Top U.S commander in Iraq sees little of value in upcoming talks with Iran
WASHINGTON – The top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq expressed doubt Sunday that negotiations between the United States and Iran over Iraq would help bring peace and stability in the Middle East.”I don’t have a lot of confidence that these will turn out to be productive, but I could be wrong,” said Gen. George W. Casey, the top commander in Iraq.”They’re playing, I think, a very delicate balancing act,” he said of Iran. “On the one hand, they want a stable neighbor. On the other hand, I don’t believe they want to see us succeed here.”The Bush administration agreed last week to talk to Iranian officials about Iraq after a nearly three-decade break in diplomatic ties between the two countries. U.S. intelligence strongly suspects Iran has been arming Iraqi Shiite militia and some insurgent groups.Casey said he didn’t have much faith in the talks but that it was a “political call.” Any negotiations should involve the Iraqis’ use against coalition forces of “improvised explosive device technology” that he says are coming from Iran.”That needs to stop,” Casey said on “Fox News Sunday.”For the talks, U.S. officials have ruled out discussion of any attempt by Iran to gain a political foothold in Iraq, as well as international concern that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, an allegation that Tehran denies.Last week, Bush’s top foreign policy adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed concern that Iran’s willingness to talk might be a ploy designed to divert attention from the nuclear dispute. The U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss the nuclear issue this month, with Washington pressing for penalties.Still, lawmakers from both parties said Sunday they welcomed the discussions, saying it was critical for the Bush administration to engage the Middle East region – even countries it might disagree with – as the U.S. contemplates an exit strategy in Iraq.”I think we have to understand that we are talking frequently to people with whom we have severe disagreement, whom we dislike, whom we may feel really are terrorists, but those are the folks that are in the world that we’re going to have to influence,” said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.”Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going to be successful in any of these respects, but clearly we’re not only sharing the burden, but probably bringing some sense of urgency to the world in a way in which we are not perceived as doing in Iraq,” Lugar said.Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., agreed, saying that Iran and the U.S. have a mutual interest in not seeing a civil war break out in Iraq. The U.S. can refuse to negotiate on other issues, such as terrorism or a suspected nuclear arms program, he said.”Seventy-five percent of the Iranians or more hate their leadership, and the last thing they need is 50 million Shia on the other side learning from their Shia brethren how to wage a war,” said Biden, who appeared with Lugar on CNN’s “Late Edition.”Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said that talking with Iran would give the U.S. more options in eventually pulling out of Iraq. He called that a better approach than to engage in a “mindless kind of banter” about “well, if we leave, the whole place falls apart.””We’ve got to think in a big-picture way here that we haven’t thought before. I think we need to talk to the Iranians,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “There will be no peace in Iraq or in the Middle East without the Iranians being part of that.”
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