Iran wants to hold nuclear talks in Iraq, not Turkey; U.S. warns of regional arms race


Iran has proposed holding the next round of talks with six world powers over its disputed nuclear program next week in Iraq instead of Turkey, Iraq’s foreign ministry said, as U.S. warned that a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program would destabilize the region.

The ministry said an Iranian delegation visited Baghdad on Tuesday, and “expressed Tehran’s wish for Baghdad to host the meeting of the five permanent members in the United Nations plus Germany about Iran’s nuclear program on April 14.”

Iraq would make the necessary contacts concerned about the proposal, the ministry said, according to Reuters.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, meanwhile, told Reuters the proposal for talks in Baghdad came from an Iranian delegation visiting on Tuesday and he would meet with ambassadors from the five Western powers plus Germany on Tehran's plan.

“The proposal came from them. We received a delegation from Iran... Today we are inviting G5 plus one ambassadors to hand over a letter about the proposal,’ Zebari said.

Iraq’s alliance with Iran

Iraq’s Shiite-led government is closely aligned with Iran in a region where Sunni Arab Gulf powers are jockeying for influence with Shiite power Tehran.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said on Saturday that the Apr. 13-14 negotiations with Iran would be held in Istanbul, the first such meeting since January 2011 when the two sides failed even to agree on an agenda.

A senior Iranian figure recently spoke out against Turkey hosting the talks as once warm Iranian-Turkish relations have cooled in the past year over the Turkish position against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s close Arab ally.

Clinton warned on Tuesday that a nuclear-armed Iran or a conflict over its program would both destabilize the region as she pressed Tehran for clear commitments in upcoming talks.

As Israel voiced growing impatience over Iran, Clinton credited U.S. sanctions with inflicting pressure on the Islamic republic but she warned of a tough road ahead as Tehran prepares to meet with six major powers.

“There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing,” Clinton said, according to AFP.

“There is no way to balance this. You have two very difficult paths here,” Clinton told a dinner in Norfolk, Virginia, where she was on a day trip to visit the only NATO command in the United States.

Voicing concern over arms race

Clinton, who traveled over the weekend to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, voiced concern that a nuclear-armed Iran would trigger an arms race in the region.

“We’re going to be looking for a way to try to convey the legitimate fears that people in the region have about what comes next. Because if Iran were ever to get a nuclear weapon, the countries in the region are going to buy their way to one as well,” Clinton said.

Iran said last week that talks would open on April 13 with six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in the first such negotiations in more than one year.

But Russia said Monday that the date and venue have not been definitively set, leading the United States to say that Iran was sending mixed signals.

Clinton, who had earlier given Apr. 13 as the date and Istanbul as the venue, said Tuesday only that the United States is “hoping that those talks will commence within the next several weeks.”

“And we’re hoping that there will be a path forward that gives the Iranians a reason to believe that it is in their national interest not to pursue their nuclear program,” she said.

Clinton said the talks, in line with previous proposals, would offer Iran support for peaceful nuclear energy if the regime gives up highly enriched uranium and other work which critics say could be used to make a bomb.

Clinton, speaking earlier Tuesday at the Virginia Military Institute, said that the talks should not be “open-ended.”

“We expect to see concrete commitments from Iran that it will come clean on its nuclear program and live up to its international obligations,” Clinton said.

The United States has been threatening sanctions to press other countries to stop buying Iranian oil, the country's chief money-maker. Turkey said Friday that it was cutting oil imports from its neighbor by 20 percent.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Iran has not moved “even one millimeter” from its nuclear program despite its financial struggles.

“The sanctions are painful, hard,” Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem. “But will this bring about a halt or a retreat in the Iranian nuclear program? Until now, it has not happened.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday that the sanctions “may have caused us small problems but we will continue our path.”

Iranian officials, however, say its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes. The latest U.S. intelligence assessments have not concluded that the regime has given the go-ahead to develop a nuclear bomb.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb “constitutes a major sin” for Iran, reiterating a fatwa -- or religious edict -- that he made in 2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized,” Clinton said in Norfolk.