Iran Calls Baghdad Talks Constructive

The Associated Press
Sunday, March 11, 2007; 8:12 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran said Sunday an international conference in Baghdad where it held direct talks with the United States for the first time in years was a constructive "first step" toward restoring stability to the neighboring country.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, also said his country hoped a proposed follow-up meeting on Iraq would be successful.

"If such a conference to be held at the foreign minister level happens in the near future in Baghdad, then it is possible to expect success," Hosseini said. He did not say if the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, would attend.

The spokesman said Saturday's meeting in Baghdad included "constructive negotiations" among the delegations and could be considered a "first step" in promoting security and stability in Iraq. Hosseini also said Iran was ready to support any plan that would help end the bloodshed in its neighboring country.

"Leaving security affairs to the Iraqi government, arranging a timetable for the departure of foreign forces, and taking an indiscriminate approach to all terrorist groups can bring peace and security in Iraq," Hosseini said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, however, expressed skepticism, saying the Iranians "need to match their statement of support for the Iraqi government with actions and words on the ground."

Zebari said intelligence reports indicated weapons were flowing into Iraq from Iran. He acknowledged Iran's denials but told CNN that "their fingerprints are there, definitely."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also questioned whether Iran would support an American-backed plan for stability in Iran.

"I hope we can bring better security to Iraq," Graham said. "But I don't believe Iran shares our goal of creating a democracy in Iraq and we'll never have unity there."

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out that even though he welcomed talks about restoring security in Iraq there's "no specific discussion of what the nature of that political solution" would be.

The senators spoke on CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday.

In Colombia, President Bush said Sunday the Iraq conference had a "positive outcome," but he cautioned that Iran and Syria need to follow through on their pledges to help Iraq.

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