Iraq asks U.S., Iran to stop accusing and start talking

McClatchy NewspapersMay 7, 2008 

BAGHDAD — After months of stalled talks between the United States and Iran, the Iraqi government said it was time for the two nations to stop trading accusations and come to the table.

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said that his government had proposed four dates to the United States and Iran for tri-lateral talks, but has stopped making suggestions and doesn't expect the talks to resume anytime soon.

The United States has accused Iran of supplying weapons that are being used to attack U.S. troops and civilians, while Iran has charged the United States with unnecessarily bombing the Shiite population in Baghdad.

"We believe the conditions should be conducive," Zebari said of the talks. But in the atmosphere of media attacks, the accusations between Washington and Tehran and the general lack of trust and confidence, "I don't think we will succeed in having the fourth round."

He added, however, that talks were necessary, now more than ever.

"The idea is not dead," he said. "We hope that we will be able to resume it. We think it's very useful, especially with the current circumstances of increased tension in the area."

Last year the two diplomatic missions in Baghdad held three rounds of talks, the first of their kind in 27 years. But talks stalled this year, and both U.S. and Iranian officials say they've seen no results from the talks.

After the Iraqi military's offensive to curb the power of militias in the southern port city of Basra and a more than five-week battle in the northeast Shiite slum of Sadr City, relations have soured further between Iran and the U.S.

On Monday, Mohammed Ali Hosseini, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, said that U.S. airstrikes against the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City have rendered the talks useless and that there would be no talks until the strikes stop.

"In view of the U.S. open bombing and the assault of the Iraqi nation, Iran-Iraq-U.S. trilateral talks would be meaningless," he said in Tehran.

Meanwhile, the United States has renewed its charges against Iran, accusing Iran of smuggling weapons into Iraq and funding and training Shiite militias. The heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices are located, has come under rocket fire mainly from Sadr City for weeks by what the U.S. military says are 107mm Iranian-made rockets.

Iran denies the allegation and condemned the militia attacks on the Green Zone, but it repeated its long-standing contention that the U.S. presence in Iraq is the reason for unrest in the area.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has consistently called Iran's influence in Iraq negative. "There is nothing I can point to and say that this is a direct and positive result of those talks," he told McClatchy in March.

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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