TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said on Tuesday it has agreed to a new round of talks with the United States on improving security in Iraq, despite mounting tensions between the two arch foes over Iran’s nuclear drive.
The announcement came after the United States said Iran has stemmed the flow of weapons and militants across the border amid a decrease in violence in its western neighbor.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Washington had requested the new talks through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which looks after US interests in Iran in the absence of a US mission.
“The Swiss embassy in Iran passed on the message of the US government for a new round of talks on Iraq to my colleagues in the foreign ministry,” Mottaki told reporters alongside his visiting Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem.
“Iran has agreed with this request within the framework of its policy of helping the Iraqi people. The exact date of the fourth round of the talks will be announced in the near future,” he said, adding they would be held in Iraq.
Baghdad welcomed the decision.
“The Iraqi government hopes the talks will result in a common understanding between the three countries,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
“The negotiations will help the security and stability of Iraq and also decrease tension in the region.”
The United States broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
But Iran and the United States have already held three rounds of talks over Iraq this year. The sheer fact the talks took place despite such an acrimonious history was hailed as a landmark event.
US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi have held two sets of face-to-face talks on May 28 and July 24, the highest level public contacts between the two sides for 27 years.
The two sides also met at experts’ level on August 6 but no meeting has been held since then.
It appeared at the time that all three rounds of talks had failed to achieve a major breakthrough. The discussions were marred by an exchange of accusations over who was to blame for the violence in Iraq.
Iran says the problems are caused by “occupying” US forces while Washington accuses Tehran of arming Shiite militias, something Iran denies.
This month the tensions appear to have eased.
US military officials have said Iran appears to be honouring a commitment made during a visit to Tehran by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to stop the flow of the weapons into the country.
Iran denies it was involved in any arms deliveries in the first place.
“We’re not there yet,” a senior US defence official said last week, adding that it was too early to jump to conclusions.
“We certainly hope that the Iranians have decided to fulfil their commitments to the Maliki government,” the official added.
In another sign of easing tensions, the US military freed nine Iranians on November 9 that it been holding on suspicion of aiding insurgents.
Another 11 Iranians remain in US custody in Iraq.
The talks between Iran and the United States have focussed exclusively on Iraq and have never strayed into other areas of dispute, such as Washington’s accusations that Tehran is seeking an atomic bomb.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful civilian purposes only but on Tuesday the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen again declined to rule out the possibility of military action against Iran over the programme.
“I would never take the military option off the table,” Mullen told reporters in Washington stressing nonetheless that “diplomacy is very important.”
Washington has ben pressing for the Security Council to adopt a third set of sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to heed an ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment.
Iran insists that its nuclear programme should be taken off the Security Council’s agenda after a report from the UN nuclear watchdog said some progress had been made in exposing its extent.
Irancove @ November 21, 2007