Expectations are rising that another meeting between Iranian and US representatives may be in the planning stages after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday signaled readiness for the second round.
This past weekend, the US military allowed an Iranian delegation to visit five Iranian detainees held since January, satisfying what is widely assumed to have been Ahmadinejad's requirement for a second diplomatic encounter between the two nations. The US contends the five detainees belong to the Quds force and were fomenting the insurgency, but Tehran claims they are diplomats who were seized from an Iranian consulate facility.
The meeting took place at a U.S. military facility in or near Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The L.A. Times.
"We've been working on this for quite some time, to organize a consular visit for the Iranian Embassy to visit their detainees with the U.S. military," Zebari said. "I think it's a good gesture."
On Saturday morning, a U.S. military unit picked up Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, and two other diplomats at Iraq's Foreign Ministry in Baghdad, and took them to see the detainees, Zebari said.
"It was a courtesy extended by Multi-National Forces-Iraq in response to a request by the Iranian government," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Philip Reeker.
But Reeker said the visit did not indicate any progress had been made toward holding a second meeting between the United States and Iran.
But Monday, Ahmadinejad indicated newfound willingness for contact with the US: "We are ready to help preserve unity in Iraq ... and establish peace and security there," he was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
"We did not reject the first round of talks ... The situation is the same now ... We are ready to help."
The head of Iraq's Supreme Islamic Council, Seyyed Abdul Aziz Hakim, currently in Tehran for medical treatment, also said on Monday that both Iran and the United States are ready for the second round of talks on Iraq's security, but they are waiting for an improvement in situations to reach better results.
"Both sides have had a positive evaluation of the first round of talks. As far as I am informed both sides are ready for the second round of talks," he said in an interview with ISNA.
The State Department has yet to officially acknowledge any change in tone from Iran, but did announce Monday morning that Secretary Rice would travel to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe July 16-20. Jerusalem and Ramallah are the only two scheduled stops in the Middle East, but trips into Iraq are rarely announced in advance.