Iran says US must change Iraq policy

TEHRAN (AFP) —  Iran said on Saturday that upcoming talks with the United States on Iraq could succeed only if Washington changed its policies in Iraq.

“If the United States acknowledges its past wrong policies in Iraq and decides to change those policies… one could be optimistic about these talks and their future,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters.

“The Islamic republic is interested in successful dialogue to help the Iraqi people and government within this framework,” he said.

Iran’s envoy in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi, will meet US Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Monday in the highest-level official bilateral talks between the two sides since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 after radical students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held its diplomats hostage for 444 days.

Both sides have said their discussions will focus strictly on Iraq, and will not touch on other issues such as Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

“The issue of talks will be the security of Iraq and the fact that they [United States]  should fulfill their responsibilities and legal obligations,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told state television on Saturday.

“It has not been the case that any other issues be discussed,” he added.

Iran’s hardline president said it was a “great step” forward for the Iranian people that “the ones who were threatening us a few months ago are now requesting talks”.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons and wants Tehran to freeze sensitive uranium enrichment operations immediately. Washington has not ruled out a military option to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.

Iran says its atomic drive is peaceful and that it has every right to the full fuel cycle.

It says the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is a prerequisite for security to be restored to its war-ravaged neighbour. Washington charges Iran with fomenting the violence by supporting extremist groups, mainly Shiite.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that Tehran would merely use the Baghdad talks to remind Washington of its “occupiers’ duty” in Iraq.

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