United States, Iran Agree To Hold Talks on Iraq

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington –- Following on a brief exchange between U.S. and Iranian officials at the Iraq Neighbors’ Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Washington and Tehran have agreed to engage in ambassadorial-level discussions about the situation in Iraq.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the agreement was a “logical follow-up” to the discussions in Sharm el-Sheikh May 3-4.

“The Iranians ... continue as they have in the past, to say that they would like to play a constructive role, and that they want to help in promoting the stability of Iraq. We, in light of the conversations that have taken place in the Neighbors' Conference, want to give a chance to test that proposition out,” Casey told reporters at a State Department briefing May 14.

White House and State Department officials stressed that the discussions would be limited to Iraq-related issues.

The Neighbors' Conference focused on actions Iraq’s neighbors could take to help bring stability to Iraq. At the conference, the United States urged the neighboring countries, particularly Iran, to tighten border security, refrain from supporting militias inside Iraq and stanch the flow of weapons and militants into Iraq. Casey said the proposed discussions between the United States and Iran would focus on these same issues. (See related article.)

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will represent the United States in the discussions.  Casey pointed out that the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad has had the authority from President Bush to engage in contacts with Iran since late 2005, when Zalmay Khalilzad held the post.

Although the United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1979, when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage, the countries have had diplomatic exchanges on several occasions.  Casey pointed out that the proposed meeting in Baghdad is similar to talks between U.S. and Iranian officials over the situation in Afghanistan following the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001.

For more on U.S. policies in the region, see Iraq Update.