BAGHDAD, (AP)- The United States ambassador in Baghdad said he and his Iranian counterpart agreed broadly on policy toward Iraq during four-hour groundbreaking talks on Monday, but insisted that Iran end its support for militants.
During a meeting that U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker described as businesslike and focused solely on Iraq, the American said Iran proposed setting up a “trilateral security mechanism” that would include the U.S., Iraq and Iran. Crocker said the proposal would need study in Washington.
The U.S. envoy also said he told the Iranians their country needed to stop arming, funding and training the militants. The Iranians laid out their policy toward Iraq, Crocker said, describing it as “very similar to our own policy and what the Iraqi government have set out as their own guiding principles.”
He added: “This is about actions not just principles, and I laid out to the Iranians direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq and their support for militias that are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces.”
The Baghdad talks were the first of their kind and a small sign that Washington thinks rapprochement with Iran is possible after more than a quarter-century of diplomatic estrangement that began with the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Crocker said the Iranians wanted to propose a second session.
“We will consider that when we receive it,” Crocker told reporters in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. “The purpose of this meeting was not to arrange other meetings.”
Crocker said Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi did not raise the subject of seven Iranians now in American custody in Iraq.
“The focus of our discussions were Iraq and Iraq only,” Crocker said.
In the course of the meeting, Ali al-Dabagh, a government spokesman, told reporters that the session was proceeding cordially.
“There are good intentions and understanding and commitment between the two countries,” al-Dabagh told reporters.
The talks were held at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Green Zone office.
Al-Maliki did not attend the meeting, but the prime minister greeted the two ambassadors, who shook hands, and led them into a conference room, where the ambassadors sat across from each other.
Before leaving the room, al-Maliki told both sides that Iraqis wanted a stable country free of foreign forces and regional interference. The country should not be turned into a base for terrorist groups, he said. He also said that the U.S.-led forces in Iraq were only here to help build up the army and police and the country would not be used as a launching ground for a U.S. attack on a neighbor, a clear reference to Iran.
“We are sure that securing progress in this meeting would, without doubt, enhance the bridges of trust between the two countries and create a positive atmosphere” that would help them deal with other issues, he said.
Speaking in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Monday the talks could lead to future meetings, but only if Washington admits its Middle East policy has not been successful.
“We are hopeful that Washington’s realistic approach to the current issues of Iraq by confessing its failed policy in Iraq and the region and by showing a determination to changing the policy guarantees success of the talks and possible further talks,” Mottaki said.
Monday’s talks, as predicted, had a pinpoint focus: What Washington and Iran — separately or together — could do to contain the sectarian conflagration in Iraq.
“The American side has accusations against Iran and the Iranian side has some remarks on the presence of the American forces on Iraqi lands, which they see as a threat to their government,” al-Dabagh said.
But much more encumbered the narrow agenda — primarily Iran’s nuclear program and Iranian fears that the Bush administration will seek regime change in Tehran as it did against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Washington and its Sunni Arab allies, on their side, are deeply unnerved by growing Iranian influence in the Middle East and the spread of increasingly radical Islam.
Compounding all that is Iran’s open hostility to Israel.
Other issues clouding the talks included U.S. Navy exercises in the Persian Gulf last week and tough talk from President Bush about new U.N. penalties over the Iranian nuclear program. The United States says Iran is trying to build a bomb; Iran says it needs nuclear technology for energy production.
Further complicating the talks, Iran said Saturday it had uncovered spy rings organized by the United States and its Western allies.
Iran accuses the U.S. of improperly seizing five Iranians in Iraq this spring. The U.S. military is holding the five. Iran says they are diplomats; Washington contends they are intelligence agents.
The U.S. also has complained about the detention or arrest of several Iranian-Americans in Iran in recent weeks. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that issue was not on the U.S. agenda for Monday.