The second and longer meeting with Iran and the U.S. over Iraq ended with a public display of dissatisfaction on the part of Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, about Iran’s support for the Iraqi Shi’ite militia. Meanwhile his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, has been a lot more discrete about the meeting. Talking to the Iranian press he said he was satisfied with the American “acknowledgment in the meeting that they had made many mistakes in Iraq.” He was also satisfied with the American agreement to set up a joint “security committee” to help quell the insurgency in Iraq. This was a proposal made by Qazemi Qomi to Crocker in the meeting that was held between the two in late May. Crocker, awaiting instructions from Washington, did not respond then. After two months, there seems to be a grudging acceptance that cooperation with Iran may have to be in the cards. As Juan Cole points out, this is a significant development that needs to be watched.
Given the agreement on the security committee, the details of which is supposed to be revealed in the next few days, then one has to wonder about Crocker’s critical commentary. This is particularly so if, as the Iranian website Baztab which is connected to the former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie reports, there has been a follow up meeting between Crocker and Kazemi Qomi. According to an unidentified Iraqi official, this meeting did not include Iraqis and entailed discussion of “issues of mutual concerns between the two countries.” Baztab suggests that Crocker's critical commentary was intended to divert attention from the subsequent “private” meeting between the two emissaries.
Whether or not this interpretation is true or a subsequent meeting actually took place, the differing public posture of the two ambassadors tells me something significant about differing politics surrounding U.S./Iran relations in the two countries.
In both countries there has been quite a bit of criticism of the two meetings coming from the hard-line flanks of the two administrations. But Crocker’s public accusations after the meeting suggest that the Bush Administration is probably more concerned about the reaction to the meeting from domestic critics and regional allies. This is the only way one can explain the disconnection between Crocker's words and U.S. actions. In this context, it is worth remembering that after the first meeting in May, Crocker has specifically stated that subsequent meetings will be contingent on Iran’s behavior. If indeed, as Crocker suggests, the “on the ground” behavior of Iran has not changed since the last meeting and in fact has worsened (he said that Iran's behavior "has not been encouraging"), then why did the U.S. agree to the second meeting in the first place and even more so why the agreement over the creation of the security committee? In the post-meeting news conference, Crocker suggested that the security committee would be a framework within which Iranians could begin to address U.S. concerns about Iran's behavior in Iraq. Even if this is the only task of the security committee, which I seriously doubt, it is indeed a significant departure from Secretary Rice’s position that “Iranians already know what we expect of them” and there is no reason for any dialogue for them to act on what the U.S. expect them to do.
In Iran, on the other hand, things are working out a bit differently. The hard-line Kayhan and the presumed mouthpiece of the supreme leader has been against meetings with the U.S. from the beginning, calling them “dancing with the wolves” or an enterprise from which Iran will gain nothing and the clearly troubled Bush Administration will gain much ("why help it under such dire circumstances?"). The conservative Baztab has also criticized the lack of adequate planning and proper publicity regarding these meetings. But the decision about taking these meetings seriously seems to have been taken and hence the official discussion of these meetings have been measured and without headline grabbing accusations. Crocker’s accusations have also not been responded to in a tit-for-tat manner. Foreign Minister Mottaki even suggested that Iran would take a formal request by the United States for higher level meetings seriously, a suggestion that was immediately rejected by the Bush Administration. The Iranians seem to be banking that the realities of Iraq will force the Bush Administration to slowly come around, the same way it did with the security committee.