Could U.S., Iran Work Together In Iraq? Maybe, Officials Say

The United States could end up cooperating with Iran to stop militant gains in Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Monday in an interview with Yahoo!News.

But a Pentagon spokesman denied Monday that any military coordination with Iran is in the cards.

 

In his interview with Yahoo!News, Kerry didn't say that cooperation with Iran is under active discussion inside the administration.

 

"Let's see what Iran might or might not be willing to do before we start making any pronouncements," he said.

 

But he went on to say that the he "wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability."

"I think we are open to any constructive process here that could minimize the violence, hold Iraq together -- the integrity of the country -- and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces that are ripping it apart," Kerry said.

 

His comments are the first time such a high-ranking U.S. official has made such a public statement since militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria began an offensive that has seen vast swaths of northern Iraq fall out of government hands.

 

Two senior U.S. officials said earlier that the Obama administration is exploring possible direct talks with Iran over the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

 

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is in Vienna for nuclear talks with Iran and could hold discussions on the side about Iraq with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a senior administration official said in a background briefing with reporters Monday.

In fact, the United States and Iran held "very brief discussions" about Iraq and the threat posed by ISIS on the sidelines of those negotiations, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

 

"These engagements will not include military coordination or strategic determinations about Iraq's future over the heads of the Iraqi people," a senior State Department official said.

 

But in a signal the administration hasn't yet reached a conclusion about what to do, two administration officials said the United States wasn't interested in teaming up with Iran because the two share few mutual interests.

 

And Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the Defense Department isn't working on a plan to cooperate with Iran in Iraq.

 

"There are no plans to consult Iran on military actions inside Iraq," he said. "There is no plan to coordinate military activities."

 

Iran is an ally of Iraq's Shiite-led government, and a senior security official in Baghdad told CNN on Friday that the country had sent about 500 Revolutionary Guard troops to help fight the ISIS militants.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denied the report over the weekend, according to Iranian state television, but said he would be open to helping if asked.

 

Despite their shared interest in stopping the advance of ISIS fighters in Iraq, the United States is wary of furthering Iran's already considerable influence there.

 

The Shiite Iranian regime is al-Malaki's closest ally in the region. And the Obama administration is concerned that appearing to team up with Iran would both alienate Iraq's Sunni minority and worry Sunni allies of the United States in the region.

 

But, as the crisis spreads, officials around the globe are scrambling for any way to slow the militant advance.

 

ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group, wants to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, that would stretch from Iraq into northern Syria. The group has had substantial success in Syria battling President Bashar al-Assad's security forces.

 

 



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