Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Thursday Iran had not yet decided whether to attend a meeting in Egypt next week to discuss how to end Iraq’s sectarian violence. Zebari, fresh from Tehran, said in Ankara one of the main sticking points for Iran was the possibility of dialogue with the United States, a Reuters report said.
“This would be the first meeting between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Zebari said at a conference. “First meetings are difficult, the interactions, the body language, the seating, etc.”
The US State Department has said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend the high-level international meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh on May 3 and 4, where the US is open to direct talks with Iran over Iraq.
Washington has not had formal diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic since 1980, when it cut ties with the country after the Islamic Revolution.
The United States accuses Iran of destabilizing Iraq, a charge Iran strongly denies.
Zebari said he implored Iran’s government to attend and add its weight to the security discussions.
“Your absence or underrepresentation is not helpful to you or to us. So we urged them very strongly to participate constructively in this meeting,” he said.
Asked if Iran was withholding its participation until the release of five Iranians captured by US forces, Zebari said, “I discussed it in a fairly frank and detailed way … please don’t try to make a link between your participation and the immediate release of these people.”
In January US forces kidnapped five Iranian diplomats during a raid on Iran’s consulate general in the Kurdish city of Erbil
The Washington Post reported on April 13 that the Bush administration had decided to keep the Iranians in custody and make them go through a periodic six-month review process.
Zebari said he hoped Iran would attend.
“I am very optimistic from what we heard from the president and foreign minister that soon they would make their position clear, and that it would be in the direction hopefully of supporting the meeting … but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions,” he said.