By Ross Colvin
BAGHDAD, May 28 (Reuters) - The United States urged Iran on Monday to stop supporting militias in Iraq but described the two countries’ most high-profile meeting in almost 30 years as positive.
Washington accuses Iran of arming, funding and training Shi’ite militias who are fuelling Iraq’s spiral into sectarian civil war, a charge Iran denies. The U.S. military has also shown sophisticated bombs it says are killing U.S. soldiers.
"The talks proceeded positively. What we need to see is Iranian action on the ground," Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told reporters after the four-hour talks between the two delegations at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office.
"Right now their actions are running at crossed purposes to their stated policy."
The talks began with a handshake between Crocker and his counterpart Hassan Kazemi-Qomi.
Kazemi-Qomi said Iran saw "positive" steps in the talks.
"Some problems have been raised and studied and I think this was a positive step ... In the political field, the two sides agreed to support and strengthen the Iraqi government, which was another positive item achieved in these talks," he told state television.
The meeting marked a shift in the U.S. policy of shunning almost all contact with Iranian officials since Washington severed formal diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980, 14 months after Iran’s Islamic Revolution and five months after Americans were seized in a hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
It did not touch on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, the most contentious issue in U.S.-Iranian relations. Washington says Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran says its programme is for the peaceful generation of electricity.
Crocker said the Iranians had proposed setting up a mechanism with Iranian, U.S. and Iraqi participation to coordinate on Iraq’s security. He said he would refer the proposal to Washington but that the U.S. aim of the meeting had not been to organise further talks but to lay out its concerns.
Kazemi-Qomi told reporters that Iran had offered to help train and arm Iraq’s military.
Crocker said he had told the Iranians they must end their support for the militias, stop supplying them with explosives and ammunition and rein in the activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Qods Force in Iraq.
"It is dangerous for Iraq ... and dangerous for the region because it can cause widespread instability," Crocker told a news briefing.
Crocker said the Iranians had rejected the allegations but did not respond in detail. In turn, they had criticised the "occupying" U.S. military’s training and equipping of the new Iraqi army, saying it was "inadequate to the challenges faced".
"In terms of what happens next we are going to want to wait and see not what is said next but what happens on the ground, whether we start to see some indications of change of Iranian behaviour."
He said there was broad agreement between both sides in their policy on Iraq. Both countries supported Maliki’s government and wanted to see a stable, federal Iraq that controlled its own security.
In a brief address to the delegations before the start of the talks, Maliki said Iraq would not be a launchpad for any attacks on neighbouring states, an apparent reference to Iranian fears of a U.S. attack. It would also not brook any regional interference in its affairs, he added.
U.S. and Iranian officials had said they did not expect any breakthroughs from the talks, which come as U.S. warships hold war games in the Gulf and after Tehran said it had uncovered spy networks on its territory run by Washington and its allies.
While mid-ranking officials from Iran and the United States have met occasionally in the past, Monday’s talks are the most high profile since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In new violence in Iraq, a truck bomb exploded near an important Sunni Muslim mosque in central Baghdad, killing 24 people and wounding 68 others shortly after the talks broke up.
Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops are taking part in a major security crackdown in Baghdad aimed at buying Maliki’s government more time to reach a political accommodation with minority Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency.