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The United States and Iran held a meeting earlier this week to discuss how they can improve Iraq’s security situation. The meeting was the first formal and scheduled contact between officials of the two countries since the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Iran following the Islamic Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (Nov. 4, 1979).

The U.S. side reported that the four-hour meeting was “businesslike.” Although it was an ambassador-level meeting, the U.S.-Iran contact could serve as a seed for larger efforts to help stabilize not only Iraq but also the whole Middle East. Both countries should strive to keep the momentum from being lost.

The meeting was devoted to discussing the conditions in Iraq and did not take up difficult issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and the long diplomatic freeze. In the meeting, the U.S. called on Iran to stop training Shiite militants in Iraq and shipping highly lethal armor-piercing roadside bombs into Iraq that are used against U.S. soldiers.

The Iranian side expressed its willingness to train and equip Iraqi security forces to form a “new military and security structure” and rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. Although the U.S. complained that there is a discrepancy between what Iran is doing and its stated policy, it seems significant that the U.S. said that both sides are close to each other “at the level of policy and principle” and have a common desire to help stabilize Iraq.

In December 2006, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group proposed that the U.S. pursue dialogue with Iran. The meeting shows that the Bush administration, which had refused the proposal, has had to change its mind as the situation in Iraq worsens. The monthly death toll among U.S. soldiers topped 100 in both April and May. This is the first time since the start of the Iraq War that the figure has exceeded 100 for two straight months.

The U.S. may continue to take a hardline approach to Iran’s nuclear problem as shown by its recent naval exercises in the Persian Gulf involving two aircraft carriers. But it is worth trying to stabilize the region through dialogue with Iran.

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