Iran intensifies debate on US talks

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Iranian leaders have intensified debate on the pros and cons of direct talks with the United States in recent days, suggesting Tehran may be mulling whether to take President Obama up on the offer and under what conditions. The flurry of debate comes as arms control officials from Iran, Washington and five world powers are due to meet in Istanbul next week, to discuss a revised international nuclear proposal that Iranian negotiators greeted favorably in Kazakhstan last month.

Iranian Supreme Leader's longtime foreign policy advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, former Iran nuclear negotiator Hossan Rowhani, and two Iranian diplomats involved in 2007 talks with the United States on the issue of Iraq, have all weighed in on the merits of possible US-Iranian talks in recent days, in interviews with Iranian media and, notably, in photos of US and Iranian officials meeting in Iraq six years ago, newly published on the Supreme Leader's website.

“It is not the Supreme Leader’s view that Iran and the United States should not have negotiations and relations until the Day of Judgment,” Rowhani, former Iranian nuclear negotiator and a candidate in June’s presidential elections, was cited by Iranian media Thursday.

“If there is a situation where the country’s dignity and interests are..served, he will give permission for dialogue…as…negotiations have been held between the two countries on issues related to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the nuclear (issue),” Rowhani continued.

“Our red line, according to the Leader, was to negotiate only for the issue of Iraq and nothing else,” Hussein Amir Abdollahian, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African affairs who was involved in the Iraq talks with the Americans, said in an interview published on the Supreme Leader’s website this week, Iran news site Iran’s View reported Thursday.

“If you ask me about the US’ willingness to negotiate, as a person who has had the experience, I would say they are willing, but they are not intending to solve the problem,” Amir Abdollahian continued.

Then US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, pictured above right, told the Back Channel Friday that the publication of the photos by the Iranian leadership was “interesting,” and said they were from meetings that occurred in Iraq in 2007.

Crocker and Iran's envoy to Iraq Hassan Kazemi-Qomi held two meetings in Iraq in the summer of 2007, on May 28 and July 24, 2007, according to media reports at the time. “Their May 28 meeting marked the first public and formal talks between U.S. and Iranian representatives since the United States cut off diplomatic relations 27 years ago,” CNN reported at the time.

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Iraq advisor eyed for State DAS for Iraq and Iran

Brett McGurk, President Obama’s former nominee for Iraq ambassador, will likely be tapped as the next State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, current and former US officials tell the Back Channel. The State Department plans to fuse the two offices, officials say.

McGurk has been serving as a senior Iraq advisor at the State Department since withdrawing from consideration to be US ambassador to Iraq last summer. McGurk did not immediately respond to a request for guidance from the Back Channel.

The McGurk appointment, which several officials said is a done deal, is expected to be announced after Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq Barbara Leaf is announced for her next assignment, which sources suggested may be deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Turkey. Former acting DAS for Iran Henry Wooster was made special Iran advisor to JSOC late last year, after he assumed helm of the office following the death of Philo Dibble.

McGurk, a trained lawyer who advised the last several US ambassadors to Iraq, developed a strong working relationship with Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki while negotiating the Status of Forces Agreement on behalf of Bush White House and later the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq for the Obama administration. He is said by sources to have particularly won the admiration of Antony Blinken, President Obama’s new deputy national security advisor and former national security advisor to Vice President Biden, who oversaw US Iraq policy in Obama’s first term. Continue reading

Report: Iran Qods chief Soleimani meets with Iraqi Kurdish leaders

Iran Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani has held meetings with Iraqi Kurdish officials in Erbil this week, Rudaw reports:

The commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, visited Erbil this week and met with top officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), among them Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

A source from the Erbil International Airport told Rudaw on condition of anonymity that Soleimani’s plane arrived from Sulaimani where the Iranian commander had met with officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Barzani’s press secretary told the media that the PM has received an official invitation to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“The prime minister received an invitation from the Islamic Republic to visit Tehran and meet with top Iranian officials, but he has not set a date for his visit yet,” Sami Argushi, the PM’s press secretary said.

Political analysts believe this visit by Major General Soleimani, who commands an important wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, alongside other visits between Iranian and Kurdish officials, is a sign of strengthening relations between Iran and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

According to Argushi, the prime minister’s visit will be to “strengthen mutual relations between Kurdistan and the Islamic Republic.” Continue reading

Kurdistan’s man in Washington prepares for new role back home

Qubad Talabani, the longtime Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) envoy to Washington, will move to Kurdistan this summer after a twelve-year run representing Iraqi Kurdistan here that has seen the US invasion and withdrawal from Iraq.

Talabani, 34, the son of Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani, will head up a new strategic policy coordinating body reporting to the Kurdistan region’s prime minister, Talabani told me in an interview Tuesday. He will be based in the provincial capital of Erbil, and accompanied by his family– his wife Sherri Kraham, a managing director in the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) policy department, and their two year old son, Ari.

“Clearly, professionally, this is a step in the right direction for me,” Talabani said. “After twelve years of being here, I am sad to leave this great city but excited to start a new challenge.”

Given Talabani’s ancestral pedigree, however, it’s hard not to wonder if he’s being groomed to assume a future political leadership role.: Read the full piece here.