Iran’s foreign minister rejected a US offer of direct talks on Iraq Friday and warned his country would retaliate against any American attack as Tehran hardened its position against international pressure to stop uranium enrichment.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also got a boost from his Iraqi counterpart, who said Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear research, a stance that runs counter to US efforts to force Tehran to stop all nuclear activities amid fears it is seeking to develop atomic weapons.
Mottaki said Iran had decided to hold talks with Washington on Iraq but changed its mind because he said the Americans had raised “other issues.”
He did not elaborate, but the two sides have been sparring over Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran reportedly wants to talk directly to the US on that subject as well.
His visit, which came nearly a week after the new Iraqi government took office, was only the second by a high-level Iranian delegation since Saddam Hussein was ousted in April 2003.
‘Iran has the right to research in nuclear power’
The Iranians and the US had expressed willingness earlier this year to hold meetings on how to stabilize war-torn Iraq.
“We have considered this and decided to have such a direct talk in the framework of the issue of Iraq,” Mottaki said during a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
“Unfortunately, the American side tried to use this decision as propaganda and they raised some other issues. They tried to create a negative atmosphere and that is why the decision that was taken for the time being is suspended,” he added.
The foreign minister later said Iran would strike back against any US attack.
“In case the Americans attack Iran anywhere, Iran will respond to the attack,” he said.
Zebari said the Iraqis wanted a Middle East safe from weapons of mass destruction, but he stressed Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy.
“We believe that Iran has the right to research in nuclear power for peaceful purposes,” he told reporters.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Sunday that he was ready to talk with the Iranians about their relationship with the neighboring country. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went on Arab television Tuesday to say Washington recognizes Iran’s role in Iraq, as long as it is constructive.
Tehran has long publicly rejected one-on-one talks with the nation it calls the “Great Satan.” But Iran wants to maintain its influence with majority Shiite Muslims in Iraq and is desperate to avoid possible UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program.