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U.S., Iran plan Round 2 of talks on Iraq security

Times Staff Writer

U.S. and Iranian officials have agreed to a second round of their groundbreaking face-to-face talks over conditions in Iraq, Iraqi officials said Tuesday.

Both U.S. and Iranian officials said they were ready to return to discussions about security in Iraq, even though their first meeting yielded none of the results either side had sought. That meeting, on May 28, broke a 27-year freeze on direct talks between the two nations.

U.S. officials, who say Iranian meddling is one of Iraq’s biggest problems, said Tuesday that they were eager to again demand an end to what they call Tehran’s support of sectarian militias and distribution of sophisticated explosive devices that are killing or injuring U.S. troops.

“Given the situation in Iraq and given Iran’s continued behavior that is leading to further instability in Iraq, it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting, to directly convey to the Iranian authorities that if they wish to see a more stable, secure, peaceful Iraq ... then they need to change their behavior,” said Sean McCormack, the chief State Department spokesman.

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In Tehran, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his government would agree to an invitation from Washington, though it had not yet received a formal request.

“We look positively at holding a second round of talks,” he said.

Officials at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington confirmed that a meeting is being planned. The Iraqi government has been eager to have the two countries, its two most important allies, try to work out their differences.

The last meeting was held in Baghdad with Iraqi officials taking part. Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, represented the United States.

Even though the agenda will be narrowly focused, the American willingness for a new meeting is a sign that Washington wants to keep channels open to Tehran at a time when they are trying to convince all of Iraq’s neighbors to join in stabilizing the country.

Patrick Clawson, a Mideast analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that even though many in the Bush administration might doubt whether the session would be productive, it made sense for the U.S. to repeat its primary message. He said it also made sense to encourage the Iranians to take part in the U.S.-led effort to stabilize Iraq.

“It’s often useful to meet with people who’ve done none of the things you’ve asked, even if only to point it out to them,” he said.

Clawson said it was beneficial for the Bush administration to reach out to Tehran at a time when Congress has been pressing for U.S. officials to enlist more cooperation with Iraq’s neighbors, including those who have been hostile. The blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group urged the same thing in December.

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Iran may use the meeting to press for the release of five Iranians held by U.S. officials in Iraq since January and accused of being spies. Iranian officials say the five were consular officials entitled to diplomatic immunity. The Iranians also may push for the Americans to take action against the militant group Mujahedin Khalq, or MEK, which operates out of northern Iraq.

U.S. and Iranian officials declared after the last meeting that they would meet again, but the plan fizzled amid increasing tensions.

U.S. officials, in addition to complaining about Iranian involvement in Iraq, have demanded that Tehran release four Iranian American scholars and activists charged with jeopardizing Iranian security.

But Iraq will be the chief topic. David Satterfield, the State Department’s Iraqi coordinator, made it clear last month that the U.S. was unsatisfied with the response to its demand that Tehran halt all involvement in violence in Iraq.

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“We have got to see Iran perform on this issue,” he said on C-SPAN. “We have not, to date.”

paul.richter@latimes.com


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