Iran OKs more talks with U.S. about Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday that his government had accepted a U.S. request for ambassador-level talks on Iraq, to be held “in the near future.”

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that the talks — the second in two months — would be in Iraq but he did not say when. In Washington, the State Department said a meeting was “likely” and that the date and time were still being discussed.

Mottaki said the request for a new meeting was initiated by Washington because of the hardships faced by U.S. troops in Iraq.

“The second round of talks between Iran and America will be held in Iraq at an ambassador level in the near future,” the foreign minister told state television.

“It is currently a difficult situation for the Americans in Iraq, and the Americans are looking for a solution to overcome the current conditions,” he said. “Iran has always announced its readiness to help the Iraqi government and nation, and the talks will be held in this perspective.”

Who requested the meeting?
In Washington, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack downplayed suggestions that the meeting had been requested by the U.S.

“I wouldn’t necessarily go along with the characterization,” McCormack said.

The U.S. and Iran held a first round of ambassador-level discussions on security in Iraq on May 28 in Baghdad. Mottaki said the new U.S. request came through an official channel, likely the Swiss embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran in the absence of diplomatic relations severed after the Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy there in 1979.

The meeting comes at a time of high tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The U.S. reiterated charges Tuesday that Iran is arming militias in Iraq, which like Iran has a majority Shiite Muslim population. McCormack said that the U.S. wanted to use the meeting to warn Iran against continuing that support.

Prisoners to appear on TV
Iranian state television was poised to broadcast footage Wednesday of two Iranian-Americans detained in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on accusations of undermining state security.

It was unclear if the broadcast was a precursor to any change in the cases of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh.

Iran has been accused of forcing some detainees to incriminate themselves publicly on television. British sailors detained by Tehran in March for allegedly entering Iranian water appeared in videos in which they “admitted” trespassing.

The crew was freed shortly after two weeks in captivity, shortly after appearing on television.

But other people detained in Iran have continued to endure prolonged jail time even after making alleged confessions on TV.

The U.S. also objects to the recent detention of two other Iranian-American scholars; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, and Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. Shakeri is in prison, while Azima is free but barred from leaving Iran.

Tehran has strongly protested the U.S. military detention of five Iranian men arrested in a raid in northern Iraq in January, whom American officials say are intelligence agents. Iran says they are diplomats.

Iraq’s fragile government has been pressing for another meeting between the two nations with the greatest influence over its future, and Iran has repeatedly signaled its willingness to sit down.

Following the last meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials said Iran had not scaled back what the United States alleges is a concerted effort to arm militants and harm U.S. troops.

Iraq had hoped to arrange a higher-level meeting between Rice and Mottaki, but the two exchanged only stiff pleasantries during a recent international conference on Iraq’s security in Egypt.