Stability in Iraq on the Table in U.S.-Iran Meeting

The United States ambassador to Baghdad and his Iranian counterpart met for four hours Monday in what the American side called a business-like atmosphere.

The talks, hosted by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, were the most high-profile discussions between the two nations since the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Iran nearly three decades ago.

The talks focused on one subject only: Iraq.

U.S. Envoy Cites 'Similarity' with Iran on Iraq

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi. i i

hide captionU.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, right and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi, left, attend a meeting on security in Iraq at the Iraqi Prime Minister's office.

Hadi Mizban/Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, right and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi, left, attend a meeting on security in Iraq at the Iraqi Prime Minister's office.

Hadi Mizban/Getty Images

Crocker's News Conference

"We both laid out our support for the (government) of — [Iraqi] Prime Minister Maliki — as he undertakes a number of very difficult challenges and we all agreed — Iraqis, Americans, and Iranians, that the focus of our discussions was on Iraq and Iraq only and how we might support as effectively as possible Iraq, it's people and it's government in restoring security and stability to the country and furthering a political reconciliation process."

The United States ambassador in Baghdad said he and his Iranian counterpart agreed broadly on policy toward Iraq during four hours of talks on Monday.

But Iran did not respond directly to a U.S. plea that it end its support for militants, U.S. Amabassador Ryan Crocker said.

Crocker described the meeting as businesslike and focused solely on Iraq. He said Iran proposed setting up a "trilateral security mechanism" that would include the U.S., Iraq and Iran. Crocker said the proposal would need study in Washington.

The U.S. envoy also said he told the Iranians their country needed to stop arming, funding and training the militants. The Iranians laid out their policy toward Iraq, Crocker said, describing it as "very similar to our own policy and what the Iraqi government have set out as their own guiding principles."

He added: "This is about actions not just principles, and I laid out to the Iranians direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq and their support for militias that are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces."

The talks went on about twice as long as expected, but Crocker downplayed the significance of their duration.

"You know diplomacy ... You don't need a lot of substance to take up a lot of time," NPR's Anne Garrels quoted Crocker as saying.

The Baghdad talks were the first of their kind and a small sign that Washington thinks rapprochement with Iran is possible after more than a quarter-century of diplomatic estrangement that began with the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Crocker said the Iranians wanted to propose a second session.

"We will consider that when we receive it," Crocker told reporters in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. "The purpose of this meeting was not to arrange other meetings."

More meetings are "up to Washington," Garrels quoted Crocker as saying.

Crocker said Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi did not raise the subject of seven Iranians now in American custody in Iraq.

"The focus of our discussions were Iraq and Iraq only," Crocker said.

In the course of the meeting, Ali al-Dabagh, a government spokesman, told reporters that the session was proceeding cordially.

"There are good intentions and understanding and commitment between the two countries," al-Dabagh told reporters.

The talks were held at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Green Zone office.

Al-Maliki did not attend the meeting, but the prime minister greeted the two ambassadors, who shook hands, and led them into a conference room, where the ambassadors sat across from each other.

As the talks proceeded, there was more violence in the center of Baghdad, where more than a dozen people were kidnapped while traveling in buses through a Sunni neighborhood, Garrels reported.

May 2007 has been one of the bloodiest months of the war for U.S. forces, with at least 103 American soldiers killed, Garrels noted.

In a positive development over the weekend, U.S. forces announced that more than 40 Iraqis were freed from an al-Qaida hideout in Diyala.

But the overall situation in Diyala is not good, Garrels noted. Sunni extremists have dug in there, intimidating locals and attacking U.S. troops.

The U.S. commander there says he does not have enough troops to fight the growing insurgency, Garrels said.

From an Associated Press dispatch with additional reporting from NPR's Anne Garrels.

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