ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Iranian and U.S. officials will meet in Iraq on May 28 to discuss security in the country, Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday, a rare face-to-face meeting between the bitter rivals.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the talks would focus on the situation in Iraq four years after the U.S.-led invasion. The talks, being held at the request of Iraqi leaders, would be at ambassador level.
He dismissed the possibility of discussing other thorny issues, such as Iran’s nuclear program.
“Negotiation is limited to Iraq, in Iraq, and will start in the presence of Iraqi officials,” Mottaki told a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
“Nothing but Iraq on the agenda.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would use the meeting to urge Iran to take specific steps to reduce violence in Iraq, but declined to detail exactly what steps the United States wanted Iran to take.
“Iran has for some time talked about its interest in seeing a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq and we are asking them to follow through those words with actions,” he said.
The United States has accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq by backing Shi’ite militia there, and of providing weapons and the technology for new versions of roadside bombs such as “explosively formed projectiles”, or EFPs.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said he did not expect “any stunning, startling breakthroughs” from the first meeting.
“Their support for militias, their involvement in the development and transfer of EFPs that are killing our forces, these are not good things,” Crocker told reporters in Baghdad.
“It would be a very good thing if they brought their actions more into alignment with their words.”
Iran denies the charges and accuses the United States of igniting tension between Iraq’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari has welcomed the talks. U.S. officials have often said they would meet Iranian counterparts but that talks would have to be limited to Iraq.
Violence is increasing in Iraq and U.S. President George W. Bush is under increasing domestic pressure to wrap up the four-year-old conflict.
Mottaki said deteriorating security in Iraq proved the U.S. strategy there had failed.
“The policies were wrong,” he said. He did not elaborate.
Tehran is locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program. Washington accuses it of wanting to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran says it seeks nuclear technology only to generate electricity that would allow it to export more oil.
Mottaki said Iran was ready to assure the world it had not diverted nuclear know-how to weapons production and would not do so in future.
“Iran’s activity is peaceful, legal and permission for such activity comes from our membership of the NPT and not permission from any specific country,” he said, referring to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Iran has signed.
“We are flexible to talk to find a comprehensive solution on this issue ... the only price which we cannot pay for this solution is to ignore the essential right of the Iranian nation to have nuclear technology.
“Less than that we are ready for any compromise.”
Additional reporting by Paul Tait in Baghdad