Iran's foreign minister said the United States must accept responsibility for the terrorism and violence resulting from its "occupation" of Iraq, in a speech Friday that angered Iraqi officials.
Manouchehr Mottaki told a ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors and key international players, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that the US should present a clear plan to withdraw its forces "in order to allow the return of peace and stability."
He also called for the immediate release of five Iranians detained in northern Iraq by US troops in January, calling their abduction a "brazen contravention of international conventions."
"We hold the perpetrators of this clumsy adventurous act responsible for its consequences," Mottaki said, without naming the United States.
The detention of the five has emerged as a major sore point between the US and Iran, who are deeply divided over Iraq as well as Tehran's controversial nuclear program. Mottaki had at one point suggested he might not attend the two-day conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik unless the five were freed.
The United States accuses the five of helping finance and arm militants in Iraq, a claim Iran denies. Mottaki's speech angered the Iraqi delegation, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has sought to bridge the disputes between Tehran and Washington and - more broadly - rally all the deeply divided nations of the region behind a plan to stabilize Iraq.
His comments were just "to settle accounts," said one of al-Maliki aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "We didn't expect it to be in this manner."
Mottaki told the delegates that "the continuation of and increase in terrorist acts in Iraq originates from the flawed approaches adopted by the foreign troops. Thus, in our view, the continuation of occupation lies at the origin of the crisis."
"The United States must accept the responsibilities arising from the occupation of Iraq, and should not finger point or put the blame on others," he said.
Later Friday, Mottaki told reporters the world should not be dominated by one or two powers, and blamed the United States' policies in Iraq for bolstering the deteriorating situation there.
"The polices of the occupation forces in Iraq are basically flawed, and the policies have failed, and we must try to correct these policies," Mottaki said.
Iraq had hoped that Rice and Mottaki would meet during the conference, which was ending Friday. But the only contact between the two was a wary exchange of pleasantries over lunch on Thursday.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Friday that ambassadors from Iran and the United States held talks on the sidelines of the meeting.
He said that "there was a meeting on experts level today. I don't know what happened during this meeting but I believe it was positive and indications are positive."
He then clarified that he meant "ambassadors," Instead of experts. It was the second such meeting, at a lower than foreign minister level, since a similar Iraq conference held in Baghdad in March.
Revealingly dressed female violinist
On Thursday, Iran's foreign minister walked out of a dinner of diplomats where he was seated directly across from US Secretary of State Rice, ostensibly because a female violinist entertaining the gathering was dressed too revealingly.
"I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday, regarding the actions of Iran's Manouchehr Mottaki.
The dinner episode Thursday night amid a major regional conference on Iraq perfectly revealed how hard it was to bring together the top diplomats of the two rival nations.
On Friday, The Iranian foreign minister entered the lunch, greeting the gathered diplomats with the Arabic phrase, `"As-salama aleikum,'' a Muslim greeting often used by Iran's Farsi speakers meaning "Peace be upon you,'' according to an Iraqi official who was present.
Rice replied to him in English, "Hello,'' then added, "Your English is better than my Arabic,'' according to the Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the lunch was private.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit then piped in, telling Mottaki, "We want to warm the atmosphere some.''
Mottaki smiled and replied in English with a saying, "In Russia, they eat ice cream in winter because it's warmer than the weather'' - more or less meaning, "You take whatever atmosphere-warming you can get.''
"That's true,'' Rice replied, according to the Iraqi official.
After lunch, Egypt's Aboul Gheit told the Associated Press he would try to arrange a further informal meeting between Rice and Mottaki at a gala dinner being thrown by the Egyptians Thursday night on the beach of a nearby resort hotel.
"Why not?'' Aboul Gheit said. "It is only one table.'' But asked if he would seat Rice and Mottaki next to each other, he said, "No, no.''
As it turned out, Mottaki's place was set directly across the table from Rice. When Mottaki entered the dinner and saw the arrangement, he immediately told his hosts that he had to excuse himself and leave, said a US official who accompanied Rice.
The Iraqi government and some Arab countries had hoped for a real one-on-one meeting between Rice and Mottaki, saying that the two countries' conflict is only fueling Iraq's chaos. Ahead of the two day conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Rice had expressed a willingness to meet, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said he would welcome talks.
But on Thursday, Rice said the American side was not asking for a meeting, and the Iranians appeared reluctant to be the ones to make the first move.