The first face-to-face, senior-level
talks between the United States and
Iran in more than two decades were
never going to be reconciliatory. But
the fact that the four hours of
discussions on bringing stability to
war-torn Iraq took place at all in
Baghdad on Monday indicate how much
each of the two arch foes, and indeed
the leaders of the two countries, need
such talks, according to an article on
the Christian Science Monitor.
"The talks would not be taking
place unless Bush backed them and ...
Khamenei backed them," says Juan
Cole, an expert on Iraq at the
University of Michigan.
For President Bush, joining these
talks signals a new determination to
test all diplomatic avenues for
stabilizing Iraq. Beyond this, the
meeting signals the rise of
foreign-policy pragmatists within the
U.S. administration, analysts say.
"[President Bush] is to the point
where he will try anything," Cole
said, but "it (the meeting) also
points to the increased influence of
Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice" and the administration's
new Iraq team: Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates and his man in Iraq, Gen.
David Petraeus, and Crocker, who
recently arrived from Pakistan.
Despite Washington’s insistence that
the talks didn’t presage a retreat
from a three-decade-old U.S. policy to
isolate the Islamic Republic, Iranian
officials hailed the U.S.-Iran meeting
as recognition that Iran is a major
player in the Middle East. "Khamenei
wants new relations with the world, he
wants to pursue the dialogue he opened
with the West, but he wants this
dialogue to produce a new recognition
of Iran as a power that must be
reckoned with in the region,"
says Hussain Hafeid, a professor of
international relations at Baghdad
University. "Sitting down
one-on-one with the U.S.," he
adds, "is an opportunity to put
relations on an equal footing."
Iranian officials, led by their
ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi-Qomi,
stressed this view on Monday by
proposing a trilateral mechanism of
the U.S., Iraq, and Iran for
addressing security issues, a proposal
that if accepted would lock Washington
into a dialogue with Tehran.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan
Crocker, who led the American
delegation, did not reject the idea
immediately, but said that the United
States would have to consider any such
proposals. Noting that he reiterated
to the Iranians Washington’s
allegations that Iran is supplying
Shia fighters in Iraq with arms and
explosives; a charge Tehran strongly
rejects, Cocker said: "We will
wait to see what happens next on the
However, Crocker's characterization of
the talks as "positive"
indicates that they are an avenue the
Bush administration wishes to pursue.
No subsequent meeting was scheduled
after Monday’s session, which took
place in the offices of Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad's
fortified Green Zone. Iraqi officials
indicated that they would extend an
invitation to the U.S. and Iran to
attend another meeting in the near
future, and Crocker said Washington
"will entertain it when we
The fact that there could be further
meetings between American and Iranian
officials underscores a tough task
that both countries will be facing:
silencing those who oppose any move
that could improve U.S.-Iranian
American critics say the talks could
pave the way for Iran to extend its
influence in the Middle East even
further. For now, the U.S.-Iran
dialogue suggests a new pragmatism.
But more immediately, Washington is
concerned about Iran's growing
influence in the region, Cole says.
"The U.S.-Iran talks are deeply
unpopular among some elements in
Washington and Tehran," he added.
"The Cheney camp is reported to
be opposed to them, and the arrests
[in Iran] of Iranian-American
academics in recent days may well be
an attempt by some in the camp of
[President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to
sabotage these talks."
Steven Clemons, publisher of the
Washington Note blog and director of
the American strategy program at the
New American Foundation in Washington,
agrees, saying that his recent
discussions with some administration
officials indicate that Cheney
"fears that the president is
taking diplomacy with Iran too
Cheney believes that Bush is
committing a "disastrous
mistake" by talking to Iran,
In Iran, opponents of the talks
believe that Tehran has extended its
power and influence in the region over
recent years by standing up to the
United States, not talking to it.
Moreover, Iranian officials have
already made clear that the core
problem in Iraq is the continued
presence of U.S. forces there.
However, by emphasizing in Monday’s
talks that the U.S. hasn’t done
enough to train and quip Iraqi
security forces, the Iranians seemed
to be suggesting that Tehran doesn’t
want the U.S. to leave just yet, says
Hussain Hafeid of Baghdad University.