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Despite denials, US, Iran again discuss Islamic State

An aircraft handler directs the pilot of an F/A-18 Hornet to the catapult of the USS George H.W. Bush, underway in the Persian Gulf, Aug. 11, 2014. The carrier has been the key launching pad for strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

HENDRICK SIMOES/STARS AND STRIPES

By PAUL RICHTER | Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT) | Published: September 9, 2014

WASHINGTON — Despite their repeated insistence that they are not cooperating in Iraq, U.S. and Iranian officials again discussed the militant group Islamic State during a high-level meeting last week, the State Department disclosed Tuesday.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns discussed the issue with Iranian officials “briefly, on the margins” of a meeting that was held last Thursday and Friday in Geneva to discuss the international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Burns and Iranian officials also touched on the issue during a meeting last June in Vienna on the nuclear negotiations.

“Discussion of these kinds of threats does arise from time to time on the margins of these meetings, and it did in this latest round as well,” Harf said.

U.S. and Iranian officials continue to insist that they are not working together in Iraq, even though each is trying to halt the advance of the al-Qaida spinoff group in northwestern Iraq.

Both the United States and Iran are advising and equipping Kurdish forces in the region, and U.S. warplanes have struck more than 150 Islamic State targets since Aug. 8.

Cooperation is a highly sensitive subject because most of the important players in the region — the Iraqis, the Sunni Arab states and Israel — fear a U.S.-Iranian collaboration that would work to their disadvantage.

U.S. and Iranian military personnel working with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have been separated by only a few kilometers.

U.S. officials won’t discuss publicly what they have said to the Iranians about Islamic State. But analysts and diplomats say they think U.S. officials are laying out their general plans and goals in Iraq, in part to avoid any unintended but dangerous clash between the longtime adversary governments.

Harf said the Geneva meeting was “an in-depth exchange” on the two countries’ stalled effort to reach a deal over Iran’s disputed nuclear program. The United States and five other world powers are trying to reach a deal that would ease sanctions on Iran’s economy, in exchange for concessions aimed at preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

©2014 Tribune Co. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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