When U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker sits down for a one-on-one meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Gazemi Ghomi, Monday — marking the first time in 27 years since both sides have talked — there's one thing everyone agrees on: It's going to be contentious.
The Americans plan to start the historic two-hour meeting in Baghdad's Green Zone by laying down a list of grievances, saying Iran supports Shiite militias in their effort to consolidate power, and arms Sunni militias that target Americans with powerful roadside bombs — explosive force penetrators — that can blow a hole through an Abrams tank.
The Americans say they have proof.
"The evidence that we have is that ... we have in detention now, people that we have captured that, in fact, are Sunni extremist-related that have, in fact, received both some funding and training from the Iranian intelligence service, the Quds Force," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told CNN's "Late Edition."
Iranian diplomats intend to do some finger-pointing of their own, saying the United States has failed to fulfill its obligation as an occupying force under international law, to secure Iraq and gives undue influence to what Iran calls "Baathist" Sunni political factions.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Mullah Khamaneie, told Iran's state-run news agency, IRNA, that the meetings are not negotiations at all. Other Iranian officials followed suit.
"If the view to these negotiations is based on acknowledgment of their wrong past policies and decision to change them and accepting the commitment, we can be hopeful to the negotiations and their future," Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a news conference yesterday in Tehran. "Therefore, and in this framework, Iran is hopeful and interested in successful talks in order to help the government and people of Iraq."
The fact that the two sides are talking publicly since breaking off relations after Iran's 1979 revolution, is a historic achievement in itself, even if the two sides share little common ground.
"Iran does not want to see a thriving, successful, prosperous, pro-American Iraq," Afshin Molavi, analyst with the New America Foundation and author of "Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran," told ABC News. "There is almost an unwritten policy in Tehran of promoting managed chaos within Iraq."
No one expects a significant breakthrough amid all the finger-pointing. Analysts say the talks will be considered successful if they lead to a second round of talks. Yet, critics of the administration's new policy of engaging Iran say the talks are a sign of American desperation.
"There has been a theme of humiliation in the press," said Michael Rubin, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "The talks are an indication of how much the U.S. has lost" in Iraq.