US open to working with Iran against extremists

The Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential US-Iranian military co-operation in stemming the advance of Sunni extremists, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

US open to working with Iran  against extremists

The Pentagon, however, quickly tamped down speculation that the United States would co-ordinate or consult with Iran on any potential military intervention. It also flatly ruled out the idea of “joint military operations” with Iranian armed forces, which the US has long accused of fomenting unrest and backing terrorism in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

Kerry said Washington is “open to discussions” with Tehran if the Iranians can help end the violence and take steps that would restore confidence in the Iraqi government. Asked about possible military co-operation with Iran, Kerry said he would “not rule out anything that would be constructive”, but he stressed any contacts with Iran would move “step-by-step.”

“We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform.”

On military co-operation, Kerry was cautious but not dismissive. “At this moment, I think we need to go step-by-step and see what, in fact, might be a reality. But I would not rule out anything that would be constructive in providing real stability, a respect for the constitution, a respect for the election process and a respect for the ability of the Iraqi people to form a government that represents all the interests of Iraq. We are open to any constructive process here that would minimise the violence.”

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm John Kirby said while there may be discussions about regional security with Iran, those would not include military coordination. “We are not planning to engage with Iran on military activities inside Iraq.”

Kerry said US air strikes, including from unmanned drones, “may well” be an option President Obama chooses to try to halt the advance of fighters from the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL that is threatening the government of President Nouri al-Maliki.

In the last week, ISIL has taken Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in a lightning offensive that has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of US troops. Militants posted graphic photos that appeared to show their gunmen massacring scores of captured Iraqi soldiers.

Air strikes “are not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys and trucks and terrorising people,” Kerry said.

Meanwhile an Iraq army helicopter was shot down during clashes with Islamic militants west of Baghdad.

Officials said the helicopter’s two-man crew was killed when their aircraft was brought down today near the city of Fallujah.

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