Low Expectations as U.S. and Iran to Meet

Until this year, the United States had not held formal bilateral talks with Iran since 1979, when a revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran.

Now, the United States is preparing for the second meeting between the two nations to discuss an issue of strategic importance for both countries: Iraq.

The State Department confirmed today that Iraq's government will host a meeting in Baghdad Tuesday between the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker and Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, his Iranian counterpart.

The United States accuses Iran of providing support for Shiite militias, who have stoked sectarian violence throughout Iraq, and also of providing insurgents with powerful EFP, or explosively formed projectile, explosives, which have been used to target U.S. and coalition troops.

Iran has denied the charges.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters today that Crocker would once again ask Iran to cease its destabilizing role in Iraq.

"The decision was taken that it is worthwhile to underscore, again, in person, directly with the Iranians, on this narrow set of issues related to Iraq, that they should change their behavior if they truly want to see a more positive outcome in Iraq," McCormack said, adding, "What we'll see, in terms of the outcomes of the meeting, will be up to the Iranians."

Expectations that Iran will actually take its hands out of Iraq are low. McCormack said that Iran has not changed its position since the May 28 meeting. "After the first meeting, we haven't seen really any appreciable change in their behavior, certainly not for the positive."

Some analysts argue that, while engagement with Iran is a step in the right direction, the meeting is unlikely to produce immediate results in the two areas of concern cited by the United States.

"We can move forward slowly and painfully," said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This won't change the relationship, fundamentally, but it may advance American interests.

"The Iranian government sees complicating Americans' lives in Iraq as the most important thing they can do to secure their own hold on power [at home]," Alterman added.

The State Department noted that the United States only plans to discuss Iraqi security at the meeting, and that it will not discuss other bilateral sticking points, such as American citizens held in Tehran or Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran has detained two Iranian-Americans, and has prevented at least two others from leaving the country. The United States. has called repeatedly for their immediate release, but has yet to receive a response from Tehran.

When asked why the United States would not take advantage of the direct talks with Iran to broach this and other issues, McCormack said the United States did not want to use one issue as "bargaining chips" when discussing the other.

"We're not going to get in the situation where we're trading off the future of the Iraqi people for some other interest, or being even perceived as trading off the interests of the Iraqi people against some other interest that we or others may have. So, therefore, we keep these issues in separate channels," he said.