”
(Additional reporting by Stuart Grudgings)