IRAQ: U.S. and Iran's talk about talks continues
Think of Iran and the United States as a bitterly divorced couple. They're not on speaking terms, but every now and then they come together to discuss the future of their troubled offspring, the Iraqi government, which remains beholden to both Washington and Tehran.
But even then it's rocky. Neither wants to be seen as requesting the meeting, lest they appear to be buckling to the desire of the other.
Today, an Iranian foreign ministry official in Tehran suggested Iran was amenable to a further round of talks with U.S. officials over security in Iraq. He said the Americans had formally requested such a meeting.
"We have received an official note from U.S. administration via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran for another round of talks over Iraqi security and we are taking it into consideration," said Mohammed Ali Hosseini, spokesman for the foreign ministry, at his weekly press briefing.
A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad sidestepped the question of whether the Americans had requested the talks. It was the Iraqi government that instigated the talks, said a U.S. official. Here's an e-mail from Mirembe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the U.S. in the Iraqi capital:
We understand that the Iraqi foreign ministry is making efforts to hold another round of trilateral talks. We have indicated our readiness to participate in another round if the Iraqi government believes talks at this time could help improve the security situation.
Iran's role in Iraq is sure to be a major issue this week as Gen. David H. Petraeus testifies before Congress about the status of the ongoing conflict. U.S. officials accuse Iran of training and equipping Shiite militiamen who have fired rockets and mortars on the Green Zone and attacked U.S. troops with sophisticated roadside bombs. But Hosseini said Iran backed the Maliki government's crackdown on Shiite gangs.
Hosseini today confirmed new reports that Iran tried to slow down the fighting between the Iraqi government and militiamen loyal to Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr in southern Iraq and Baghdad:
Recently an Iraqi delegation came here and we had talks to calm Basra. Iran is, as always, trying to bring peace and stability to Iraq.
The U.S. says Iran is undermining the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki by supporting armed groups that Iraqi security forces are trying to dismantle. But Hosseini today voiced support for the crackdown and made a not-so-subtle swipe at U.S.-backed Arab countries who have yet to restore ties with Iraq's Shiite-led government:
We fully support Maliki's stance and we expect all regional countries to support him too. Of course, there should be a difference between the illegal militant groups who are against stability and security in Iraq and those legal groups supporting Maliki's government. But now U.S. forces are causing human casualties and damage in the residential areas of Basra.
— Times staff writers in Beirut, Baghdad and Tehran
Photo: Mohammed Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, spoke to reporters today. Credit: Hassan Ghaedi / Fars News Agency