Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top Iraqi affairs adviser says U.S. diplomats are prepared to raise concerns over Iraq directly with Iranian and Syrian counterparts at a Baghdad conference Saturday. Rice adviser David Satterfield, who will attend the Baghdad meeting, spoke to reporters prior to his departure for Baghdad. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The Baghdad meeting, organized by the Iraqi government, will bring together diplomats from Iraq, neighboring states, and the permanent U.N. Security Council member countries.
As such, it will present a rare occasion in which envoys from the United States, Iran and Syria, will be together around the same conference table.
The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 and has a chilly official relationship with Syria, and it has accused both of activities that have contributed to violence in Iraq.
In a talk with reporters, Ambassador Satterfield said the Baghdad conference is intended as a group discussion of how to make Iraq more stable and secure.
However he said if the opportunity arises for direct U.S. exchanges with the Iranians and Syrians, it would be in his words, "perfectly appropriate:"
"If we are approached over orange juice by the Syrians or the Iranians to discuss an Iraq-related issue that is germane to this topic -- a stable, secure peaceful, democratic Iraq -- we are not going to turn and walk away," Satterfield said. "
Satterfield said in any direct discussion that might occur with the Iranians, the United States would raise its charges that Iranian weapons - including armor piercing explosives - are being used by militants attacking U.S. troops in Iraq:
"Our concerns about Iran's participation through provision of materiel and training on the use of that materiel, which has been used in the lethal targeting of U.S. and coalition forces, is very much a topic for discussion," Satterfield said.
Satterfield, who will head the U.S. delegation in Baghdad along with the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the United States is looking for meaningful action by Syria to halt the flow across its border with Iraq of foreign fighters and weapons:
"First, the continued crossing of the Syrian border of Jihadist elements who are largely responsible, overwhelmingly responsible, for the bombings taking place in that country," Satterfield said. "As has been the case for some years, the vast majority of all the bombings taking place - the things that you see every day on television - are the responsibility of foreigners. The vast majority of those foreigners continued to come across the Syrian border."
The U.S. diplomat also said Syria needs to take action against the presence there of Baathist elements from the former Saddam Hussein government, who he said have a significant role in financing and directing the Iraqi insurgency.
The Baghdad meeting is expected to be followed in April by a broader, ministerial-level conference, possibly in Istanbul, that would include Secretary Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts, among others.
Satterfield expressed cautious optimism that the Iraqi government's new security plan for Baghdad, backed by a surge in U.S. troops, may be showing positive results.
He said death squad-type killings in the capital have declined sharply, though he said the progress has been obscured by a rash of bomb attacks against civilians which he attributed to al-Qaida terrorists trying to provoke new sectarian violence.