TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran is ready to consider negotiating with the United States over regional issues including Iraq, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sunday.
“If there is any official request about regional issues, we are ready to review it,” said spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini. He said those issues included Iraq, but he would not elaborate.
However, Hosseini said Iran was not changing its stance regarding bilateral relations with the U.S., an apparent indication that Iran would refuse to talk with the U.S. about other issues such as its controversial nuclear program. The U.S. has demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium as a precondition to talks about its disputed program.
The United States said in May that it wanted to hold direct talks with Iran about Iraq, which would have been the most public exchanges by the countries in years. Iran said it had agreed to the idea, and U.S. and Iranian officials said at the time that the talks would focus on the situation in Iraq, not on broader subjects like Iran’s nuclear program. But Iran then changed its mind, and Iran’s foreign minister rejected the talks, because he said the Americans had raised “other issues” and had tried to use the decision to hold the talks as propaganda.
Sunday’s Iran statement seemed to indicate that the government was once again willing to consider the idea of direct talks with the U.S. on Iraq, the neighboring country that is veering ever closer to civil war. U.S. officials have long accused Iran of interfering in Iraq, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said in the spring that American officials believe Iran has a role to play in stabilizing Iraq, whose government is Shiite like Iran’s.
Some Western experts have said they believe that Iran is genuinely worried about civil conflict in Iraq and its potential to spill over, although others say they believe hardliners in Iran may have an interest in causing at least some turmoil in the country. Iran’s leaders are believed to have close links to some Iraqi leaders and clerics.
Sunday’s announcement comes one day after thousands of Iranians celebrated the 27th anniversary of the U.S. embassy takeover by militant students in Tehran.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranians have celebrated the Nov. 4 takeover of the embassy, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
The U.S., which broke off diplomatic relations with Iran over the embassy takeover, suspects that Iran’s nuclear program is a front for developing weapons. Tehran denies the accusations and says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Iran has repeatedly refused U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for atomic power or material for a nuclear warhead, and has said is not intimidated by threats of international sanctions.
The opposing views of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council has set the stage for long and difficult negotiations on a resolution to punish Iran for continuing uranium enrichment despite council demands to stop.
A European draft resolution orders all countries to ban the supply of material and technology that could contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on companies, individuals and organizations involved in those programs. But Russia has proposed amendments to the draft resolution, saying it wants sanctions limited to measures that will keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while keeping the door open for negotiations.
China has said it has a similar view and supported the Russian changes, while the U.S. contends that the European draft is not tough enough.