Sunday, May 4, 2008

Iran Demands Halt to US Attacks on Iraqis

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior member of Iran's negotiating team with the United States on Iraqi security demanded a halt to US attacks in Iraq before any new round of talks with Washington.

"If US savage attacks against the Iraqi people are stopped, we will examine the US request for a fourth round of talks," an Iranian official told FNA.

"The Iraqi government and the United States have officially invited Iran for the fourth round," the official, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

"Under the current circumstances and given the US widespread attacks against Iraqi people in different cities, Iran does not feel these negotiations are necessary."

Iran and the United States held three rounds of talks on Iraq last year despite mounting tensions over Tehran's nuclear program.

US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi held face-to-face talks in May and July 2007, in the highest level public contact between the two sides for 27 years.

Officials from the two countries also met at the experts' level last August.

The talks have been stalled since the third round.

An Iranian delegation travelled to Baghdad in March expecting a new round of talks which never took place. Iran said the United States cancelled the talks at the last minute.

Yet, the United States in early April said it had informed the Iraqi government it was now prepared to resume the long-delayed talks with Iran.

Tehran, which strongly opposes the US military presence in Iraq, has been repeatedly accused by Washington of interfering in Iraq's affairs.

Iran, whose ties with Washington have been severed since 1980, strongly denies the allegations.

The US is also at loggerheads with Iran over the independent and home-grown nature of Tehran's nuclear technology, which gives the Islamic Republic the potential to turn into a world power and a role model for other third-world countries. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington's push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran's programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head - one in November and the other one in February - which praised Iran's truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seemed to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran's cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran's nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Tehran says it wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has also insisted that it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhoveyn as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressures on Tehran unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency and answered all outstanding issues.

US President George W. Bush finished a tour of the Middle East in winter to gain the consensus of his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush's allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush's attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.