Israel Wary of U.S.-Iran Cooperation In Iraq

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel has voiced concern at the prospect of the United States cooperating with Iran to stave off a sectarian break-up of Iraq.

But, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters, the United States and other major powers have pledged that any such cooperation would not set back their drive to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

The Obama administration said on Sunday it was considering talks with Iran about the Iraqi crisis. Iranian officials have voiced openness to working with the Americans in helping Baghdad repel a Sunni Muslim insurgency.

While deploring the “horror” of the bloodshed in Iraq, Steinitz said Iran should not be helped to extend its sway in Iraq where fellow Shi’ite Muslims form the majority.

That would give Tehran an arc of control running through Syria, where the Iranians back President Bashar al-Assad, and on to Lebanon, where they are allied with the Hezbollah militia.

“And we would especially not want for a situation to be created where, because both the U.S. and Iran support the  al-Maliki, government, it softens the American positions on the issue which is most critical for the peace of the world, which is the Iranian nuclear issue,” Steinitz said.

Steinitz was cautiously optimistic that the negotiations would be unaffected by any international involvement in Iraq.

“We are troubled, but we have been made to understand by everyone – the Americans and the British and the French and the Germans – that a total separation will be enforced,” he said.

Steinitz said such a separation of policies would be similar to Russia’s participation alongside Western powers in the Iranian nuclear talks even as it spars with them over Ukraine.

Another Israeli security official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said deeper Iranian commitment in Iraq could make Tehran more accommodating in the nuclear talks as it might feel over-extended and reluctant to spark further crises.

“They would have to redirect resources, perhaps even pull their forces out of Syria to send to Iraq instead,” the second Israeli official said. “Let them sink into that new quagmire.”

Steinitz rejected this view, however, saying: “I would never look to solve one travesty with another travesty.”