Iraq: Hague to reveal UK-Iran talks

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The latest developments in the UK’s relationship with Iran will be set out by William Hague today as the West prepared to look to Tehran to help resolve the crisis in neighbouring Iraq.

Mr Hague spoke to his counterpart in Iran on Saturday and was told there was a “case for a further step forward in our bilateral relations”.

The UK has had no diplomatic presence in Tehran since a mob ransacked the British embassy in 2011, but a senior envoy appointed as a non-resident charge d’affaires visited last year and the relationship between Iran and the West has thawed since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president.

US secretary of state John Kerry has indicated that the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over the deteriorating security conditions in Iraq.

The president announced last night that around 275 US military personnel could deploy to Iraq to provide support and security for the US embassy and its staff in Baghdad.

Mr Hague, who updated MPs yesterday on the insurgency by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), will return to the Commons today for the scheduled session of Foreign Office questions.

During yesterday’s Commons appearance he was asked by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander about the “urgent case for ensuring an effective British diplomatic presence in Tehran”.

Mr Hague said he had discussed “a number of matters, including the situation in Iraq” with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“He said that there was a case for a further step forward in our bilateral relations. I have discussed that with him, and I shall have something more to say about our discussions imminently,” Mr Hague told MPs.

“However, our work on that is distinct from discussions on Iraq, which is partly why I shall address those separately.”

Mr Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo! News that Washington is “open to discussions” with Tehran if the Iranians can help end the violence and restore confidence in the Iraqi government, and would not rule out military co-operation, and a senior US official revealed American and Iranian diplomats have already discussed the Iraq issue during nuclear talks in Austria.

Mr Kerry said: “We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform.”

On military co-operation, Mr Kerry said: “At this moment, I think we need to go step-by-step and see what in fact might be a reality. But I would not rule out anything that would be constructive in providing real stability, a respect for the constitution, a respect for the election process and a respect for the ability of the Iraqi people to form a government that represents all the interests of Iraq.

“We are open to any constructive process here that would minimise the violence.”

But the Pentagon says it has no plans to co-ordinate with Iran on possible military action in Iraq despite Mr Kerry’s comments about engagement with Tehran.

In a sign of Iran’s deepening involvement in the Iraqi crisis, the Associated Press reported the commander of the country’s elite Quds Force is helping Iraq’s military and Shiite militias respond to the insurgency.

The Iranian general Ghasem Soleimani, has been consulting in Iraq on how to roll back the al Qaida breakaway group, according to Iraqi security officials.

In his Commons statement yesterday Mr Hague acknowledged that Britons will “inevitably” be fighting alongside the extremist group which has overrun large parts of northern Iraq.

Mr Hague said it was possible that Britons who had travelled to Syria to fight in the country’s bloody civil war could have joined Isis , which the Foreign Secretary called the “most violent and brutal militant group in the Middle East”.

The Foreign Secretary repeated his position that there was no prospect of a British military intervention, but said counter-terrorism support could be offered to the government in Baghdad and a Ministry of Defence (MoD) team had been sent to the country to assist embassy staff in contingency planning.

He said: “We are taking action in three areas: promoting political unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state and stability in the region; offering assistance where appropriate and possible and alleviating humanitarian suffering.

“We have made it clear this does not involve planning a military intervention by the United Kingdom.”

Giving further details of what UK involvement could be, Mr Hague said: “We are discussing with the Iraqi government areas for co-operation, including the possibility of offering counter-terrorism expertise.

“We are also providing consular assistance to a small number of British nationals who have been affected. For this purpose a UK MoD operational liaison and reconnaissance team arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to help assess the situation on the ground and assist the embassy on contingency planning.”

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