Iraq: Iran Likely to Hold Ambassadorial-Level Talks with US

A01461132.jpgTEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iranian diplomats have indicated they want to skip a postponed meeting with security, military and diplomatic experts from the US and instead hold another round of talks at the ambassadorial level, Iraqi officials said Monday.

A meeting of such experts was canceled a few days before it was to open on Dec. 18. At the time, Iranian officials said it was a scheduling problem. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq the day the meeting was to have occurred.

Since then, American officials in Iraq have asked their Iraqi counterparts to arrange a fourth-round of talks between Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi. The two last met in August, shortly after the first meeting of experts.

Crocker told reporters during a Sunday briefing in Baghdad that he would meet Qomi again.

“I would be open to this. We could do it at the experts’ level or we could do it at my level. I would definitely see that as a possibility,” he said. “We’re looking at what we might talk about, which I think is the first and necessary step before deciding who talks about it.”

Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and a member of parliament, said a top Iranian diplomat told him in recent days that US officials are not providing enough information about what any new round of talks at any level will achieve.

“They told us that the Americans are vague and that they want to know what is the goal, what is the purpose of these talks,” he said.

Al-Askari went on to say that the Iranians have complained that they have contributed to the improving security situation in Iraq, but that US officials have done little to acknowledge that.

“The Iranians will not stand anymore going to talk with the US one day and the next day watch the Americans speak bad about them in the press – by saying Iran is supporting militias and supplying weapons,” he said.

Iran has long been accused by Washington of training, arming and funding Shiite extremists inside Iraq to kill American troops. Iran has denied the arms-funneling accusations, insisting that it is doing its best to help stabilize its embattled western neighbor.

Crocker said any talks with the Iranians would focus solely on Iraqi security and would not extend into the explosive issue of US accusations that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charged not only dismissed by Tehran, but also by the International Atomic Energy Agency and even a recent US National Intelligence Estimate both concluding that Iran is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

The first round of talks between Crocker and Qomi in May broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze between Iran and the United States.

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