Arch enemies the United States and Iran launched a second round of rare face-to-face talks in Baghdad on Tuesday aimed at stemming the raging violence in Iraq.
The talks began at 10.15 am (0615 GMT) at the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who began the meeting with a brief speech, according to an official at the Iraqi premier's office.
Photographs from the meeting showed the three delegations sitting around a triangular arrangement of tables in conference room in Maliki's offices inside Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.
The US was represented by its ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, while Tehran's envoy Hassan Kazemi Qomi headed the Iranian delegation in the talks attended by Iraqi officials.
As with a similar meeting held on May 28, officials said the talks would only focus on the security situation in Iraq, leaving aside a roster of other disputes between the United States and the Islamic republic.
May's meeting did not achieve any major breakthrough as both sides stuck to their familiar positions, with Tehran calling for a US withdrawal and Washington accusing Iran of fomenting violence.
The United States broke off relations with Iran in 1980, when Islamic revolutionaries seized the US embassy in Tehran and held its diplomats hostage for 444 days.
The two countries remain at loggerheads over a range of issues including Iran's nuclear programme, which the United States claims is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, an accusation vehemently denied by Tehran.
US forces also accuse Iran of arming and training Iraqi militias, allegations firmly denied by Tehran.
Relations have also been chilled by the detention in Iraq by US forces of at least five Iranian officials whom Tehran insists are diplomats, but Washington says are covert operatives from of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.
Tehran in turn has detained four US-Iranians accused of espionage and harming national security by being linked to alleged US efforts to topple Iran's clerical authorities.
On Monday, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack ruled out raising the issue of the US-Iranians at the talks, saying their "primary focus is on Iraq security."
Tehran claimed that scholars Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who were arrested in May, had exposed in television statements a US plot to overthrow Iran's Islamic authorities through a peaceful "soft revolution."
California-based businessman Ali Shakeri has also been detained. Parnaz Azima, a journalist for Radio Free Europe's Persian arm, is technically at liberty but has had her passport confiscated and cannot leave the country.
Asked whether Washington would miss a rare opportunity by not raising the fate of the four, McCormack said, "I think it is a missed opportunity for the Iranians not to allow these people to leave over the past two months."
Given the acrimonious backdrop, Iraqi lawmakers were divided in their expectations of Tuesday's meeting.
"Nothing much is expected from the US-Iran meeting," said lawmaker Mahmud Othman, a Kurd. "The US wants Iran to keep off Iraq and Iran wants US to leave Iraq. Each side has its own agenda," he said.
"Iraqis are insisting on such meetings because they themselves have failed to solve the problem. But Iraq's problems can be solved only by the Iraqis. They should work together."
But for Iraq's Shiite leaders, known for their close links with Shiite Iran, the meeting was a positive step.
"There is a strong will by the three parties to solve the problems and support the Iraqi government," said Humam Hammoudi, MP from the Shiite Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, a party known to be close to Iran.
Shiite MP Abbas al-Bayati said May's meeting had broken the "psychological barrier and the upcoming meeting will put in place a practical framework to help the three parties support the (Iraqi) political process."
Well....Grandma used to say You can hope in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled first:
U.S. hopes Iran meeting will show results this time
By Sue Pleming
Monday, July 23, 2007; 10:46 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes a meeting between the U.S. and Iranian envoys to Baghdad will push Tehran to change its ways in Iraq even though their last encounter made no difference, said U.S. officials on Monday.
"One would hope you would see a change in Iranian behavior. I can't tell you whether or not we will see that. It is up to the Iranians," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack of the proposed meeting between ambassadors in Baghdad on Tuesday.
"If they really do want to see a changed Iraq and they want to contribute to that, then they are going to have to match their actions with their words," he told reporters.
Washington accuses Iran of stoking violence in Iraq by backing militants. Iran denies the charges and blames the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 for the bloodshed.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said explosive devices blamed for the deaths of many U.S. troops in Iraq as well as other weaponry were still coming into Iraq from Iran.
"This is an opportune time, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to revisit commitments Iran has made, saying that it believes in trying to stabilize Iraq. We have seen signs that we think need addressing," said Snow.
