Sunday, May 13, 2007

Iran Will Talk To U.S About Iraq

UPDATE: Check out the new blog covering the Mid East: Outsider On The Inside

On an issue which both sides have gone back and forth on, Iran's FM has apparently agreed to formal discussions on Iraq with the United States. A request was issued through the Swiss embassy in Iran, although unconfirmed by the United States, which suggests either the necessity of the talks, or signifies a policy change towards Iran.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had said last week that he expected such Iranian-U.S. talks to happen in Baghdad soon.

During a meeting on Iraq's future in Baghdad two months ago, mid-level U.S. and Iranian officials did meet briefly and discuss Iran. Mid-level officials also met briefly at last weekend's Iraq summit at an Egyptian resort.

"Iran has agreed to this (negotiation) after consultation with Iraqi officials, in order to lessen the pain of the Iraqi people, support the Iraqi government and establish security and peace in Iraq," the agency quoted Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman of Iran's foreign ministry, as saying.

The report said the negotiations will be held in Baghdad.

"Time and level of negotiation team will be decided by the end of the week," Hosseini was quoted as saying.

Hosseini said last week that Iran was willing, under the right conditions, to improve its chilly relations with the U.S. despite having passed up the opportunity for high-level, direct talks at the second Iraq conference.

Update: Dick Cheney, who's in Cairo for talks with Mubarak about Iraq, confirmed through a spokeswoman that the U.S is ready for significant talks with Iran only if they're limited to Iraq:
"We are willing to have that conversation limited to Iraq issues at the ambassador level," said Lea Anne McBride. She said the willingness is not a new position, but reflects an earlier-stated U.S. position.

She spoke after Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said that Tehran has agreed to a formal request from the U.S. to talk about security in Iraq during meetings in Baghdad, the country's official news agency reported.

The report said Iran had received the request through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which often acts as an intermediary for the U.S. in the country.

McBride said she didn't have all the specifics. But she said Iran's comments appeared to be a reference to what the U.S. has called "the Baghdad channel."

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