Iran has rejected direct overtures from top U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, to cooperate with Washington in the battle against Islamic State extremists in Iraq, Iran’s supreme leader said Monday.
In his most extensive comments to date on the crisis, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad had requested a meeting with his Iranian counterpart to discuss “coordination” between the two nations to confront the threat of the al-Qaida breakaway faction. The United States, for its part, says it is not coordinating military efforts against Islamic State with Iran, though it has repeatedly discussed the issue with Iranian officials.
“I opposed [the U.S. request] and told them we will not cooperate with the Americans on the issue because their intent and hands are not clean,” Khamenei said, after being discharged from a weeklong hospital stay during which he underwent surgery, reported Iran’s official English-language news outlet. “How is it possible for us to cooperate with the Americans under such circumstances?”
According to Khamenei, Iran also rebuffed a request from Kerry for “cooperation,” as the Obama administration seeks to build an international coalition against the Islamic State group. The request was conveyed “personally” from Kerry to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Khamenei said.
“Iran has voiced its opposition to being a party to that coalition from the very beginning,” said Iran’s supreme leader. “The Americans’ coalition is nonsense.”
A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said the issue of countering the Islamic State has come up in sideline discussions with Iranian officials during ongoing nuclear negotiations involving Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1 talks.
“ISIL presents a serious threat to Iran as it does to every other state in the region,” Harf said, using a common acronym for Islamic State. “It is not a secret that we have had discussions with Iran about the counter-ISIL efforts in Iraq on the margins of our P5+1 talks on the nuclear issue. … But we are not and will not coordinate militarily.”
The comments from Tehran and Washington highlight how the Sunni extremist threat in Iraq and Syria has created a public relations quandary for two nations that have not had formal diplomatic relations in more than three decades.
In seeking to form an international bloc to fight Islamic State, the White House has publicly ruled out any role for Iran, also a longtime adversary and rival of Saudi Arabia and Israel, two major U.S. regional allies.
Iran was excluded from a global security conference on the threat posed by Islamic State that was held in Paris on Monday. French President called on Monday for a global response to counter Islamic State terrorists during an international conference bringing together about 30 countries to discuss how to cooperate in the fight against the group.
Shiite Iran is a major supporter of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces are also battling the Sunni extremists in Syria. The United States, while vowing to “destroy” Islamic State, is backing other rebel factions fighting to oust Assad.
The Obama administration, which has called for Assad to step down, has also ruled out the Syrian government’s participation in the coalition against Islamic State.
Iran, like the United States, is heavily invested in the battle against the al-Qaida breakaway group, which has seized vast stretches of territory in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.
But officials of the two longtime adversaries have declined to say publicly that they are fighting on the same side in Iraq.
The situation touches on sensitive geopolitical concerns in both capitals and among both nations’ chief allies.