TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran may not attend a multilateral conference on Iraq next month that includes the United States if U.S. forces do not release five Iranians it is holding there, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
In January, U.S. forces detained five Iranians linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Washington, which said they were backing Iraqi militants. Iran denies the charges, says they are diplomats and has demanded their release.
“We have reminded Iraqi officials that as long as the Iranian diplomats are not freed, Iran’s participation at any conference about Iraq with the presence of America will face a serious problem and obstacle,” Abbas Araghchi, a senior Foreign Ministry official, told Iran’s hardline Kayhan daily.
Araghchi represented Iran at a meeting of the United States, other world powers and Iraq’s neighbors in Baghdad in March. During that meeting, he spoke with the U.S. representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s ambassador to Baghdad.
The meeting expected next month will be at ministerial level. U.S. officials have said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was open to talks with Iran over its role in Iraq but Tehran has said it has no plans for such a meeting.
Iran said this month it had warned Iraq in a letter that its failure to secure the release of the five detained Iranians could impair Tehran’s cooperation with Baghdad. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said he had not received any letter.
The U.S. military has said it is considering an Iranian request to visit the men. An International Committee of the Red Cross team has visited the detained Iranians. Araghchi said the Red Cross confirmed they were in “good health.”