So Far, So Good!
"US and Iran Hold Rare Direct Talks," reads the headline, a story lead few if any people alive have ever seen before. The opposing king cobras were wisely held in their respective baskets and did not attend, and the meeting was left to the pros. While there are still many reasons to temper expectations and the magic carpets reportedly stayed firmly planted on the floor, this really is Jake-and-Elwood-somersault-fantastic news. It's progress, a thing I've been unable to say regarding the Mid-east for my entire adult life. Rahim's Rules of Order were followed:
The chief Iranian envoy, Abbas Araghchi, said he restated his country's demands for a clear timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces, which he insisted have made Iraq a magnet for extremists from across the Muslim world.They met their meeting's primary objective, which was to form a plan to meet again to figure out how to get the oil flowing again:
"Violence in Iraq is good for no country in the region," said Araghchi, deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, at a post-meeting news conference.
Araghchi said he did not meet privately with Khalilzad, but that all dialogue "was within the framework of the meeting" — which he said had "very good interaction by all the delegations."
Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told reporters there were "direct exchanges and meetings and discussions" between the U.S. and Iranian delegation.The meeting was nearly disrupted by mortar fire, and it's still unclear whether they'll next meet in Istanbul (for safety) or Baghdad (for PR value). If the Great Eight (G-8) attends, which would be the best, it'll almost certainly occur in Turkey in April:
He also said the participants at the meeting agreed to take part in future groups to study ways to bolster Iraq's security, assist displaced people and improve fuel distribution and sales in one of OPEC's former heavyweights.
"(Iraq) needs support in this battle that not only threatens Iraq but will spill over to all countries in the region," al-Maliki said — shortly before mortar shells landed near the conference site and a car bomb exploded in a Shiite stronghold across the city.This means Sunni delegates will be at the next meeting, which at least gives Arabs some hope and provides a means by which to halt the accelerating momentum of violence. As they say in Turkey, "Wunderbar!"
The delegates proposed an "expanded" follow-up meeting, which could include the G-8 nations and others, in Istanbul, Turkey, next month. Iraqi officials, however, say they want the next meeting to take place in Baghdad.
The meeting also gives a forum to air a wide range of views and concerns including U.S. accusations of weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria, and Arab demands for greater political power for Iraq's Sunnis.
(I borrowed the Persian art graphic from Naj, whose excellent blog, "Iran Facts" I just added to my favorites list at right.)