BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iranian diplomats made the first consular visit on Saturday to five Iranians detained in Iraq by U.S. forces in January and Tehran’s ambassador to Baghdad described the meeting as a step forward.
The U.S. military says the five are linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and were backing militants in Iraq. Iran has insisted they are diplomats, demanded they be freed and sought access to the men.
Iranian ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi said the meeting was “a step forward and positive”. “During this meeting, we also asked … to talk to two other Iranians, who were earlier kidnapped by the American military forces in Iraq and there is supposed to be a decision soon regarding this issue,” Kazemi-Qomi said, according to the Iranian state broadcaster’s Web site. He did not name the two.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said he hoped the visit, which lasted several hours, would lead to more talks and improve relations between Washington and Tehran, which are also sparring over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Relations were strained again this week when a senior U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad accused Iranian agents of helping to plot a brazen raid that killed five U.S. soldiers in the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala in January.
Iraq has been pressing both countries to hold a second round of talks in Baghdad to follow up a landmark meeting in May where senior envoys from the two sides discussed the violence in Iraq. “We hope this humanitarian gesture will help to ease tensions and facilitate further dialogue between the two countries,” Zebari told Reuters. “This is the first such visit since they were detained. This is a positive development.”
Kazemi-Qomi and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker met in Baghdad on May 28 to discuss security in Iraq in what was the most high-profile meeting of the two enemies in almost three decades. Both envoys described the talks as positive. Iraq has invited both sides to meet again, but no date has been set for another meeting. There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to the consular visit.
Washington accuses Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq by supplying militants with weapons and training to harm U.S. troops. Tehran blames the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 for sparking bloodshed that threatens to tear the country apart.
The U.S. military said this week there had been no sign of action by Tehran since the first round of talks to stem alleged Iranian intervention in Iraq.
The five detained Iranians have previously been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Iran is holding three U.S.-Iranian citizens on security-related charges.