- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

BAGHDAD — The American ambassador scolded his Iranian counterpart in a second round of groundbreaking talks yesterday for Iran’s reported arming and training of Shi’ite militias. But he agreed to set up a committee with Iran and Iraq to work on stabilizing the country.

South of Baghdad, a suicide tow truck driver killed at least 24 persons with a huge bomb in the Shi’ite city of Hillah. Police and morgue officials said a total of 58 persons, including the Hillah victims, were killed or found dead nationwide.

Speaking to reporters after a second session in two months with the Iranian envoy, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker called the seven-hour meeting “full and frank,” diplomatic language for difficult.

“We discussed ways forward, and one of the issues we discussed was the formation of a security subcommittee that would address at an expert or technical level some issues relating to security, be that support for violent militias, al Qaeda or border security,” Mr. Crocker said.

He warned that progress was impossible until Iran matches its behavior on the ground with its declarations backing an independent and stable Iraq.

“The fact is, as we made very clear in today’s talks, that over the roughly two months since our last meeting we’ve actually seen militia-related activity that could be attributed to Iranian support go up and not down,” Mr. Crocker said, citing testimony from detainees and confiscated weapons and ammunition as evidence.

In a later conference call with reporters in Washington, Mr. Crocker said portions of the long exchange were heated.

“I would not describe this as a shouting match throughout, but we were real clear on what our problems with their behavior was, and I just didn’t hesitate to let them know,” Mr. Crocker said.

In a separate press conference after the talks, Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi countered that Tehran was helping Iraq deal with the security situation but Iraqis were “victimized by terror and the presence of foreign forces” on their territory.

He said his delegation also demanded the release of five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq. The United States claims the five were linked to Iran’s elite Quds Force, which Washington accuses of arming and training Iraqi militants. Iran says the five are diplomats who were in Iraq legally.

“There are also Iranian citizens who have been detained on legally entering Iraq,” Mr. Qomi said. “We demanded their release too.” He told the Associated Press that 20 to 30 other Iranian citizens were in U.S. custody.

The detentions of four Iranian-Americans in Iran, including Haleh Esfandiari, head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Middle East program, and Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant for the Open Society Institute, was not discussed, the State Department said. Both nations have avoided linking the two issues.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said diplomats would meet as early as today to work out the structure and mechanism of a committee to keep the U.S.-Iran talks going.

“We hope that the next round of talks will be on a higher level if progress is made,” he said at the press conference.

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