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Iranian, U.S. officials set date for Iraq meeting

Iranian and U.S. officials are to meet in Iraq on May 28 to discuss security in Iraq, a rare face-to-face meeting between the bitter rivals, Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

Iranian and U.S. officials are to meet in Iraq on May 28 to discuss security in Iraq, a rare face-to-face meeting between the bitter rivals, Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the talks would focus on the situation in Iraq. He dismissed the possibility of discussing other thorny issues between the two countries, 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.”

Ambassador-level talks
The talks, being held at the request of Iraqi leaders, would be at ambassador level, he said.

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."

Washington said this week talks would soon take place with Iran on how it could play a “productive role” in Iraq’s security. The United States has accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq by backing Shiite militia there.

Iran denies the charges and accuses the United States of igniting tension between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari has welcomed the talks, saying both the United States and Iran were major players in his country.

U.S. officials have often said they would meet Iranian counterparts but that talks would have to be limited to Iraq.

Nuclear standoff
With violence escalating in Iraq, and President George W. Bush under increasing domestic pressure to wrap up the four-year-old war, many experts say Tehran could play a major role in stabilizing its neighbor.

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 also 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.”