U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq scheduled for May 28

Agenda in Baghdad to be limited to security situation

May 18, 2007|By Ned Parker and Ramin Mostaghim | Ned Parker and Ramin Mostaghim,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Talks between U.S. and Iranian diplomats over the future of Iraq have been set for May 28 here, officials announced yesterday.

Both sides played down the chances of a breakthrough, and some observers said Washington has more riding on the outcome than Tehran.

The meeting would mark the first major discussions between the two nations since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iran has strong ties with leading Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish political parties and a strong trade relationship with its neighbor.

"Nothing but Iraq is on the agenda for Iran and U.S. talks," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said during a conference of Islamic foreign ministers in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Mottaki ruled out widening the talks to include Iran's nuclear program or normalizing its ties with the United States.

"The talks will strictly be focused on the security situation in Iraq," he said, adding that Iraq would attend as a third party. Mottaki did not identify the diplomats who would represent Iran.

The U.S. team is expected to air its allegation that Iran is supplying armored-piercing bombs that Shiite Muslim militias use to attack U.S. troops.

Iran wants the U.S. to release five Iranian diplomats who were arrested in Irbil, Iraq, in February.

Mottaki repeated Iranian claims that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is a major cause for the continuing violence.

"Terrorists say that `we are doing this because of the foreign forces,' and the foreign forces [are] saying that `we are here because of the terrorist groups,'" Mottaki said.

Confirming the date of the talks, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran needs to start living up to its pledges regarding Iraq.

Meanwhile yesterday, U.S. officials expressed cautious optimism that three missing American soldiers are alive.

Troops drained canals and questioned children in the search for the soldiers, who disappeared after an attack south of Baghdad on Saturday in which four U.S. troops and an Iraqi were killed. It is feared that they were captured by a group linked to al-Qaida.

Lt. Col. Randy Martin, a U.S. military spokesman, said five days of searches had produced a number of leads that "point to the fact that these men are still alive."

"There are also reports to the contrary, but we have an obligation to follow on every intelligence tip," Martin said.

In Baghdad yesterday, 30 bodies were found dumped around the city, police said. The number of corpses found around the capital city, many of them victims of sectarian violence, has risen since the start of the U.S.-Iraqi security plan in the capital.

Two people were killed in mortar attacks in Baghdad, and the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government, was rocked by an explosion. No casualties were reported.

Insurgents set off explosives for the second time in less than a week by the Diyala bridge in southwestern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding five. In the southern city of Basra, an engineer was gunned down by men in a car, police said.

Ned Parker and Ramin Mostaghim write for the Los Angeles Times.

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