Iraqi Minister Backs Iran on Nuclear Research

Published: May 26, 2006

Iraq supports Iran's right to pursue nuclear research, its new foreign minister said today, taking a position at odds with that of the Bush administration.

The foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, spoke during a visit to Baghdad by Iran's foreign minister, Manoucher Mottaki, that marked the reconciliation of two countries that fought a long and bloody war two decades ago.

Mr. Mottaki also used the occasion to reiterate Tehran's decision to withdraw its request to the United States for talks on stabilizing Iran, and to warn America against using force to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Instead of talks with the United States on bolstering Iraq, Mr. Mottaki spoke of a regional meeting with Iraq's neighbors and Egypt coming together, news services reported.

The statements by Mr. Mottaki and Mr. Zebari, a Kurd, gave the first indication of the foreign policy of Iraq's new government, and of how it might reconcile the sharply differing viewpoints of the groups that make it up. While the Shiite parties that make up the largest bloc in Parliament have long had close ties to Iran, Sunnis and Kurds are far more distrustful of their larger neighbor.

Speaking of the debate over Iran's nuclear program, Mr. Zebari said that Iraq does not want "any of our neighbors to have weapons of mass destruction," according to news services.

But he also confirmed "the right of the republic of Iran and the right of any other state to have scientific and technological abilities to research in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

The United States and Europe have insisted that Iran give up its program of nuclear research. Iran says the program is meant only to give it the ability to generate nuclear energy and denies it is seeking weapons.

President Bush, speaking Thursday night at a news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair, said that dropping its research would be a precondition for a new package of incentives being prepared by European countries.

"If they would like to see an enhanced package, the first thing they've got to do is suspend their operations, for the good of the world," Mr. Bush said.

In Baghdad, Mr. Mottaki also confirmed that Iran has withdrawn its call for direct talks with the United States on the stability of Iraq. "Unfortunately, the American side tried to use this decision as propaganda," he said, news services reported.

Iran originally proposed the talks at the suggestion of one the largest Shiite parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the United States responded by authorizing its ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to engage in talks if they were limited to security questions only.

But since the Bush administration rebuffed a letter from Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that was widely seen as an effort to open direct talks on the nuclear question, Iranian officials have made it clear that they would not pursue discussions on Iraq.

Mr. Zebari said that he and Mr. Mottaki had discussed security arrangements between the two countries. "We want to activate those mechanisms to overcome any interference or infringement, let's say of our sovereignty," he said.

The United States has accused Iran of fomenting violence and instability by sending weapons and fighters into Iraq.

On Thursday, according to Reuters, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, in an interview with Arab television, accused organizations and charitable groups based in neighboring countries of funding armed groups within Iraq.

Mr. Maliki's Dawa party was long based in Iran during its years of struggle against the regime of Saddam Hussein. But the leaders of the other main Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, are considered even closer to the government in Tehran, which helped fund and train its militia, the Badr Brigade.

Meanwhile today, eight people died and another 33 were wounded by a bomb placed under a car in a bus service garage in central Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said.

Reuters also reported that the Interior Ministry announced today that the coach of the national tennis team and two of his players had been shot to death on Tuesday as they drove through Baghdad.