Sunday, June 18, 2006

Iran Shuns Talks with U.S. over Iraq

Iran will shun direct talks with the United States on Iraq despite being encouraged to take part by an influential Iraqi politician, an official said on Sunday.

On Saturday, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a key Shi'ite Muslim party closely allied to Iran, said in Tehran such direct talks could benefit both Tehran and Baghdad.

However, he told reporters he was not an intermediary carrying messages from the United States.

"Talks between Iran and the United States are in Iraq's interests and could be in Iran's interests as well because the United States is present in Iraq and in the region," he said. READ MORE

But Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi on Sunday told a news conference: "We do not have talks with the United States on the agenda now."

In March it had looked like such talks could go ahead, with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, saying Iran would talk to the United States to help resolve problems in Iraq.

But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in April such talks were not needed since a permanent Iraqi government was in place.

"Because we respected Mr. Hakim's opinion, we accepted his request to talk to the United States but the Americans showed unreasonable and inappropriate behaviour that made the talks impossible," Asefi said.

He did not specify what the inappropriate behaviour was but Iran accuses Washington of putting unfair pressure on Tehran over its nuclear work, brutal tactics in occupying Iraq and backing Israeli attacks against Palestinians.