WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is mulling possible discussions with Iran over the mounting security crisis in Iraq, a senior official said on Sunday, in what would mark a major step in U.S. engagement with its longtime adversary.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the United States was considering talking to Iran about Iraq, where the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking to repel a stunning advance by Sunni militants who have seized several cities.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group have swept through towns in the Tigris valley north of Baghdad in recent days but appeared to have halted their advance outside the capital on Sunday as they tightened their grip on the north. [ID:nL5N0OW0H2]
President Barack Obama said on Friday he needed several days to determine how the United States would help Iraq fend off ISIL, but he ruled out sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011 after a bloody, costly war that lasted more than eight years.
The Wall Street Journal, which on Sunday reported the Obama administration was preparing for such talks, said one possible channel was through Vienna, where senior U.S. and Iranian officials were scheduled to meet with other world powers on Monday to negotiate limits on Iran's nuclear capabilities.
The White House cautioned that no discussions had yet taken place.
"There has been no contact with Iran on this issue thus far, nor do we have any plans to preview," a White House official said.