Annan Urges Iran Be Part of Iraq Talks

The Associated Press
Friday, December 8, 2006; 8:55 PM

NEW YORK -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that Iran has a vested interest in a peaceful Iraq and should be part of discussions to resolve the conflict there.

Speaking to Human Rights Watch, Annan said all of Iraq's neighbors, but especially Iran, have a role to play and praised Tehran's past cooperation in discussions on Afghanistan.

"If one were able to work with them in Afghanistan, why don't we try in Iraq, where they even have perhaps bigger influence?" the U.N. chief asked, noting Iran has fulfilled all the promises it made during the Afghan discussions.

Annan's suggestion for regional talks came the same day his office released a report warning that the Iraq conflict was worsening and could lead the country into an "all-out civil war."

"The situation in Iraq has further deteriorated in many parts of the country with a significant rise in sectarian violence, insurgent and terrorist attacks, and criminal activities," said the report, an updated version of a September study. "The prospects of all-out civil war and even a regional conflict have become much more real."

President Bush has resisted suggestions that his administration enter into dialogue with Iran about Iraq. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group proposed a regional conference, including Iran and Syria, in its report issued this week.

Top Shiite and Kurdish leaders oppose such a conference. But Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said this week that he would send envoys to discuss such a gathering and might agree to one if it were held in Iraq.

The Bush administration has repeatedly refused to speak directly with Iran unless it suspends uranium enrichment, which the U.S. believes is aimed at making nuclear weapons. Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was authorized earlier this year to talk to the Iranians but only about Iraq. Iran refused.

Annan said that although relations between Iran and the U.S. were chilly during the discussions on Afghanistan, the two "found a way of talking to each other, of going into a corner."

Many observers, including former President Bill Clinton, have said that Iran can play a vital role in calming Iraq because of its Shiite majority and its interest in stemming the flow of Iraqi refugees across its border.

"Whatever they say, whatever they do, a peaceful Iraq on their border is in (Iran's) best interest," Annan said.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.6 million people have fled Iraq since the war began in 2003, with approximately 2,000 Iraqis currently escaping to Syria and 1,000 to Jordan on a daily basis.

There have been suggestions that Annan might serve as a broker for such a conference after his term as secretary-general ends Dec. 31. When a reporter brought it up on Friday, the U.N. chief said, to laughter from the audience, "I have plans."

On other topics, Annan said the U.N. had often failed to protect human rights, citing in particular its inability to deal with violence in Darfur.

In a clear reference to that conflict, Annan stressed that "respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as an excuse for inaction in the face of genocide" and other atrocities. The secretary-general said he feared the pledge to "never again" remain silent about genocide was "ringing hollow."

The Security Council has insisted that U.N. peacekeepers sent to Darfur must have the consent of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.


Associated Press Writer Tracee Herbaugh at the United Nations contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press