The American and Iranian envoys to Baghdad’s regional peace conference exchanged direct talks today on efforts to end Iraq's violence and bolster its government. The US representative, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, called it a “first step.” The contact was a significant break in the nearly 28-year diplomatic freeze between Iran and the US. Washington broke off ties with Iran after militants occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Ambassador Khalilzad first approached the Iranian delegation and welcomed their attendance. He later exchanged views with Iranians “directly and in the presence of others.” Khalilzad told AFP that their discussions with regard to Iraq were “constructive, businesslike and problem-solving.” Khalilzad also noted that he raised Washington’s assertions that the Shia militias receive weapons and assistance from across the border from Iran.
The Iranian representative, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, told reporters that he had no face-to-face talks with Khalilizad, and all dialogue was within the framework of the meeting. Araghchi restated Tehran's demands for a clear timetable for the withdrawal of US-led forces. He also condemned attacks on Shia pilgrims, which killed 117 in the central town of Hila earlier in the week.
In a lead editorial in Keyhan, its influential editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari warned the Iranian delegates against falling into the US trap to lure Iran into playing a formal and open role in the conflict in Iraq. He wrote that Iran’s participation in the conference was a mistake.
The conference was convened by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki to forge a common front against the sectarian violence in Iraq. 16 nations, comprising the Iraqi neighbors and the permanent members of the UN Security Council, attended the one-day conference on Saturday 10 March in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The delegates proposed an expanded follow-up meeting, which could include the G-8 nations and others, in Istanbul, Turkey, next month.