FM: Iranian, US Diplomats to Meet on May 28

Iran and the US are to hold ambassadorial level talks on Iraq, the Iranian foreign minister said today, in the first substantive contacts between the countries for years. “Negotiation is limited to Iraq, in Iraq, and will start in the presence of Iraqi officials on May 28,” Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where he has been attending a ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

While Mottaki said Iran would send “one of its senior diplomats, at the level of ambassador, as its chief negotiator”, the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, is to lead the American side.

The US has been pushing for high-level talks with Iran for months, as George Bush’s administration faces increasing domestic pressure to start pulling out its forces from Iraq this year.

An expected meeting between US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian counterpart at a conference in Egypt earlier this month failed to materialize, as the two clashed publicly over Iraq and Tehran’s nuclear program.

The US and Iran have been diplomatically estranged since 1979, but the US has been forced to take a more pragmatic attitude with Iran, as the White House needs as much help as it can to extricate itself from Iraq.

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