Iran Nuclear Negotiations Run Parallel to Iraq Talks

TEHRAN – While the Iranian regime has been categorical that negotiations with the European Union over its controversial nuclear program are isolated from planned talks with the United States over security in Iraq, the timing of the parleys are such that overlap may be hard to avoid.

On Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said at his weekly press briefing that "Iran will name its representative for negotiations on Iraq with the U.S. side before June 28." Hosseini said earlier that the Iranian side wished to avoid "any connection between the nuclear talks and the discussions on Iraq."

However, when U.S. and Iranian diplomats meet in Baghdad on May 28, for a preliminary round of talks on Iraq, it will only be days away from a planned meeting between Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to break the impasse over Iran’s ambitious nuclear program.

On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the talks with the EU would "most probably" be held in Spain. The date had earlier been set for May 31, but the Islamic Republic News Agency, reporting from Brussels on Sunday, said EU has not confirmed the date.

After Larijani and Solana last met to discuss the nuclear issue in Ankara on April 25-26, Solana had indicated that the next round would be held mid-May.

Little is expected to come out of the Iran-U.S. meeting over Iraq. "We have nothing to talk with the U.S. As the supreme leader has reiterated, we will hold no talks with Washington until the U.S. administration changes its wrong policies," Hosseini said at Sunday’s briefing.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that Iran would merely use the talks with U.S. diplomats as an opportunity to remind Washington of its duties as an occupying force in the conflict-torn neighboring country. The talks, he said, were only meant to remind the "occupying power of its responsibility to stop the bloodbath in Iraq and restore security in the country."

The supreme leader’s televised remarks, made during an address in the holy city of Mashad to a group of clerics and theological students, came on the same day that a small group of hard line students and the Basij militia of Tehran University rallied outside President Ahmadinejad’s office and the Iranian parliament to protest what they called "pacifism."

"Is there any other reason for insecurity [in Iraq] other than the presence of the occupiers? Is there need for negotiations to make the Americans understand they must leave Iraq? Shouldn’t the Iraqi government have made the Americans release the detained Iranian diplomats to show their goodwill? And are we supposed to save the Americans from another Vietnam?" the statement released by the student group asked.

"Reformists are not generally opposed to the idea of talks. They are even happy that the taboo on talking to the U.S. is breaking. This is what the reformist government of Khatami tried to accomplish for years. They were stopped every time, being accused of betraying the tenets of the Islamic Revolution," an analyst in Tehran, requesting anonymity, told IPS.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization has announced plans for the indigenous building of a 360 Mw nuclear powered facility. "In the next decade Iran will be one of the most talked-about countries in the world regarding domestic nuclear energy," Mohammad Saeedi was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students News Agency.

Following Iran’s insistence on its right to enrich uranium, the United Nations has, since December, imposed two sets of sanctions on this country and warned of a third. Tehran has vowed to resist such international pressure.

Indeed, Iranian leaders have taken a tough, unbending stand on both upcoming meetings with the Western powers. On Wednesday, Khamenei, using his customary rhetoric, said: "Those who think the Islamic Republic will change its firm, logical, and 100-percent defendable policy of refusing to talk and have relations with the U.S., are badly mistaken."

Khamenei said Iran was responding, in the main, to an appeal from Baghdad to hold the talks. He added that the U.S., which broke ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had also made a written request for talks.

Washington has repeatedly accused Shi’ite Iran of stirring up sectarian violence in Iraq and of seeking to build nuclear bombs clandestinely. Tehran has steadfastly rejected both charges.