By Dean Yates
BAGHDAD, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Iran is to blame for the delay in holding more talks with the United States about Iraq’s security and it is unclear when the discussions will be held, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad said on Thursday.
Ryan Crocker also played down the impact a visit to Baghdad by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might have on what Washington calls Iran’s "negative influence" in the country.
U.S. and Iranian officials were due to have held a fourth round of discussions in Baghdad on curbing violence in Iraq in mid-December but the talks were put off because of what U.S. officials said at the time was a scheduling conflict.
"We’re set to go, we have communicated that to the Iraqis and the Iranians for whatever reason are holding back," Crocker said in an interview with Reuters.
"We want to have these discussions, they have just suddenly gone quiet," he said.
There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials. On Dec. 30, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran wanted assurances that the United States would accept the results of the talks before holding a new meeting.
Crocker held a first round of talks with his Iranian counterpart on Iraq’s security in May last year, helping to thaw a diplomatic freeze that had lasted almost three decades.
Washington accuses Iran of arming and training Shi’ite militias in Iraq. Shi’ite Iran denies the charges and says it is committed to peace in its neighbour.
The United States and Iran are also at odds over Tehran’s nuclear programme, while tensions were heightened after Washington said its warships were threatened by Iranian craft in the Strait of Hormuz earlier this month.
The last time U.S. and Iranian officials met in Baghdad to discuss Iraq was in August when a security committee held talks.
Crocker, who cautioned against quick results, said it would make sense for that committee to convene again in Baghdad, then for him to follow up by meeting his Iranian counterpart, Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi.
Crocker also said he did not expect anything "dramatic" to come from a possible visit to Iraq by Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation to go to Baghdad, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, a trip that would make him the first Iranian leader to visit its former arch-foe.
Iran and Iraq fought a war in the 1980s in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Ties have improved since Saddam Hussein was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and a Shi’ite-Islamist-led government came to power in Iraq.
"The important thing is not whether there is a visit or what is said during a visit if it takes place, but what they actually do," Crocker said.
The U.S. military said at the weekend there had been a sharp drop in the number of Iranian weapons being used in Iraq but no let-up in Tehran’s training and financing of Iraq militias.
Washington puts most blame on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Qods force. In October, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said Kazemi-Qomi was a member of the Qods force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Asked if Kazemi-Qomi’s background bothered him, Crocker said: "I deal with him in his capacity as Iran’s ambassador but clearly that fact suggests how Iran is approaching its relationship with Iraq, which shall we say is not through the traditional channels of state-to-state relations."