May 5, 2008 / 11:58 AM / in 11 years

Iran says new talks with U.S. on Iraq meaningless

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran on Monday dismissed any prospect of new talks with the United States on Iraq, accusing U.S.-led forces on Monday of a “massacre” of the Iraqi people.

A resident walks in a damaged building that was hit by an air strike in Baghdad's Amil district May 5, 2008. REUTERS/Bassim Shati

The two foes last year held three rounds of ground-breaking discussions in Baghdad, easing a diplomatic freeze of almost three decades, but Iraqi officials have expressed frustration that a fourth round has failed to get off the ground.

Iraq says it does not want its soil to become a battleground for a proxy war between the United States and Iran, which are also at loggerheads over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

“Right now, what we observe in Iraq is a massacre of the Iraqi nation by the occupying forces,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference.

“Concerning this situation, talks with America will have no results and will be meaningless.”

Hosseini did not elaborate, but U.S. forces have been fighting daily battles with militiamen loyal to anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad for several weeks.

Washington accuses Iran of funding, arming and training “rogue” elements of Sadr’s Mehdi Army to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces, despite its public commitment to stabilizing Iraq.

Tehran blames the violence on the U.S. presence in Iraq.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey criticized Iran for its latest statements and reiterated U.S. accusations of Iranian meddling in its neighbor’s affairs.

“It is meaningless to have talks on anything with Iran as long as they don’t change their behavior. That said, we have continued to be willing and ready, and are willing and ready, to have additional discussions with the Iranians through this tripartite channel,” Casey told reporters.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said there was no point in continuing the talks at this point.

“We see the value of the talks to be continued, but when the conditions are right and conducive,” he told the U.S. television news network CNN.

SHI’ITE MILITIAS

Despite the mutual accusations, U.S. and Iranian officials had launched talks in May last year aimed at easing bloodshed in Iraq. The fourth meeting has been postponed repeatedly.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry also voiced support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in cracking down on “illegal” Shi’ite militias, after an Iraqi delegation urged Tehran to stop backing such groups.

The U.S. military said last week “very, very significant” amounts of Iranian arms had been found in Basra and Baghdad during an offensive against gunmen loyal to Sadr.

Maliki has ordered the formation of a committee to compile evidence of Iranian “interference” in Iraq that would then be presented to Tehran, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh Dabbagh said on Sunday.

Hosseini said Tehran had always supported stability in Iraq.

“What Iran has repeatedly said ... was its support for Mr Maliki’s government,” Hosseini said. “Iran believes that illegal armed groups that committed crimes should be legally confronted.”

Ties between Iran and Iraq have improved since Sunni Arab strongman Saddam Hussein was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion and a Shi’ite-led government came to power in Baghdad.

Analysts say Tehran wants to keep a friendly government in charge while ensuring that rival Iraqi Shi’ite factions look to Iran as a power broker.

Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Aseel Kami in Baghdad, and Sue Plemingin Washington; Writing by Fredrik Dahl, editing by Ross Colvin and Myra MacDonald

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