TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has agreed to hold a new round of talks soon with the United States on how to improve security in Iraq, Iran’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Ambassadors of the two old enemies, deeply at odds over who is to blame for the violence in Iraq as well as over Tehran’s disputed nuclear ambitions, have held three meetings in Baghdad since May on Iraq, but the last one was three months ago.
Washington accuses Iran of arming, funding and training Shi’ite militias in Iraq. Tehran blames the sectarian violence, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iraq’s government had approached all sides and asked that the three meet again to discuss Iraqi security issues.
“We have said yes that we would agree to that,” he said.
The United States had not received a reply from Iran and that no date for talks has been set, McCormack said.
U.S. officials have appeared to soften their rhetoric about Iran’s involvement in Iraq and some analysts say Iran also may be trying to reduce tension by restraining Shi’ite militias there and restricting arms crossing the border.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran had received the U.S. request via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in the country after Washington severed ties following the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“Iran is agreeing to this request in the framework of the policy of helping the Iraqi government and nation and (supporting) stability and security in this country,” state radio quoted Mottaki as saying.
“These negotiations will be held in a near future,” he said.
In Baghdad, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said he hoped the next round of U.S.-Iran talks would encourage understanding between the two countries, foster security and stability in Iraq and reduce tension in the region.
This year’s Iranian-U.S. talks on Iraq’s security situation eased a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost three decades, even though Tehran and Washington are embroiled in a deepening stand-off over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“It is an open channel of communication and we have said that we would avail ourselves of it if we thought it would be particularly effective,” McCormack said.
Iraq last week said it was encouraged by signs of a thaw in ties between the two countries over Iraq but it wanted them to have a “proper dialogue” about the issue.
A fourth round would follow the U.S. military’s release this month of nine Iranian prisoners held in Iraq. The U.S. military has also said that unofficial assurances from Iran that it would stop the flow of bombs into Iraq appeared to be holding.
U.S. officials have also noted a decision in August by Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mehdi Army Shi’ite militia, to call a cease-fire. They say Sadr has close links with Iran.
With Shi’ite Muslims now in power in Baghdad, ties have strengthened between the two oil-producing states since 2003.
In the nuclear row, the United States accuses Tehran of seeking to build atom bombs, a charge Iran denies. Washington has refused to rule out military action, while saying it remains committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.
Additional reporting by Paul Tait and Missy Ryan in Baghdad and by Washington bureau; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Robert Hart