The US and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad met for four hours Monday, hosted by Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki in his office in the Baghdad Green Zone.
This was the highest-level bilateral (trilateral) meeting between officials of Iran and the US since Washington broke diplomatic ties with Teheran in 1980, and is another sign that the Bush administration may be cautiously trying to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.
The length of today's meeting was a welcome indicator that some serious-- if still necessarily preliminary-- diplomatic business got done.
In the report linked to above, Reuters' Ross Colvin wrote that both sides afterwards described the meeting as "positive." He noted that the Iranian ambassador, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, came out and said Tehran wanted further follow-up meetings. K-Q's American counterpart, Ryan Crocker, was reported to be less sure about that. (Most likely he needed to check back with Washington.) The way Crocker described the meeting, he had taken the opportunity to lay out the whole series of accusations that Washington has against Iran for its "meddling" in the internal affairs of Iraq.
(Does he have any sense of irony?)
Colvin wrote that Kazemi-Qomi had criticized the effectiveness of the US program to train the Iraqi security forces, and said that Iran had offered to help in this task.
These talks came as two (nuclear-armed) US Navy carrier battle groups U.S. warships hold war games near Iran's coast, and two days after Tehran said it had uncovered spy networks on its territory run by Washington and its allies."
The talks also, of course (though Colvin didn't mention this) came as the region-spanning tensions over both Iran's nuclear-engineering program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been running high. It is now very hard indeed to see how the US-Iraq-Iran imbroglio can be sustainably defused unless those other components of what I have called the "perfect storm" of three concurrent and linked crises in the Middle East can also be put on the path to sustainable resolution...
But still, to have these two significant governments at last apparently talking seriously about shared concerns in Iraq, rather than engaging in an open shooting war there or anywhere else, is a huge blessing for all of humankind, and especially for the long-suffering residents of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
Let's just first of all, all say a big thanks for that.
Among the more intriguing aspects of today's developments is the role the Iraqi government has been playing in the emerging US-Iranian negotiations.
Obviously, when Pres. Bush made the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein's regime, one of his key goals was to install a reliably pro-US government there. Maliki emerged as PM as a result of an electoral process that was completely dominated by the US. But the demographic and political realities of Iraq meant that any use of anything approaching a "fair" electoral process there always meant that the product of such a process would be a leadership much more responsive to the urgings of "brotherly" and neighboring Iran than to those from distant, and very "foreign", Washington.
How on earth could the Bushites ever have expected anything different? (Because they always systematically blocked out any input into their decisionmaking from objective scholars and analysts who actually knew something about Iraq, is how. But we don't need to revisit that here.)
So now, we start to see some of the diplomatic results of that.
It is notable that today's talks-- and presumably, the continuing diplomatic process that we can now expect will flow from them-- are being described as "hosted by" Maliki. Okay, he is still to a large degree the "captive" of the US forces, there in the Green Zone. But these days, the Americans may well need him-- to provide a veneer of political legitimacy to their presence in Iraq-- just as much as, if not more than, he needs them (to, among other things, protect him from the wrath of an Iraqi citizenry that is very fed-up with the fact he has been able able to deliver almost nothing of any value to them...)
It is notable too that, at a time when the political elite in the US is abuzz with discussions of Maliki's many claimed "shortcomings" as Iraq's PM, the Iranian negotiator was saying that the Iranian government wants to give the Maliki government more support, including through the provision of military and security-force training-- in a move that seems couched as a thinly veiled criticism of what the US has been doing in this field up until now.