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U.S., Iran positive after talks on Iraq

No breakthrough is reported in a high-level, face-to-face session.

By WASHINGTON POST
Published May 29, 2007


BAGHDAD - The United States and Iran held their first official high-level, face-to-face talks in almost 30 years on Monday to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, and officials emerged generally upbeat about the renewed dialogue, suggesting additional meetings were likely.

In briefings to reporters afterward, the chief negotiators - U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi - said the talks focused solely on Iraq and did not stray into the contentious areas of Iran's nuclear program or the recent detentions of Iranian American citizens by Tehran.

The four-hour meeting between the diplomats yielded no breakthroughs, but the comments by Crocker and Kazemi suggested that the two countries shared surprisingly similar assessments of the security problems facing Iraq, if not the causes. Both men characterized the meeting as positive.

"The two sides dealt with the issues in a very frank and transparent and clear way, " Kazemi told reporters in a news conference at the Iranian Embassy. "The views of both sides were unified and identical on the question of the security issue."

Crocker said, "There was pretty good congruence right down the line - support for a secure, stable, democratic, federal Iraq, in control of its own security, at peace with its neighbors." But then the two sides parted ways, he said.

"This is about actions, not just principles, and I laid out to the Iranians direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq and their support for militias that are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces, " he said. Crocker said he impressed upon his Iranian counterpart that the United States was "looking for results" and wanted "a change in Iranian behavior."

He said Kazemi did not respond to the comments.

At his news conference, Kazemi said allegations that Iran is supplying insurgents with weapons, munitions and training have been denied by Iran on numerous occasions and "don't prove anything."

In what may be one of the more significant ideas raised at the meeting, Kazemi said that Iran had proposed the creation of a special security committee composed of Iranian, U.S. and Iraqi officials that could deal with all U.S. allegations about Iranian activities in Iraq. Such a committee could also offer a framework for future meetings, Kazemi said.

Crocker said he would forward the proposal to Washington.

Both sides said the talks were instigated by Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and were held in his office. Maliki welcomed the ambassadors, who shook hands, and then escorted them into a conference room. Maliki did not attend the meeting.

The United States blames Iran for fueling much of the bloodshed and violence in Iraq by supplying weapons and munitions to Shiite and Sunni Arab insurgents, who are conducting a deadly campaign against U.S. forces and their coalition partners, including the Iraqi security forces.

Iran says the United States is an imperial power that has brought instability not only to Iraq, but also to the entire Middle East region through its occupation of Iraq and its pro-Israel policies. Iranian leaders have demanded that the United States announce a timetable for the withdrawal of the roughly 150, 000 U.S. troops stationed here.

Few analysts expected any major announcements from Monday's meeting, but there were hopes that, at a minimum, the talks could open a new era of dialogue that might lead to greater stability in Iraq and more normal relations between Iran and the United States.

Kazemi called the meeting "the first step in the process of negotiations between the two sides." Crocker was more reticent, saying that the Iraqi government is expected to issue an invitation to more talks "in the near future, " and that the United States will consider it.

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.

Fast Facts:

Latest on Iraq

Violence: A suicide car bomber struck a busy Baghdad commercial district Monday, killing at least 21 people, setting vehicles on fire and damaging a nearby Sunni shrine, police and hospital officials said. Several mortar and car bombing attacks in the capital left at least 15 other people dead.

Journalist shot: In the turbulent northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed journalist Mahmoud Kassab, the editor of a local newspaper. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 104 journalists - not including Kassab - have been killed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Contacts between U.S. and Iran

Relations cooled in early 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the shah. In November of that year Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. This led the United States to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran and impose economic sanctions in April 1980.

1985-86: A series of secret meetings take place between the United States and Iran, in which the United States sold weapons to Iran and gave the proceeds to Central American rebels. The scandal came to be known as the Iran-Contra affair.

March 2000: The Clinton administration lifts a ban on U.S. imports of Iranian luxury goods and says it would seek a legal settlement that could free Iranian assets frozen since 1979.

2001-2002: Officials from both sides communicate before and after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, whom Tehran also opposed.

November 2004: Secretary of State Colin Powell is seated at dinner next to his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, during a 20-nation meeting in Egypt to discuss Iraq's future.

May 2006: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad writes President Bush an 18-page letter, lambasting Bush for his handling of the Sept. 11 attacks.

March 2007: U.S. and Iranian envoys participate in a conference in Baghdad.

May 28, 2007: The U.S. and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad hold four hours of talks on Iraq.