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U.S., Iraq, Iran to Form Panel on Iraq Recovery

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U.S., Iraq, Iran to Form Panel on Iraq Recovery

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U.S., Iraq, Iran to Form Panel on Iraq Recovery

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Baghdad today, the Iranian and American ambassadors held a second round of talks on security in Iraq. They came nearly two months after a groundbreaking session last May. Today's meeting was lengthy, tense at times, and produced only modest results, as we hear from NPR's Jamie Tarabay.

JAMIE TARABAY: Today's meeting went on for nearly seven hours, including lunch. For U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the talk seemed mired in deja vu.

Mr. RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): As was the case in May, we made the point that agreement on principle is important, the principle that both Iran and United States support a democratic, stable Iraq.

TARABAY: The problem, said Crocker, is that Iran is not applying that principle to its actions on the ground in Iraq. He repeated charges that Iran is arming and training Iraqi militias responsible for attacks on U.S. troops as well as Iraqi government forces. In a separate conference call with Washington-based reporters, Crocker said those Iranian actions have increased over the past two months, making today's discussions difficult and tense.

Mr. CROCKER: There were several huge exchanges in the course of the day. I made it as clear as I possibly could that we're seeing direct Iranian support to extremist militias, both training and actual weapons. We provided a brief summary of the proof. He took exception to that.

TARABAY: The Iranian envoy Hassan Kazemi Qomi did not hold the news conference after today's meeting, but Tehran has repeatedly denied the American claims and demanded to see proof. Crocker told reporters in Baghdad, he didn't feel that was necessary for this meeting.

Mr. CROCKER: We're not in a position where we feel we need to produce the evidence to try a case in court of law. What we did want to do is indicate pretty clearly to the Iranians that we know what is going on.

TARABAY: Crocker said Iran is supporting Shiite militias responsible for an increasing number of mortar attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone, where the Iraqi government and U.S. Embassy are located. Much of the intelligence about these and other attacks, he said, has come from people in American military custody. Among them are five Iranians arrested during a raid in January, who the Americans claim belong to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard. Iran says the men are diplomats and has repeatedly demanded their release.

The U.S. and Iranian ambassadors did reach another agreement in principle today - on the creation of a subcommittee for more detailed talks. But who would serve on the committee and when it would begin work has yet to be decided. Although Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters the experts may meet as early as tomorrow, Crocker was noncommittal about future meetings at the ambassadorial level. Much, he said, will depend on the change in Iranian behavior.

Mr. CROCKER: There was an awful lot of discussion today on political frameworks for discussion and so forth. None of which seemed to me terribly relevant. You can go through hours of discussion and you find at the end of it that the actual concrete results may be distilled into a discussion of some few minutes, pretty much as I've done with you.

TARABAY: But the Iraqi government seemed happy with the outcome of today's meeting. Foreign Minister Zebari said it might have been challenging at times, but it produced real results that can help the Iraqi people.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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