US charges that Iran is fueling sectarian strife in Iraq and terrorism in the Middle East led to tense and heated debate in rare talks on Tuesday between the two arch enemies, US officials said.
"There were several heated exchanges in the course of the day," US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who led the US side to the talks in Baghdad, told Washington-based reporters by telephone.
Tehran's envoy Hassan Kazemi Qomi headed the Iranian delegation in the talks that was also attended by a delegation of Iraqi officials led by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Crocker said arguments erupted when he accused Iran of providing direct support to extremist militias -- both training and actual weapons -- and that Washington had "the proof."
Qomi "took exception to that," Crocker said, adding that a "brief summary" of the evidence was provided by the US at the talks.
"I said we are not here to prove something in a court of law. We are here to let them know we know what they are doing and it needs to stop," he said.
Tensions also spiked when the Iranians sought to "broaden the discussion," which was to be confined to Iraq.
"I noted that a broad discussion would certainly need to take up issues such as their support for terrorism throughout the region, including Hezbollah and Hamas to which again they took exception," Crocker said.
Crocker said the tension at the talks did not surprise him.
"Frankly, I certainly walked into the room today expecting that discussions would be difficult. We've got a lot of problems with the Iranians and, you know, face to face we're not going to pull any punches," he explained.
But he said the meeting could not be described as a "shouting match throughout" but added that the US was "real clear" over "problems about their behavior."
Summarizing the talks as "difficult discussions," Crocker said the difficulty stemmed from "the lack of clear action on the ground to back Iran's stated policy" that it wanted to see security normalized in Iraq.
Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, put a positive spin on the second encounter between the three parties since May, hailing what they said was the creation of a tripartite security committee.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington would "take a look" at the idea.
"We will engage in efforts that we believe have reasonable chance of having some positive effects on the security and strategic stability of Iraq," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The talks were hosted by Maliki in his offices inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone -- an area which US commanders say is bombarded daily with Iranian-made shells.
Crocker stressed that the Iranians "did not at any point" raise a possible withdrawal of US-led coalition forces from Iraq.
"The Iranians did at one point say that it was not at all their policy or intention to `defeat' the US in Iraq," he said.
The envoy also said that he warned at the talks that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's al-Quds Force's "officers and their surrogates were not going to be safe in Iraq, where they have been linked to militants.
"That's something the Iranians should already know, but we made that clear," he said.
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