U.S. Ready to Discuss Iraq With Iran

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 13, 2007; 11:15 AM

CAIRO -- The U.S. said Sunday it is willing to talk to Iran if discussions deal only with Iraq, where the Bush administration says Tehran is undermining the Baghdad government and exporting deadly roadside bombs.

"We are willing to have that conversation limited to Iraq issues at the ambassador level," Vice President Dick Cheney's spokeswoman said after he met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Lea Anne McBride said the willingness to talk with the Iranians about security issues in Iraq is consistent with U.S. policy and does not reflect a new position.

Iran's official news agency reported Sunday that the U.S. sought meetings in Baghdad to discuss security in Iraq. Iran reportedly received the request through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which often acts as an intermediary for the U.S. in the country.

"Iran has agreed to this (negotiation) after consultation with Iraqi officials, in order to lessen the pain of the Iraqi people, support the Iraqi government and establish security and peace in Iraq," the state-run IRNA quoted Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the foreign ministry spokesman, as saying.

McBride said the comments appeared to refer to what the U.S. has called "the Baghdad channel ... our willingness to talk to the Iranians at the ambassador level about Iraq-specific issues."

She could not confirm specifics, such as whether the U.S. had made a formal request.

A White House spokesman, however, said "you could expect a meeting in the next few weeks" between the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and the Iranians. "The purpose is to try to make sure that the Iranians play a productive role in Iraq," Gordon Johndroe said. He said the meeting would take place in Baghdad.

"The Baghdad channel is something that we've talked about for some time now," Johndroe told reporters accompanying President Bush on a trip to Jamestown, Va., to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first English settlement in America.

Asked if the U.S. requested the meeting, Johndroe would not say. "There have been discussions on the margins of various meetings over the last few months," he said.

Iran and the U.S. are the nations with the most influence over Iraq's fate, and Iraqi leaders have leaned on the Bush administration to try to cooperate with Iran.

Iraq's foreign minister told The Associated Press he expected the talks to occur in the coming weeks. A Baghdad setting would allow for "serious, quiet and focused discussions on the responsibilities and the obligations of all to help stabilize the situation in Iraq," Hoshyar Zebari said.

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