World and Nation

US is still open to talking to Iran about Islamic State

PARIS — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the Obama administration would keep the door open to confidential communications with Iran on the security crisis in Iraq, despite sarcastic criticism from Iran’s supreme leader, who said the American plan for bombing Islamic militants, their common enemy, was absurd.

Kerry acknowledged that the United States had opposed a role for Iran at the international conference here on strengthening a coalition to help the new government in Baghdad fight the Islamic State.

Both King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and top officials from the United Arab Emirates had informed the United States that they would not attend the meeting here if Iran was present, said Kerry, who also stressed that the United States would not coordinate militarily with the Iranians.

But Kerry also said U.S. officials were still prepared to talk to Iranian officials about Iraq and Syria, including on the margins of the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, which will resume in New York on Thursday.

Just because Iranians were not invited to the Paris conference, Kerry said, “doesn’t mean that we are opposed to the idea of communicating to find out if they will come on board or under what circumstances or whether there is the possibility of a change.”

Kerry said that “having a channel of communication on one of the biggest issues in the world today is common sense.”

Still, Kerry acknowledged that previous attempts made by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns to draw the Iranians into a discussion of regional issues on the margins of earlier rounds of talks had not been productive.

“The confidential discussions never got to that sort of substance,” Kerry said.

In Tehran, the tone was quite different. Iranian officials gave out flurries of statements to local reporters Monday, saying they had rejected multiple invitations by the United States to join the coalition.

Never, they asserted, would Iran consider working with the United States to cleanse the region of terrorists, who the Iranians asserted had been created and nurtured by the West.

The country’s highest leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated that no matter who had invited whom, Iran would sit arms crossed and watch as the coalition tries to bomb the Islamic State away.

On Monday, as Khamenei was discharged from the hospital after a prostate operation, he said that he had enjoyed his time as a patient, since he had “a hobby,” which was “listening to Americans making statements on combating ISIS — it was really amusing,” a statement posted on his personal website read, using an alternate name for the Islamic State.

“Of course,” he said, such statements are “absurd, hollow and biased.”