Tuesday's meeting between Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker follows a similar one in Baghdad on May 28 in what was the highest-profile contact in almost three decades between the two countries.
U.S. officials said the May meeting did not lead to any changes by Iran and it was decided that further talks were needed.
"It was the decision of Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice, talking with President (George W.) Bush ... that it was appropriate to take this opportunity to see if we could underscore with the Iranians that they need to change their behavior, despite, at this point, any lack of change in their behavior," said McCormack.
McCormack said it was not clear whether more meetings would follow, adding the United States did not want to meet the Iranians just for the sake of it.
In May, Rice met the foreign minister of another U.S. foe, Syria, to discuss how to stabilize Iraq. Washington also accuses Damascus of interfering in Iraq and of not doing enough to stop the flow of arms and fighters across the border.
McCormack said the Bush administration had not seen improvements by Syria either since Rice's meeting, but he still believed such talks were worthwhile.
"Sometimes this takes a gradual ramping up of pressure and keeping the spotlight on the need for these countries to play a positive role (in Iraq)," he said.
Tuesday's meeting would again be limited to discussing Iraq and would not touch on other issues such as Iran's nuclear ambitions or the detention of three Iranian-American academics by Tehran as well as a radio reporter prevented from returning to the United States.
Asked whether it was a missed opportunity not to discuss the detained Iranian-Americans during the envoys' meeting, McCormack replied: "It is a missed opportunity not to allow these people to leave (Iran) for the past two months."
U.S. authorities have been holding five Iranians in Iraq since January and Tehran has, in turn, demanded their release.
The U.S. military says the five are linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and were backing militants in Iraq while Iran has insisted they are diplomats.
U.S. Responses and Prospects
The Iraq Study Group final report’s first recommendation is that the United States include Iran (and Syria) in multilateral efforts to stabilize Iraq. Even before the Study Group report, U.S. officials, eager to try to stabilize Iraq, had tried to engage Iran on the issue.
In December 2005, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad stated that he had received President Bush’s approval to undertake negotiations with Iranian counterparts in an effort to enlist Iranian cooperation in Iraq. The United States and Iran agreed to such talks in March 2006, but U.S. officials opposed Iran’s efforts to expand such discussions to bilateral U.S.-Iran issues and no talks were held.
The Bush Administration did not initially endorse the Iraq Study Group recommendation on engaging Iran as part of a solution in Iraq, and instead launched several initiatives to limit Iran’s influence there. In his January 10, 2007, speech announcing a U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad, President Bush stated that the United States would “interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria ... [and would] seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
In that speech, he also announced deployment of an additional aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf and extended deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries reportedly stationed in Kuwait and Qatar.
President Bush, in a January 31, 2007, press interview, reportedly confirmed prior reports that he had authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to treat Iranian agents in Iraq as combatants if they are observed actively assisting armed elements in Iraq.
However, in an apparent shift that might have been caused by Administration assessments that pressure on Iran was increasing U.S. leverage, the United States supported and attended an Iraq-sponsored regional conference in Baghdad on March 10, 2007.
Also attending were the Gulf monarchy states, Egypt, and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Iran and Syria attended, as did the United States, with most participants terming the discussions “constructive.” Both Secretary of State Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki attended the follow up meeting in Egypt during May 3-4, 2007, but held no substantive bilateral discussions, according to both sides.
However, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker attended the Egypt meeting and had some discussions with Mottaki’s subordinates, and the two countries subsequently agreed to hold talks in Baghdad on May28, 2007, confined to the Iraq issue and attended by Iraqi diplomats.
Despite the burgeoning U.S.-Iran diplomacy on Iraq, the Administration has continued to pressure Iran on Iraq issues. On March 24, 2007, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1747 on the Iran nuclear issue.
However, the Resolution has a provision banning arms exports by Iran, a provision clearly directed at Iran’s arms supplies to Iraq’s Shiite militias as well as to other pro-Iranian movements such as Lebanese Hezbollah. The Resolution could provide legitimacy for enhanced U.S. searches of truck or other traffic from Iran into Iraq under the umbrella of enforcing the Resolution.
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American Ambassador Crocker Agrees Broadly with Genocidal Theocracy
Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling!