U.S. and Iran Talk While Iraq Asks for Help American and Iranian officials met Saturday in Baghdad as part of a regional conference on Iraqi security. The United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he exchanged views with Iranian delegation "directly and in the presence of others" at the meeting.
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U.S. and Iran Talk While Iraq Asks for Help

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U.S. and Iran Talk While Iraq Asks for Help

U.S. and Iran Talk While Iraq Asks for Help

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

In Baghdad today, representatives from the United States and Iran were in the same room talking to one another about the future of Iraq. It was part of an international conference on Iraq's civil war and escalating violence. Officials from 14 countries and international bodies, like the United Nations and the Arab League of States, were in on the talks.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, seemed please with the meeting.

Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): This was a good first step in terms of statements, words. Of course we will have to wait and see what changes on the ground.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us from Baghdad to tell us more. Now, Soraya, the U.S. has refused to engage diplomatically with Iran for a long time now. How did this face-to-face meeting go today?

SORAYA SARHUDDI NELSON: Well, it actually went very well. The two sides, which had the largest delegations attending the conference, met and shook hands, and afterward came and spoke with reporters to describe what each side thought. And it's important to note, though, that these delegations, as large as they were, consisted of mid-level officials from both sides.

On one hand, the U.S. ambassador, Khalilzad, he described the talks as being constructive and businesslike, but on the other hand, he raised the concerns with the Iranians about the allegations of Iranian Revolutionary Guards bringing weapons across the border and supporting Shiite militias.

ELLIOTT: And what did the Iranians have to say?

NELSON: They also described the talks as being constructive. The deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, also expressed some criticism for the American stance.

Mr. ABBAS ARAGHCHI (Deputy Foreign Minister, Iran): We are concerned about double standard towards terrorism in Iraq. They have no right to divide these groups to good and bad terrorists. We also raised concerns about our diplomats here. As you know, there are six Iranian diplomats who are abducted and kidnapped.

NELSON: What Araghchi was referring to was the January 11th capture by American forces of Iranians in the northern city of Erbil. The U.S. claims these men were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and that's a point that Khalilzad reiterated today.

ELLIOTT: Overall, Soraya, did any decisions come out of the conference concerning Iraq?

NELSON: Well, actually there were several important things that came out of this today, the most important of which was the decision to form three committees that will deal with the issue of refugees, oil, as well as security issues along the borders.

ELLIOTT: Soraya, is there any sense there of - if any real progress was actually made there today?

NELSON: Well, the meeting was never intended to be a policy-generating meeting. The idea was to set the stage so that the higher-level officials could actually meet. And that was in fact accomplished. But of course what was very interesting as well is that the Iranians and Americans spoke to each other formally in a way that they have not done for many years.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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