Mar 12, 2007

US and Iran Trade Insults at Talks

The Baghdad "Neighbors Conference" over the weekend proceeded approximately as expected:

The conference on Saturday saw a rare meeting of US and Iranian diplomats, good news to Iraqi officials who hope to prevent the two countries using their territory as a battlefield. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, reports suggest that their interaction consisted largely of trading accusations, underscoring the difficulties in reaching an accommodation between two countries whose reasons for coming to the table are divergent.

The US says it is speaking to Iran to dissuade it from destabilising Iraq, without crossing over into bilateral negotiations about Tehran's nuclear programme, which Washington says is intended to produce weapons. Iran, however, is keen to open such negotiations, and may perceive talks about Iraq as an opening into discussions over the nuclear issue.

It is unclear how much time diplomats from the two countries spent talking to each other on Saturday. Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador, said they met "directly . . . and in front of others" and also across a table. But Iraqi delegates said the two parties argued.

US officials reportedly told the Iranians they had proof of their support for Shia militias in Iraq. But in a later press conference, Iran's top delegate mocked the Americans and said the claims were based on false intelligence. "They have made so many mistakes . . . in Iraq . . . because of false information," Abbas Aragchi said. ...

Iran raised the issue of six of its citizens who were arrested by the US in Iraq in January, whom it claims were diplomats. Mr Khalilzad, however, said there were no diplomats held by US forces in Iraq, a reference to US claims the men were associated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard and implicated in acts of violence. ...

The Iraq meetings at least give Tehran and the US a venue to discuss their differences. The two countries will meet again, possibly at ministerial level, in April. There will also be lower-level committees to follow up on Saturday's meeting.

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