U.N., Iran Hold Talks on Iraq Security

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker says four hours of talks with his Iranian counterpart showed both sides in broad agreement on policy. Iran did not respond to U.S. complaints that it has supplied militias fueling sectarian violence.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News on this Memorial Day. I'm Steve Inskeep. The United States and Iran have confronted each other for years, not least over Iraq. But when their ambassadors met today in Baghdad, the American diplomat Ryan Crocker emphasized their agreements about Iraq.

Mr. RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): The Iranians laid out their policy toward Iraq in terms very similar to our own policy, and very similar to what the Iraqi government has set as its own set of guiding principles. So from that point of view I would say that the talks proceeded positively.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Crocker was speaking after the highest-level direct contact between the two countries since Iran took American diplomats hostage in 1979.

NPR's Anne Garrels is covering this story in Baghdad. And Anne, so they say the same things, or similar things, but have they agreed to do anything together?

ANNE GARRELS: Well, you've hit the nail on the head. And that's precisely what bothers Ambassador Crocker. It was interesting that they met for four hours; that's almost twice as long as anyone expected them to meet. But Crocker, who's known for his wry humor, suggested one shouldn't think too much about the meetings, what might have been achieved. He said if you know diplomacy, you don't need a lot of substance to take up a lot of time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARRELS: And that goes to the heart - right. Exactly. That kind of goes to the heart of today. While the Iranians said the right things about wanting a democratic, stable Iraq, they did not respond to Ambassador Crocker's concerns about Iranian supplies to militias fighting both Iraqi security forces and coalition forces. He said that Iran did not respond directly to that.

INSKEEP: Is this meeting at all significant simply because both sides showed up?

GARRELS: Oh, I think there's no question about that. And the fact that nobody pulled out at the, you know, at the last minute, that it went ahead in - without any particular unpleasantries - the problem is that the Iranians seem to now want to set up a mechanism - including the Americans, the Iranians and the Iraqis - to coordinate on security. They want more meetings. And Ambassador Crocker said that's really up to Washington.

But he indicated that more meetings wouldn't really be any good unless Iranians do something on the ground to stop supplying the militias.

INSKEEP: Okay. Let's talk about that. So we know what the Iranians want, they want this security mechanism, more meetings and so forth. What specifically have the Americans asked of the Iranians? You talked about stopping militia violence, but what exactly are they supposed to do in a concrete way?

GARRELS: Well, Ambassador Crocker said the Iranians know perfectly well what they're doing. He said he didn't give them a laundry list of everything they're up to. But he basically said we know you know you're supplying the militias. And that is dangerous for Iraq and for the region and you've got to stop it.

Iran didn't engage on that subject, and for its side merely said -called the U.S. presence in Iraq an occupation and said that U.S. efforts to train Iraqi forces have so far been inadequate.

INSKEEP: Just to get some sense of the atmosphere, what was happening elsewhere in Baghdad as that meeting was taking place today?

GARRELS: There was actually quite a lot of violence here right in the center of the city. In a Sunni neighborhood, two minibuses were hijacked as they went through. They were heading towards a Shiite area, more than a dozen people were kidnapped. There's been a lot of violence in general over the weekend. Sectarian violence is again on the rise. And at least 103 American soldiers now have been killed. Looks like it could well be the bloodiest month so far this year.

In fact, May is only the seventh month since the war started in which there have been more than 100 American military deaths.

INSKEEP: And at the same time over the weekend, we're hearing that a number of Iraqis were freed from some kind of - what was described anyway as an al-Qaida prison.

GARRELS: Well, it was good news for the U.S. military. They say their forces raided an al-Qaida hideout in Diyala. Diyala is now one of the most violent areas in Iraq. Sunni extremists, pushed out possibly from Baghdad or from Anbar, have dug in there. They've been intimidating locals and attacking U.S. troops.

So much so that the U.S. has shifted 3,000 more troops there that had initially been slated for the Baghdad surge. But interestingly enough, a couple of weeks ago the general in command there said he still does not have enough troops to fight the growing insurgency.

INSKEEP: Annie, thanks very much.

GARRELS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anne Garrels in Baghdad, where just one of the events we've been following today is a meeting between Iran's ambassador to Baghdad and the United States ambassador to Baghdad. And by the way, Iran's representative to those talks told the Associated Press that the next meeting between the two countries will come in less than a month.

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