Iran to make US ‘regret’ detention of Iranians — FM

TEHRAN (Reuters) — Iran will make the United States “regret” its detention of five Iranians in Iraq since early this year, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Tuesday.Iran says the five Iranians detained by US forces in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil in January are diplomats and has demanded their release. US officials say they were involved in supporting militants inside Iraq.

“We will make the Americans regret their ugly and illegal action against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s consulate in Erbil, Iraq, and the abduction of the five Iranian diplomats,” Mottaki said, according to the state broadcaster’s website.

Mottaki said the foreign ministry had “put on its agenda a series of widespread actions against these unlawful and illegal actions that are in contradiction with all international conventions,” the ISNA news agency said, without giving details.

The issue has fuelled tension between the two foes, already high because of Iran’s disputed nuclear programme which the West suspects is aimed at making atom bombs, a charge Iran denies.

Further souring ties, Iran is holding three US-Iranians on security-related charges. Tehran has dismissed any suggestions their cases might be linked to the five Iranians held in Iraq.

Mottaki said Iran would write to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the next few days complaining about the Security Council’s “clear discrimination” in delaying putting the issue of the detained Iranians on its agenda.

The Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt sensitive atomic work.

Despite his tough statement, Mottaki held the door open for new talks with the United States on how to end violence in Iraq.

“If… the Americans are determined to solve the problem which they themselves are part of, we will put on the agenda the request by the Iraqi government to continue these negotiations with a positive view,” he said.

US and Iranian officials held the highest profile meeting between the two countries in almost three decades on May 28 in Baghdad, an encounter that both sides described as positive.

Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak Al Rubaie, was quoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency as saying the next round of talks would be “soon” but did not give a date. “A great deal of these negotiations will be about the five employees of Iran’s consulate,” Rubaie said in Tehran. “Families of these five people will hear good news in coming weeks.” He gave no further details.

Iran’s envoy to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, who represented Iran at the May talks, was quoted by ISNA as saying telephone conversations between the five and their families were now happening. He said there had been “agreements” for families to meet the five but did not say when such meetings would occur.

The United States accuses Iran of fomenting instability in Iraq. Iran rejects the accusation and blames the presence of US forces in its neighbour for the violence.

Washington, which has led efforts to punish Iran over its nuclear activities, says it wants a diplomatic solution to the atomic row but has not ruled out military actions if that fails.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to hit back if attacked.

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