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Former Mideast Envoy Surveys U.S.-Iran Talks
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Former Mideast Envoy Surveys U.S.-Iran Talks

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Former Mideast Envoy Surveys U.S.-Iran Talks

Former Mideast Envoy Surveys U.S.-Iran Talks
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U.S. and Iranian diplomats met for four hours Monday in bilateral discussions described as "groundbreaking." The two sides rarely meet face-to-face. Edward Djerejian, who has served as a U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Syria, offers his insights on the meeting.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, is in Baghdad today, where he met with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qumi. The goal of the meeting was to determine what the two countries can do to contain sectarian violence in Iraq. Ambassador Crocker spoke to reporters after the meeting.

Mr. RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): I laid out before the Iranians a number of our direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq, their support for militias that are fighting both the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces.

COHEN: Joining us now is Edward Djerejian. He is the founding director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. He's also the former ambassador to both Syria and Israel.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. EDWARD DJEREJIAN (Rice University): It's good to be with you.

COHEN: The U.S. and Iran haven't had formal diplomatic relations since 1980. The fact that these talks are even happening right now, what does that say about the current status of U.S.-Iran relations?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: The purpose of having talks between Iraq and its immediate neighbors and the United States being engaged in those talks was one of the major recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. And it's very important, according to the study group recommendations, that there be the involvement of all of Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran and Syria, which have been causing problems in Iraq. So this is a first good step despite the fact that United States and Iran have such a troubled relationship, and their are many issues out there, like the nuclear issue and others, support of terrorist groups, etc., that the collaboration between Iran and Iraq and the United States on trying to help stabilize the situation in Iraq is a very important goal.

COHEN: You mentioned the Iraq Study Group. You were an advisor to that group. What specifically do you think Iran should be doing in Iraq? What's their role there?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Well, first they have influence with the militia groups - the Shiite militia groups. That is a very important lever for them to exercise in the attempts of the Iraq government and of course ourselves to reduce the violence in Iraq - not only by the militias but obviously the insurgents and the al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, the terrorist groups. So that in itself is a tool that Iran brings to the equation that's important and that should be maximized if possible.

COHEN: A lot of issues weren't discussed today - such as Iran's nuclear program, the detention of Iranian-Americans. How do you think this week's meetings will affect the progress on those fronts?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Well, this is a start. Both sides have made a very deliberate political decision that these talks would be limited to Iraq. The nuclear issue, of course, is being dealt with in the U.N. Security Council and contacts with the Europeans. And there are two schools of thought, if you will, that there should be a large negotiation and open dialogue with Iran where all the issues are put on the table. There are some indications that there are Iranian factions, leaders, who are seeking that. There are other groups in Iran who, quite frankly, are not interested that Tehran engage in a dialogue with the United States. But the only thing we have going really now is the Iraq-centric negotiations that ambassador Ryan Crocker is involved in; and in the U.N. context the nuclear issue.

COHEN: Edward Djerejian of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, thanks very much for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. DJEREJIAN: You're very welcome.

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