Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly told U.S. officials earlier this month that Iran wants to pursue bilateral discussions with Washington over its atomic activities, which many see as possibly leading the Persian Gulf nation toward acquiring a nuclear arms capacity.
Maliki said he had spoken with associates of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but a number of Western government insiders were unsure if the Iraqi leader was delivering a communication from Tehran, the New York Times reported on Thursday. The Iranian envoy to Baghdad on Friday dismissed the Times article as "totally false," Iran's Press TV said.
The Iraqi leader, though, claimed to speak on behalf of members of Khamenei's inner circle, adding that Baghdad could support any dialogue between the sides, Western government personnel told the newspaper on Thursday. Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani would engage sincerely with Washington in any bilateral discussions, Maliki told U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Robert Beecroft.
Years of discussions between Iran, the United States and five other world powers have failed to gain significant traction in resolving a standoff over the disputed nuclear efforts, which Tehran insists are nonmilitary in nature.
Separately, the Obama administration on Thursday announced it would ease restrictions on transfers of certain U.S. health and farming supplies to Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported. A number of issue experts saw the move as a conciliatory step taken as part of a broader effort to resume dialogue with Iran after Rouhani's inauguration, scheduled for Aug. 2.