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US, Iran Affirm Common Goals in Iraq During Rare Talks


Rare talks between Iran and the United States have concluded in Baghdad, where U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said officials on both sides affirmed they share common policies aimed at a future stable and democratic Iraq, but he also insisted Iran stop supporting insurgent militias. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Irbil that as the talks concluded, a bomb blast in Baghdad killed at least 19 people and wounded some 46 others.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opened the talks by saying he was confident Iran and the United States have the will to reach common ground in their Iraq policies.

Maliki says Iraqi officials would participate in the meeting not as a mediator between the two sides, but as a principal party in trying to direct the dialogue in a positive direction.

After nearly four hours of talks, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said Iranian and U.S. officials agreed on the broad principles that guide their policies for a democratic and peaceful Iraq.

"We also made it clear from the American point of view that this is about actions, not just principles," he said. "I laid out for the Iranians a number of our direct specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq."

Ambassador Crocker said U.S. officials accused Iran of carrying out actions that oppose its stated goal of securing Iraq, such as training and providing weapons to insurgent militias that undermine the Iraqi government. He said the Iranian delegation, led by Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi, did not respond to the allegations.

No Iranian representatives spoke at the news conference following the talks, but Ambassador Crocker was asked about the concerns they had raised.

"The Iranians did not go into any great detail," he said. "They made the assertion that the coalition presence was an occupation and that the effort to train and equip the Iraqi security forces had been inadequate to the challenges faced."

Ambassador Crocker said U.S. officials responded by saying coalition forces are in Iraq by invitation of the Iraqi government and under U.N. Security Council authority and the United States has spent billions of dollars training Iraqi security forces.

The ambassador also said Iran had proposed setting up a "trilateral security mechanism" among Iraq, Iran and the United States. He did not provide details on the proposal and said it would be studied by officials in Washington.

In Tehran on Monday, Iran's foreign minister said the best way to end the sectarian fighting in Iraq would be an immediate pullout of U.S. forces.

The talks in Baghdad were a rare meeting between high-ranking Iranian and American officials. The United States broke off diplomatic ties in 1979 following the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Ambassador Crocker described Monday's meeting as "businesslike" and focused exclusively on the security situation in Iraq. He said Iranian officials did not raise the issue of five detained Iranians held in U.S. custody.

The ambassador said the Iraqi government proposed another similar meeting among representatives of the three countries. He said U.S. officials would consider the invitation after they receive it.