Iran's foreign minister said the United States must accept responsibility for the terrorism and violence resulting from its "occupation" of Iraq, in a speech Friday that angered Iraqi officials.
Manouchehr Mottaki told a ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors and key international players, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that the U.S. should present a clear plan to withdraw its forces "in order to allow the return of peace and stability."
He also called for the immediate release of five Iranians detained in northern Iraq by U.S. troops in January, calling their abduction a "brazen contravention of international conventions."
"We hold the perpetrators of this clumsy adventurous act responsible for its consequences," Mottaki said, without naming the United States.
The detention of the five has emerged as a major sore point between the U.S. and Iran, who are deeply divided over Iraq as well as Tehran's controversial nuclear program. Mottaki had at one point suggested he might not attend the two-day conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik unless the five were freed. The United States accuses the five of helping finance and arm militants in Iraq, a claim Iran denies.
Mottaki's speech angered the Iraqi delegation, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has sought to bridge the disputes between Tehran and Washington and _ more broadly _ rally all the deeply divided nations of the region behind a plan to stabilize Iraq.
His comments were just "to settle accounts," said one al-Maliki aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "We didn't expect it to be in this manner."
Mottaki told the delegates that "the continuation of and increase in terrorist acts in Iraq originates from the flawed approaches adopted by the foreign troops. Thus, in our view, the continuation of occupation lies at the origin of the crisis."
"The United States must accept the responsibilities arising from the occupation of Iraq, and should not finger point or put the blame on others," he said.
Later Friday, Mottaki told reporters the world should not be dominated by one or two powers, and blamed the United States' policies in Iraq for bolstering the deteriorating situation there.
"The polices of the occupation forces in Iraq are basically flawed, and the policies have failed, and we must try to correct these policies," Mottaki said.
Iraq had hoped that Rice and Mottaki would meet during the conference, which was ending Friday. But the only contact between the two was a wary exchange of pleasantries over lunch on Thursday.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Friday that ambassadors from Iran and the United States held talks on the sidelines of the meeting.
He said that "there was a meeting on experts level today. I don't know what happened during this meeting but I believe it was positive and indications are positive." He then clarified that he meant "ambassadors," instead of experts. It was the second such meeting, at a lower than foreign minister level, since a similar Iraq conference held in Baghdad in March.