Zebari: Prospects Dim for US-Iran Talks over Iraq

A03825927.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Prospects for another round of talks soon between Iranian and US officials proved to be dim after Iraq’s foreign minister said Wednesday that such a meeting is unlikely to go ahead due to increasing frictions between the two sides.

“I don’t think we will succeed in holding the fourth round of talks … there is increased tension in the area,” Zebari told reporters.

Zebari’s remark came two days after Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said there was no point in having talks with Washington as long as US forces continued attacking Shiite militias in Baghdad.

“Neither side has rejected (the holding of talks) but we need to get them at the right time, at the right place, in the right atmosphere,” Zebari said.

Iran and the United States held three rounds of talks on Iraq last year despite mounting tensions over the Iranian nuclear program. The talks have been stalled amid US accusations about Iran’s role in its conflict-torn neighbor.

The fact that three rounds of talks took place, given the acrimonious history between the two, was hailed as a landmark event.

Zebari said deadly fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City between US forces and Shiite militiamen, mostly from anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, have contributed to the tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The situation in Sadr City has “contributed definitely to tension. Tension has always been there but it escalated.”

“Since the drive began in Basra, Baghdad and other areas… tension increased,” Zebari said, referring to a government crackdown on Shiite militias launched in late March.

The crackdown triggered stiff resistance from the gunmen, mostly from the Mahdi Army, in the southern port city of Basra and other Shiite regions of Iraq, but particularly in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

Hundreds of people have been killed since then in Sadr City, the slum district of some of two million population, most of whom support Sadr.

Tehran, which strongly opposes the US military presence in Iraq, has been repeatedly accused by Washington of supporting Shiite militia groups in Iraq.

Iran, whose ties with Washington have been severed since 1980, strongly denies the allegations.

Without giving any new date for the trilateral talks, Zebari said there had been “misunderstanding” regarding the previous date.

An Iranian delegation had arrived in the Iraqi capital on March 6 for the fourth round of talks but left after US officials alleged they were unaware of the date.

Since then Baghdad had not proposed any new date, Zebari said on Wednesday.

“We have not gone to any party … the conditions are not conducive,” he said, adding there was a general “lack of enthusiasm.”

Zebari said new “confidence-building measures” were needed to encourage holding the talks given the sustained criticism in the media.

On Monday, Washington said it was ready for talks with Tehran, although they were “meaningless”.

US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi held face-to-face talks in May 2007 and July last year, the highest level public contacts between the two sides for 27 years.

Both sides also met at experts’ level last August.

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