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U.S. envoy says Iran interferes

BAGHDAD — BAGHDAD -- U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker chided his Iranian counterpart at a rare and heated meeting yesterday, saying Iran increasingly had meddled in Iraq since the pair's first encounter earlier this year.

But he said the United States, Iran and Iraq had agreed to set up a security committee to devise ways to help curb the violence in Iraq.

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Iraqi officials heralded the move as the first concrete step to emerge from talks that began May 28, ending an official diplomatic freeze between the United States and Iran of nearly 30 years. But Crocker said the results that would count would be the ones on the ground.

"The fact is, as we made very clear in today's talks, that, over the roughly two months, we have actually seen militia-related activities that can be attributed to Iranian support go up and not down," Crocker said at a news briefing after the meeting.

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A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry countered that "false accusations and propaganda" would not help the negotiations.

"It is crystal-clear that the main objective behind repetition of such baseless accusations against Iran is to pursue the U.S. propaganda fuss and psychological warfare against the country," Mohammed-Ali Hosseini told reporters in Iran.

The meeting came on a day when a suicide bomber in a tow truck killed at least 25 people and injured scores more in Hillah, a city about 60 miles south of Baghdad. They were among at least 55 people killed in bomb blasts, mortar fire and shootings across Iraq. The suicide bomber pulled up between two minibuses packed with passengers in a busy commercial district, police at the scene said.

Yesterday's session took place amid continuing tension between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear enrichment program and detainees held by both countries. Those issues, however, were not discussed. Only the question of Iraq's security was on the table.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari termed the daylong talks, which he led at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office in the fortified Green Zone, "very challenging."

Crocker repeated U.S. accusations that Iran is providing weapons, training and other support to Shiite and Sunni Muslim militants fighting in Iraq, including sophisticated bombs able to penetrate heavily fortified vehicles. U.S. officials also say many of the rockets aimed at the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices, come from Iran.

"I was as clear as I could be with the Iranians that this effort, this discussion has to be measured in results, not in principles or promises, and that thus far the results on the ground are not encouraging," Crocker said.

Iran denies the accusations and says it is the United States' presence in Iraq that is fueling the violence. But Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi told Crocker that his government would be willing to discuss U.S. concerns within the forum of a committee of security experts, a proposal he put forward at their first meeting in May.

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Crocker, who was reticent about the idea two months ago, said yesterday that he hoped to see such a mechanism set up as soon as possible. Zebari said the three sides would meet again within days to work out details about the nature and composition of the committee, which he said would focus on ways to reign in violent militias, fight al-Qaida in Iraq and secure Iraq's border with Iran.

Kazemi-Qomi also said he demanded the release of five Iranians detained by the United States in Iraq. U.S. officials say the men are agents with Iran's elite Quds Force. Tehran is holding four Iranian-Americans on charges that they tried to undermine the Iranian regime.

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times.



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