- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The State Department yesterday expressed optimism that today’s meeting in Baghdad between U.S. and Iranian envoys to Iraq will push Tehran to change its behavior, but the White House was doubtful.

Bush spokesman Tony Snow said Iranian Quds Force, which organizes, trains, equips and finances Islamic revolutionary movements, remains in Iraq, and Tehran continues to send insurgents “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs), which are being used to attack U.S. forces.

“We have seen signs that we think need addressing,” Mr. Snow said at the White House. “You have seen Quds Force’s support within Iraq; you have seen the importation of EFPs; you have seen weaponry making its way into Iraq. Those certainly do not help for the stability and security.”

The State Department, meanwhile, offered qualified optimism that today’s meeting could push Iranian leaders into stepping back from Iraq.

“One would hope you would see a change in Iranian behavior. I can’t tell you whether or not we will see that. It is up to the Iranians,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“We are going to raise the need for Iran to match its actions with its words in seeking strategic stability in Iraq,” he told reporters.

The White House accuses Shi’ite Muslim Iran of stoking violence in Iraq by backing insurgent militants, a charge Iran denies.

Today’s meeting between Iranian envoy Hassan Kazemi Qomi and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker follows a similar one in Baghdad on May 28 in what was the highest-profile contact in almost three decades between the two countries.

While U.S. officials said that meeting did not lead to any tangible change in Iran’s behavior, the White House said yesterday that talks should continue.

“This is an opportune time, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to revisit commitments Iran has made, saying that it believes in trying to stabilize Iraq,” Mr. Snow said. “It’s also important to work the diplomatic channel whenever you can. And so we will do it.”

Said Mr. McCormack: “We have not seen any change in Iranian behavior, but as I said before, we had in mind that it might require one or more meetings to see some potential change in Iranian behavior. It is not a foregone conclusion.”

Both the State Department and the White House said the meeting today would again be limited to discussing security issues in Iraq and would not touch on other issues, such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the detention of three Iranian-American academics in Iran or a radio reporter who is being prevented from returning to the United States.

“This is an opportunity for direct engagement on measures solely related to Iraq,” said Mr. McCormack.

Meanwhile, Iran announced that it will hold talks about its nuclear program with the United Nations’ atomic watchdog today in Vienna, Austria.

Iran said on July 13 that it would let International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visit a reactor that was being built at Arak and could produce heavy water for plutonium, but then reneged. No date has yet been set for the visit.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, but the U.N. Security Council imposed two rounds of sanctions to get Tehran to stop enriching uranium, and there are calls for a third round.

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