Iran Calls Baghdad Conference Constructive First Step

Iran said Sunday an international conference in Baghdad where it held direct talks with the United States for the first time in four years was a constructive "first step" toward restoring stability to the neighboring country.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, also said his country hoped a proposed follow-up meeting on Iraq would be successful.

"If such a conference to be held at the foreign minister level happens in the near future in Baghdad, then it is possible to expect success," Hosseini said. He did not say if the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, would attend.

The spokesman said Saturday's meeting in Baghdad included "constructive negotiations" among the delegations and could be considered a "first step" in promoting security and stability in Iraq. Hosseini also said Iran was ready to support any plan that would help end the bloodshed plaguing the neighboring country.

"Leaving security affairs to the Iraqi government, arranging a timetable for the departure of foreign forces, and taking an indiscriminate approach to all terrorist groups can bring peace and security in Iraq," Hosseini said.

Despite Hosseini's optimistic words on Sunday, during the Baghdad meeting Saturday, the U.S. and Iranian envoys traded accusations blaming each other for Iraq's violence. It was the first direct exchange between the two countries since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At one point, U.S. envoy David Satterfield pointed to his briefcase which he said contained documents proving Iran was arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq.

"Your accusations are merely a cover for your failures in Iraq," Iran's chief envoy Abbas Araghchi shot back, according to an official familiar to the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, only said that American delegates exchanged views with the Iranians "directly and in the presence of others" during talks, which he described as "constructive and businesslike."

The delegates at the Baghdad meeting also proposed an "expanded" follow-up meeting, which could include the G-8 nations and others, in Istanbul, Turkey, next month. Iraqi officials, however, say they will urge that the next meeting take place again in Baghdad.

For Shiite-dominated Iran, opening more direct contacts with the United States could help promote their shared interests in preventing full-scale war between Sunnis and Shiites. But the U.S. accuses Iran of supporting the Shiite militias in Iraq — charges Iran denies.

The U.S. and Iran severed diplomatic ties after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In the late 1990s, U.S. and Iranian envoys were part of an eight-nation group studying Afghanistan's troubles under the Taliban, and both nations took part in meetings to establish an interim Afghan government after the Taliban's fall in 2001.

Before Saturday, the last time there was diplomatic contact between the two was in late 2004 at a meeting of 20 nations in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik to discuss Iraq's future.

Iranian state-run television also reported that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi arrived in Tehran on Sunday to discuss bilateral ties as well as regional issues with Iranian leaders. No other details were immediately available.