U.S., Iran trade barbs in direct talks
By SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA Associated Press Writer
March 10, 2007, 4:37PM
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD — In their first direct talks since the Iraq war began, U.S. and Iranian envoys traded harsh words and blamed each other for the country's crisis Saturday at a one-day international conference that some hoped would help end their 27-year diplomatic freeze.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opened the conference with an appeal for all participants to help ease his country's plight and prevent the violent conflict here from spilling over into the entire Middle East.
But the conference underscored the wide gulf between American and Iranian views over the nature of the crisis and the ways to end it.
During the talks, U.S. envoy David Satterfield pointed to his briefcase which he said contained documents proving Iran was arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq.
"Your accusations are merely a cover for your failures in Iraq," Iran's chief envoy Abbas Araghchi shot back, according to an official familiar to the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, only said that American delegates exchanged views with the Iranians "directly and in the presence of others" during talks, which he described as "constructive and businesslike."
But Labid Abbawi, a senior Iraqi Foreign Ministry official who attended the meeting, confirmed that an argument broke out between the Iranian and American envoys. He would not elaborate...
The participants at the talks included all of Iraq's neighbors — Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait — as well as the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China, Bahrain, Egypt, the U.N., the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League.
At a news conference after the meeting, Araghchi restated Tehran's demands for a clear timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces, which he insisted had made Iraq a magnet for extremists from across the Muslim world.
"For the sake of peace and stability in Iraq ... we need a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces," said Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs.
"Violence in Iraq is good for no country in the region," he said. "Security of Iraq is our security and stability in Iraq is a necessity for peace and security in the region."...
Reza Amiri, a senior official at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, dismissed American claims that Tehran was destabilizing Iraq by arming Shiite militias. The U.S. military has insisted that Iranian weapons, including a new generation of powerful roadside bombs, have killed more than 170 U.S. and coalition troops here since mid-2004.
"They're lying because it is just not true," Amiri told the AP. "Iraq's borders with Iran are the most secure of Iraqi borders. The Iraqi government has not even once said Iran is interfering in its affairs."
But Amiri said Saturday's conference was "very positive" because "everyone promised to cooperate with each other and to control the borders."
The delegates proposed an "expanded" follow-up meeting, which could include the G-8 nations and others, in Istanbul, Turkey, next month. Iraqi officials, however, say they will urge that the next meeting take place again in Baghdad.
For Iran, opening more direct contacts with Washington could help promote their shared interests in preventing full-scale war between Sunnis and Shiites. Iran has influence among Shiite political parties with ties to militias.
"Security of Iraq is our security and stability in Iraq is a necessity for peace and security in the region," Araghchi said at the news conference.
The Baghdad talks come as the U.S. administration has toughened its rhetoric on Iran and flexed its muscles at the U.N. over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The tough talk has been accompanied by the arrival of two U.S. carrier battle groups near the Iranian shores in the Persian Gulf.
Iranians increasingly fear that a U.S. attack is imminent despite American insistence to the contrary.
Associated Press Writer Brian Murphy contributed to the story.