Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to iron out “some misunderstandings” between Baghdad and Ankara over Iraq’s objection to holding a key regional summit in Istanbul. Turkish sources said Gul is deeply upset that the expanded conference of Iraq’s neighbors which was supposed to be held in Turkey was switched to Egypt.
They said Gul is still undecided whether he should attend the conference at the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. A source close to the foreign minister said the fact that the conference is being held with the initiative of Gul is putting pressure on the foreign minister to attend the conference but the fact that the venue was switched from Istanbul to Egypt and Turkey was not even consulted on the proposed date for the meeting which is May 3 and 4 angered Ankara.
Gul is also under pressure to stay in Turkey and attend the rounds of balloting in the presidential election in the Parliament where he is the favorite candidate to win.
Zebari arrived in Ankara from Tehran late Thursday afternoon and met with Gul in the evening. He is expected to leave today.
Turkish officials suspected that Iraqi Kurdish leaders played a role in the Baghdad decision to switch the venue of the conference from Istanbul to Egypt. However, Iraqi cabinet officials said it was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who asked for the switch of the venue because he was angered with Turkey’s close contacts with the Sunni Arabs of Iraq.
Turkish sources said Iran is hesitant to attend the conference but felt eventually Tehran will agree to go to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Prime Minister al-Maliki said Thursday he is willing to go to Iran to convince its leaders to attend an upcoming key regional summit aimed at stabilizing Iraq.
Al-Maliki told The Associated Press during a flight home from the Gulf state of Oman that Iran’s presence at next week’s conference is important and “we will work on finding meetings between Iran and America” during the session.
Zebari reportedly visited Tehran to try to convince the Iranians to attend.
He met his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki, who said later that Iran has still not decided whether to attend the May 3-4 meeting at Sharm el-Sheik.
Mottaki declined to say what Iran’s conditions are for attending.
“We want good relations with neighboring and Arab countries. There will be a direct meeting with the Americans if the Iranians attend the conference,” al-Maliki said. “Its absence will be a drawback and we have sent minister Zebari to convince them and if needed I will travel there to convince them to attend the conference.”
If Iran stays away, it would be a setback to the conference, which Iraq and the United States hope can rally regional support for the beleaguered Baghdad government.
Arab nations are attending the gathering but are resisting giving significant help unless the government improves ties with Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.
“Tension between Iran and the United States and other parties in the West has a negative impact on the situation in Iraq,” the Iraqi foreign minister said. “Iran’s attendance is very vital because of its role and influence on the developments in the region. … It is an opportunity for all to speak frankly and defuse tension.”
Zebari said he gave Iran “clarifications on unclear issues” related to the conference.
Mottaki said Iran will study the clarifications “and we will announce our opinion on the conference soon.”
Iran is close to the Shiite and Kurdish parties which dominate the Iraqi government. But tensions have been rising between Iran and the Iraqi government’s other ally, the United States, which accuses Tehran of backing Shiite militias blamed in Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed. Iran strongly denies such accusations.
The Sharm el-Sheik meetings will be attended by Iraq’s other neighbors, as well as Bahrain and Egypt, and delegates from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as the G-8 industrial nations including Japan, Canada and Germany.
The US administration, although it is not inviting a broad conversation, has repeatedly said it will not rule out sideline talks with either Iran or Syria at the Sharm el-Sheik conference.