Iran-U.S. meeting breaks silence

Representatives from the quarreling nations met to discuss Iraq’s security.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:14 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

BAGHDAD, Iraq — There were no major breakthroughs Monday as U.S. and Iranian diplomats held their first formal direct talks in more than a quarter of a century to discuss security in Iraq. But no one had expected any.

At best, the envoys and their Iraqi hosts had hoped the encounter would get two longtime foes talking. On that there was some progress: Iran proposed that a “trilateral mechanism” be established to handle discussions about ways to ease the conflict in Iraq.

Iraqi officials welcomed the suggestion and emphasized that any discussions had to include them, said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, who was part of the Iraqi delegation headed by national security adviser Mowaffak Rubaie.

But U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker was more circumspect.

“That would, of course, be a decision for Washington,” Crocker said at a news briefing inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

“My comment at the time was that that sounded very much like the meeting that we were sitting in,” he said in a separate conference call with journalists in Washington. “It was not apparent to me exactly what the distinction was between what they were proposing and what we were already doing.”

Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi did not specify what he had in mind at a news conference held at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad.

The meeting took place at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office inside the high-security Green Zone and represented a reconfiguration of the Bush administration’s stance toward Iran.

The administration initially rejected proposals by the Iranians and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in Washington to open negotiations about security in Iraq. But the U.S. administration has edged away from that stance in recent months. Its representatives attended a neighbors’ conference arranged by the Iraqi government in March at which Iran was also present, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefly exchanged pleasantries with her Iranian counterpart at a regional security meeting in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, earlier in May.

Al-Maliki greeted the two ambassadors and led them into a conference room where their delegations sat across a long table from each other with al-Maliki at the head to exchange preliminary remarks. The Iraqi leader then left, and the meeting continued in another room.

All parties involved described the meeting as positive.

There was broad agreement on the principles governing U.S. and Iranian policy toward Iraq. Both the U.S. and Iran stated their support for a secure, stable, democratic, federal Iraq that is in control of its own security and at peace with its neighbors, Crocker said at a separate news conference inside the Green Zone.

And both sides reaffirmed their support for al-Maliki.

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