STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Iran said on Thursday it was keen to play a major role in the reconstruction of Iraq, and lambasted the United States and its allies for “mistaken policies” in its neighbor.
Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told an international conference on rebuilding Iraq that its “occupiers” had only made the situation worse.
“Due to the mistaken policies pursued by the occupiers in Iraq, the situation of security in Iraq is now so grave that it has cast its shadow” over other aspects of life, Mottaki said at the meeting, which is chaired by Iraq and the United Nations and hosted by Sweden.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in the audience, had a bemused expression on her face as he spoke and at one point raised her eyebrows.
Iraq’s foreign minister told Reuters that Rice and Mottaki had not met during the conference and U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters he was not aware of any contact between the two.
Mottaki, speaking later with reporters, would only say he did not recall any meetings with Americans. Asked if he had shaken hands with Rice, he said Muslims did not shake hands with ladies.
The Iranian minister, however, did announce that a visit by the European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Tehran was set to go ahead.
Solana this week had said he hoped to go to Iran in the next month to discuss Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
“Mr. Solana proposed two different dates for his visit to Tehran. I am considering (them),” Mottaki said. “I think he will pay a visit to Tehran soon.”
Asked what he would tell Solana, he said: “First we listen and hear what he has to say. And then due to what he says we will reply. A constructive approach.”
In his speech to the conference, Mottaki said Iran had contributed $10 million to an Iraq reconstruction fund and signed a deal granting a $1 billion easy loan to Iraq to be repaid over 40 years.
“It seems that Iran is among the first countries to provide such facilities to Iraq. This evidences Iran’s core policy to enhance its economic ties with Iraq in the long run,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Mottaki said cultural links gave Iran had an undeniable advantage in its ability to provide assistance to Iraq and it could play a significant role in reconstruction efforts.
Both Iraq and Iran have majority Shi’ite populations.
Mottaki told reporters later that Iran believed stability in Iraq was key for the region as a whole.
“That’s why Iran always was a part of the solution in the region for the crisis, not a part of the crisis.”
Additional reporting by Adam Cox and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Jon Boyle