The United States and Iran will continue discussions about security in Iraq despite U.S. accusations that Iran is supporting an increasing number of insurgent attacks in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad said Tuesday.
Representatives from the United States, Iran and Iraq will form a committee to examine possible ways to reverse Iraq's deteriorating security situation, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters after a seven-hour meeting with Iranian officials that he characterized as "a difficult discussion."
The meeting between Crocker and Hassan Kazemi Qomi, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, was the second since May 28, when the two countries held formal, direct talks for the first time since 1979.
But Crocker reiterated U.S. accusations that Iran is supporting insurgents in Iraq, saying that talks will not move forward unless Iranian operatives stop providing weapons and guidance to extremist groups. Iran denies any involvement with Iraqi insurgents.
"I was as clear as I could be with the Iranians: This discussion has to be measured in results, not in principles or promises," Crocker said. "Thus far the results on the ground are not encouraging."
Qomi maintained that Iran has no connection to insurgent groups, Crocker said, adding that the American government "has no question" about the connection between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Shiite militias. Critics have pressed Crocker and other American officials for conclusive evidence of such ties, a request the ambassador dismissed Tuesday.
In a separate news conference after the talks, Qomi countered that Tehran was helping Iraq deal with the security situation but that Iraqis were "victimized by terror and the presence of foreign forces" on their territory, according to the Associated Press.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have been further fueled by accusations that each country is improperly detaining several people. The United States wants Iran to release four Iranian-Americans who have been imprisoned or prevented from leaving the country. Iran is demanding the release of five Iranians currently in U.S. custody in Iraq. The American military has said the five are members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite al-Quds Force, but Iranian officials have said they are diplomats who entered Iraq legally.
Crocker said the friction between the countries' diplomats led to several "heated exchanges," notably when he suggested Iran supports terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, including Hezbollah and Hamas.
The talks began a few hours after a car bomb south of Baghdad killed at least 24 people and injured more than 70, police said. The bomb detonated in front of a maternity hospital in Hillah, a mainly Shiite town about 60 miles south of Baghdad, police spokesman Muthana Ahmed said.
A day after a series of car bombs killed 17 people in Baghdad, there was relatively little violence in the capital.