US rules out co-ordinated military action with Iran
White House, Pentagon at odds with secretary of state on possible military co-operation
US secretary of state John Kerry: said the US was “open to discussions” with Tehran if there was a constructive outcome for Iraq. Photograph: Reuters/Gary Cameron
The United States has ruled out co-ordinated military action with Iran as one of the options being considered to thwart radical Islamic extremists in Iraq as Sunni Muslim fighters seized another Iraqi city.
US secretary of state John Kerry raised the possibility of military co-operation with Iran to prevent Iraq being torn apart by sectarian conflict when he said in response to a question that he “wouldn’t rule out anything”.
Mr Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo! News that the US was “open to discussions” with Tehran if there was a constructive outcome for Iraq.
The White House and Pentagon later ruled out any military co-operation in comments that were at odds with those of Mr Kerry.
“Any conversation with the Iranian regime will not include military co-ordination,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “We’re not interested in any effort to co-ordinate military activity with Iran.”
Mr Kerry had said the US was “open to any constructive process here that could minimise the violence, hold Iraq together, the integrity of the country and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces that are ripping it apart”.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has also left open the possibility of working with the US in Iraq, saying on Saturday: “We can think about it, if we see America starts confronting terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere.”
Fighters from the al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, extended their advance into predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq by taking control of the northwestern town of Tal Afar, the third major centre to fall to insurgents in less than a week and a key target in the group’s plans to create an Islamic caliphate or state spanning Iraq and Syria.
The fall of Tal Afar, with a population of 200,000 located 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, after a two-day battle further weakens Iraq’s Shia-led government and heaps more pressure on Iran, a Shia-led neighbour, and the US to come to the aid of Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
A rush of Shia paramilitaries and volunteers to battle-lines about 60 miles north of the capital has slowed the Isis advance south and it seems unlikely that the group will replicate its victories in Mosul and Tikrit.
Isis’s claim to have killed 1,700 men remains unverified, although photographs and videos of at least 50 being killed as they lay face down in the sand with their hands tied have been verified.
A senior Obama administration official raised the prospect of the US and Iran discussing the situation in Iraq “on the margins” of resumed talks on a nuclear deal with Tehran in Austria this week. US deputy secretary of state William J Burns is scheduled to meet Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Vienna.
– (Additional reporting Guardian service)