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US, Iran hold brief talks on Iraq crisis

17 June 2014, 07:45

Vienna - The United States and Iran briefly discussed the crisis in Iraq on the sidelines of a critical fifth round of nuclear talks in Vienna, US officials said on Monday

The two nations, which have been bitter foes for more than 30 years, are both deeply concerned by a major insurgency by Sunni militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq over the past week.

"The issue did come up briefly with Iran on the margins of the P5+1 in Vienna today, separate from our trilateral meeting" which had included the EU, a senior State Department official said in a statement, asking not to be named.

'Shared interest'

State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf confirmed to CNN television that there were "brief discussions".

It is yet to be determined "if we want to keep talking to Iran about Iraq", she added, acknowledging though that Tehran and Washington had "a shared interest" in ensuring militants don't get "a foothold any more in Iraq."

But she stressed: "No outside country can fix Iraq's problems. We need Iraq's political leaders from across the spectrum to step up."

Another US official told AFP no further bilateral talks on Iraq were likely to be held in Vienna, but did not rule out further discussions elsewhere between the traditional foes.

Washington has however ruled out consulting with Tehran on any potential military action.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby said "there is absolutely no intention, no plan to co-ordinate military activities between the United States and Iran."

In the Austria capital were US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who held secret nuclear talks with Iran in 2013, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif was a key interlocutor between Shi'ite Iran and the US government after the September 11, 2001, attacks, when both sides were keen to oust the hardline Sunni Muslim Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The US and Iran discussed Afghanistan ... so from time to time there have been times where it makes sense to be part of a conversation," the US official said.

Nuclear deal

The main focus in Vienna remains however efforts towards a nuclear deal with only five weeks before a 20 July deadline to sign on the dotted line.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want Tehran to scale back its nuclear activities, while Iran wants all UN and Western sanctions to be lifted.



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