Iran, U.S. to Discuss Security in Iraq

The U.S. and Iran are talking for the second time in as many months after nearly three decades of silence. Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and his Iranian counterpart are due to meet in Baghdad to discuss the worsening security situation there.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The U.S. and Iran are talking again. It's the second time in two months after nearly three decades of silence between Washington and Tehran. Today, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart meet in Baghdad to talk about the worsening security situation there in Iraq.

We go now to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Hello.

JAMIE TARABAY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Jamie, give us the broad view of what these two countries with, of course, deep mutual grievances hope to accomplish.

TARABAY: They've been very clear that the meetings today are going to focus solely on the security situation in Iraq. This morning, they met in the Green Zone. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opened the meeting. He made a statement, and then he left the two sides to talk with members of Iraq's Foreign Ministry in the room with them.

There are obviously other matters that are causing tension between Iran and the U.S., things like the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranians that the U.S. military is holding here in Baghdad, who the Americans claim are part of an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. But these issues are not expected to be on the agenda today. They're very much focused on discussing the security situation in Iraq itself.

MONTAGNE: These talks are going on even though the U.S. military and the Bush administration continue to charge that Tehran is arming Shia militias in Iraq, and these militias are accused of attacking and killing U.S. troops.

TARABAY: Yeah. When they met last time in May, the Iranian ambassador said that he expected a second meeting to follow pretty soon after. But Washington held back because it claimed Iran hadn't done anything that they'd asked them to in that first meeting, which is namely to stop helping Shiite militias attack U.S. troops. And it's still very much the feeling here.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq held an hour-long briefing, focusing solely on what they claimed is Iranian involvement in Shia militia attacking U.S. troops. In one particular instance, a raid in January that killed five American soldiers, the U.S. military claimed it was planned by Iranian officials. And it was done with the knowledge that pretty much reached into the higher levels of the Iranian government. But while they've made all of these accusations, we still haven't seen a lot of the evidence that they're using to make these statements.

MONTAGNE: Okay, so we're talking about a high-level diplomatic talk aimed at addressing the security situation in Iraq. And, Jamie, you just got back from a week-long embed with U.S. troops. How is the new security plan affecting the situation there?

TARABAY: I was in West Baghdad, in the neighborhood of Amariya, which is basically become one of the last few holdouts for Sunnis in Baghdad. And the U.S. military says that al-Qaida had used Amariya as a base for its operation against U.S. troops in Baghdad. And the unit that I was with, the 1-5 CAV, lost 14 soldiers in May to these insurgent attacks.

Recently, though, the local Sunnis in Amariya had turned against the al-Qaida operatives, just like the Sunni tribes did in Anbar in the west of the country, and they're now fighting with U.S. troops against al-Qaida. And the unit says that these would not have been possible if it hadn't been for the surge, that they wouldn't have been able to focus their manpower on this one neighborhood and established a relationship with the local people to get to this point. So they believed that the surge in this particular instance is very much helping them secure the area.

MONTAGNE: And across Iraq, what is going on as these diplomatic talks are taking place?

TARABAY: There was quite a large car bomb attack in Hillah - a town that's south of Baghdad - today. At least 26 people has been killed, and more than 88 others wounded. This is all part of a trend that we're seeing. The more troops focused in and around the capital, the more attacks we're seeing outside Baghdad.

But having said that, there's still a significant level of sectarian violence in Baghdad. Yesterday, there was car bombs in the shopping district of Karrada that killed at least 10 people. And Baghdad central morgue reported receiving 24 bodies, all with bullet wounds and showing signs that they'd been tortured.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Jamie Tarabay speaking from Baghdad. And we'll be following those talks today between the U.S. and the Iranian ambassadors to Iraq.

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U.S., Iranian Ambassadors Meet in Baghdad

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The U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Baghdad met Tuesday to discuss ways to bring stability to Iraq, coming together for the second time since May, when they came together for the first time to end a nearly three-decade diplomatic freeze.

The talks, reported to have been heated, went off despite rising tensions over Washington's allegations that Tehran is fueling the violence in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opened the meeting with a statement welcoming the delegates at his headquarters in the heavily fortified Green Zone. Al-Maliki said "terrorism hits all Iraqi population sectors, with no exception," in his address, according to Iraqi state TV.

The meeting was closed to the media, but photos released by the Iraqi leader's office showed the participants sitting at three long tables for each delegation linked in triangular fashion and covered with white cloths.

Al-Maliki was joined by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, while the U.S. delegation was headed by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the Iranians by Ambassador Hasan Kazemi Qomi.

An Iraqi official who was present at the meeting room said Crocker and Qomi were involved in a heated exchange early in the talks.

Crocker confronted the Iranians with charges that Tehran was supporting Shiite militiamen killing U.S. troops, providing them with weapons and training, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to disclose the information.

Qomi dismissed the allegations, saying the Americans had no proof, the official said.

The detention of four American-Iranians in Iran has deepened tensions between Washington and Tehran, whose relations already were strained over Iran's controversial nuclear program and its support for radical militant groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and by U.S. military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iraq was the only issue on the agenda.

"This is an opportunity for direct engagement on issues solely related to Iraq," McCormack told reporters in Washington on Monday. "We are going to raise the need for Iran to match its actions with its words in seeking strategic stability in Iraq."

McCormack said Iran has not taken any steps to help bring about a stable Iraq, a goal he said Iran professes to share with the United States.

"We'll see, if, as a result of these engagements, they will change their behavior."

The first round of Iran-U.S. talks, on May 28 in Baghdad, broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran.

Meanwhile, The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Tuesday it will send a team of inspectors early next week to a disputed Iranian heavy water reactor - a key step in efforts to allay concerns over the country's nuclear program.

Olli Heinonen, deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters after meeting with a delegation from Iran that the team would head Monday or Tuesday to the complex under construction outside the industrial city of Arak.

Arak will produce plutonium once it is completed sometime in the next decade, and the U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran stop construction.

From NPR Reports and The Associated Press

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