The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 21, 2014

U.S., Iran, longtime enemies, now potential partners

WASHINGTON — It's the fog of diplomacy.

For years, Iran has been an archenemy of the United States. Now, with alliances blurred in the Mideast, the two countries are talking about how to stop an offensive in Iraq by al-Qaida-inspired insurgents.

How is it that adversaries that haven't trusted each other for 35 years could cooperate on Iraq today?

They are strange bedfellows, to say the least.

In the Syrian civil war, the U.S. backs the opposition. Iran supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The U.S. for three decades has considered Iran a "state sponsor of terrorism." The U.S. says Iran bankrolls anti-Israel terrorist groups and other extremists intent on destabilizing the Middle East.

The U.S. has threatened Iran with military action if Iran approaches the capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

But despite all the differences, the U.S. and Iran are more engaged diplomatically at this moment than in years.

After a breakthrough interim agreement last year, the U.S., Iran and other nations are hoping to wrap up a deal within the next month that would curb Iran's nuclear program. Progress on nuclear talks is leading American officials to explore whether Iran can be a useful partner on interests long viewed as shared, such as fighting Sunni extremism and ensuring stability of Iraq.

Iran, like the Iraqi government, is Shiite. The insurgent group leading the assault in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is Sunni.

But there is worry that Iran is trying to leverage its helpfulness on Iraq into better terms in the nuclear negotiations.

"I would be skeptical that cooperating with Iran — particularly sharing sensitive intelligence information — would be in our overall interest," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, told The Associated Press.

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