(Reuters) - Iran’s supreme leader said on Monday he had personally rejected an offer from the United States for talks to fight Islamic State, an apparent blow to Washington’s efforts to build a military coalition to fight militants in both Iraq and Syria.
World powers meeting in Paris on Monday gave public backing to military action to fight Islamic State fighters in Iraq. France sent jets on a reconnaissance mission to Iraq, a step towards becoming the first ally to join the U.S.-led air campaign there.
But Iran, the principal ally of Islamic State’s main foes in both Iraq and Syria, was not invited to the Paris meeting. The countries that did attend - while supporting action in Iraq - made no mention at all of Syria, where U.S. diplomats face a far tougher task building an alliance for action.
Washington has been trying to build a coalition to fight Islamic State since last week when President Barack Obama pledged to destroy the militant group on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.
That means plunging into two civil wars in which nearly every country in the Middle East already has a stake. And it also puts Washington on the same side as Tehran, its bitter enemy since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
In a rare direct intervention into diplomacy, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Washington had reached out to Iran through the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, requesting a meeting to discuss cooperation against Islamic State.
Khamenei said that some Iranian officials had welcomed the contacts, but he had personally vetoed them.
“I saw no point in cooperating with a country whose hands are dirty and intentions murky,” the Iranian leader said in quotes carried on state news agency IRNA. He accused Washington of “lying” by saying it had excluded Iran from its coalition, when in fact Iran had refused to participate.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was “not cooperating with Iran”, but declined to be drawn on whether it had reached out through the embassy in Baghdad for talks.
“I am not going to get into a back and forth,” he said. “I don’t think that’s constructive, frankly.”
French officials said they had hoped to invite Iran to Monday’s conference but Arab countries had blocked the move.