Both Iranian and American officials said Thursday that the talks, scheduled to begin May 28 in Baghdad, will be limited to the security situation in the Iraqi capital and will not delve into the diplomatic deadlock between the two countries over Iran's nuclear program.
"It is not about U.S.-Iranian relations. It's about how direct contact between us can help the situation inside Iraq," said the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who will lead the talks.
Iran and the U.S. have not had public bilateral meetings on a specific issue since Washington broke off relations with Tehran over the 1979 hostage crisis. Previous encounters have been at multilateral gatherings. The two countries held talks under U.N. auspices between 2001 and 2003 regarding Afghanistan, in which Crocker was involved as well.
"Expectations are limited for the talks, which will be focused solely on security in Iraq," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk. "But several issues are on the larger agenda between Tehran and Washington, and calls have come from both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Congress to speak with Iran to find a political solution to Iran's nuclear issue and in the Middle East."
The United States has accused Shiite-ruled Iran of helping train and arm Shiite militias and some Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq. It has specifically accused Iran of helping insurgents obtain explosively formed penetrators — sophisticated bombs that are capable of piercing armored vehicles.
The U.S. has "a problem with Iranian behavior in Iraq that is counter to what we want to see, what the Iraqi government and people want to see and counter to their own stated interest," Crocker said.
Iran denies arming or financing insurgents in Iraq.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Thursday blamed the presence of U.S. troops for instability in Iraq.
"Terrorists say that 'We are doing this because of the foreign forces,' and the foreign forces (are) saying that 'We are here because of the terrorist groups,'" Mottaki told reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he was attending a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
"We do believe that a correct approach to Iraq should look to both points, or both areas of the difficulty," Mottaki said.