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Kerry: US open to talks with Iran over Iraq



By MATTHEW LEE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military cooperation in stemming the advance of Sunni extremists, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.

Kerry also said that U.S. air strikes, including from unmanned drones, "may well" be an option that President Barack Obama chooses to try to halt the advance of fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

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

In an interview with Yahoo! News, 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 cooperation with Iran, Kerry said he would "not rule out anything that would be constructive." However, he stressed that 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," Kerry said.

On military cooperation, 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," he said. "We are open to any constructive process here that would minimize the violence."

In addition to possible discussions with Iran, Kerry said that Obama administration is actively considering unilateral airstrikes to slow the ISIL insurgency that is threatening the government of President Nouri al-Maliki.

"They 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 terrorizing people," he said. "When you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that and you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise."

One possible first point of contact with the Iranians could come as early as Monday in Vienna, where senior U.S. officials is meeting with an Iranian delegations as part of unrelated six-nation nuclear talks.

A senior U.S. official in Vienna said there is a possibility that Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who is leading the U.S. delegation, may discuss Iraq with Iranian diplomats on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.

In addition to a potential channel in Vienna, officials said U.S.-Iran talks could be held in Baghdad, possibly between the two countries' ambassadors to Iraq.

Kerry's comments were met with speedy rebuke from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been harshly critical of the administration's policy toward Iraq. In a statement, McCain said it would be the "height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner" in Iraq.

He noted that Iran has long been deemed the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department and argued that any greater Iranian intervention in Iraq would make matters worse and severely inflame sectarian tensions that are already near a boiling point.

McCain's position puts him at odds with fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina with whom he has long shared opinions critical of Obama's foreign policy. On Sunday, Graham said that a U.S. alliance with Iran might be needed to keep Iraq from collapsing.

He said a U.S. partnership with Iran would make him uncomfortable but likened it to the United States working with Soviet leader Josef Stalin in World War II against Adolf Hitler.

With Baghdad threatened by the militants' advance, the State Department said Sunday that it was reinforcing security at the U.S. Embassy and sending some personnel out of town.

Much of the embassy staff will stay in place, the State Department said. It did not say the number of personnel affected. The embassy, along the Tigris River in Baghdad's Green Zone, has about 5,000 personnel and is the largest U.S. diplomatic post in the world.

Some embassy staff members were being temporarily moved elsewhere to more stable places at consulates in Basra, in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq, and Irbil, in the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northeastern Iraq, and to Jordan, she said.

U.S. travelers in the country were encouraged to exercise caution and limit travel to certain parts of Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement that a "small number" of military personnel are helping to keep State Department facilities in Baghdad safe. He said embassy personnel are being moved by commercial, charter and State Department aircraft, adding that the U.S. military has "airlift assets at the ready" should the State Department request them.

A U.S. military official said about 100 Marines and Army soldiers have been sent to Baghdad to help with embassy security.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde to the Persian Gulf as the president considers possible military options for Iraq. Kirby said the moves will give Obama additional flexibility if military action were required to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Kimberly Hefling in Washington and George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.

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summerchaser June 16 2014 at 12:44 PM

When you think this country can't screw up anymore.......... TEAM UP WITH IRAN...... it must be a joke....... Kerry the jokester.......

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17 replies
Dennis Callahan June 16 2014 at 12:44 PM

YOU ARE KIDDING...RIGHT??? OBAMA PULLED OUT ALL OUR TROOPS IN IRAQ FOR POLITICAL POINTS...NOW HE WANTS TO GET IN BED WITH OUR ENEMIES....EVERYTHING HE TOUCHES TURNS TO DO...DO....WHAT AN INCOMPETENT COMMANDER IN CHIEF...

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16 replies
aoversier June 16 2014 at 12:49 PM

Never make pacts with Muslims......they pride themselves on lying.

Flag Reply +76 rate up
21 replies
joevanvactor June 16 2014 at 12:43 PM

john kerry do we really need this guy as our secretary of state. anyone on our Military would loudly say no.

Flag Reply +74 rate up
10 replies
rcalley1 June 16 2014 at 12:45 PM

Talk about a real life situation of dumb and dumber, this is the pair. Obama & Kerry. Remember Obama has no military experience and Kerry although he was in the military in Viet-Nam, he was never really in a fight and became a War Protester when his tour was over. He did do some funny photo ops. Remember the "S" curve walking along the River bank? What a joke!

Flag Reply +65 rate up
9 replies
buymycj5 June 16 2014 at 12:48 PM

Its hard to believe he even was elected
The man's a walking basket case

Flag Reply +64 rate up
9 replies
tmccull52 June 16 2014 at 12:46 PM

You don't think that Barack Hussein Obama, aka "The Muslim Whisperer", will miss another opportunity to extend and open America's arms to embrace more Islamists, do you?

Flag Reply +63 rate up
4 replies
Larry Filter Bos June 16 2014 at 1:09 PM

These people are lost in their dreams... Kerry is Jerk to begin with.. Obama is away at indian reservations, playing golf and speaking and then off to The Dummy Dem strong hold of Pennsylvania... Meanwilie we threaten with ships etc... What a friggin Joke.. obama caused all this, just as he caused the flood of people coming in our borders.. His ONLY CONCERN IS VOTES and thats it... He would do everything to stop any pain to his brotherhood of Muslims.

This is the mostly clueless group of people EVER known to man kind it would seem.. OR, is this the plan???? I think the plan is world wide Socialism and Obama is an instrument to it. PERIOD...

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6 replies
jensenge June 16 2014 at 12:47 PM

Oh, let's see now...Iran is our great enemy in the Middle East, we are their "great satan", we have been sanctioning them for years over their program to develop nuclear weapons, but now we're going to team up with Iran against Sunni Muslims. C-R-A-Z-Y!!!!!

Flag Reply +51 rate up
4 replies
NANCAN June 16 2014 at 12:48 PM

Yeah, that would REALLY work! They've always been open to discussions about everything ... warm and friendly ... just like Hitler!

Flag Reply +34 rate up
5 replies
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