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Iran offers to help US find Iraq exit

Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister who attended last week’s conference on Iraq’s future at Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, has offered Tehran’s co-operation to the US in developing an “exit strategy” from Iraq.

Mr Araghchi on Tuesday said America and Iran had the “same interests” in a stable Iraq and that direct talks leading to a “face-saving withdrawal” were possible with Washington’s goodwill.

He dismissed as “theatrical behaviour” the comings and goings at Sharm el Sheikh – when Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki left a dinner when he was reportedly placed opposite Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state. But Mr Araghchi insisted Iran wanted to develop a common approach to Iraq’s future with Iraq’s other neighbours and “foreign forces”.

“Their invasion was a disaster – let there not be a disastrous withdrawal,” he said in an interview. “Yes, immediate withdrawal could lead to chaos, civil war. No one is asking for immediate withdrawal of foreign forces. But there should be a plan.”

Mr Araghchi, a career diplomat seen as a potential interlocutor with Washington, insisted the US presence was part of Iraq’s problem.

“Iraq is suffering a vicious cycle. There are foreign forces who have occupied Iraq and justify their presence under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’ and there are terrorists who claim they are fighting occupiers.”

Mr Araghchi welcomed the outcome of Sharm el Sheikh, identifying four principles emerging as acceptable to Iraq’s neighbours: support for the elected government in Baghdad; greater authority for the government in “politics, economics and especially security”; boosting the Iraqi army and police; and help for reconstruction.

The deputy foreign minister dismissed US claims that Iran had supplied Iraqi insurgents. “They should stop blaming others for problems they have themselves created.

“In fact, the number of weapons that have come into Iran from Iraq is high, as you can see by reading the crime pages of [Iranian] newspapers. Terrorist groups as well as criminals see Iraq as an opportunity.”

Mr Araghchi said Washington’s relationship with “terrorist” groups hostile to Iran made Tehran sceptical of its intentions.

He cited the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the Iranian group under US “protection” in Iraq, and Pejak, an Iranian Kurdish faction linked to the Kurdistan Workers party, based in northern Iraq.

He said Iran also believed the US and Britain had links to militants responsible for killing officials and civilians in Iran’s south-east province of Sistan-Baluchestan and in Khuzestan in the south-west.

But no pressure would lead Iran to give up its nuclear programme, for which it was prepared to “pay the price”, Mr Araghchi said.

“There are two options – confrontation and co-operation. If they [the west] prefer confrontation, then let’s go together....

“What has been the result of three (UN) Security Council resolutions, two introducing sanctions? Iran has quickened the pace of its peaceful activities and reduced its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency...This can go on, but the result is an escalation of the crisis.”

Financial Times, May 08, 2007


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