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ARAB-US RELATIONS - Mar 17 - Iran And US To Discuss Iraq But Not Weapons.

The US embassy in Baghdad releases a statement saying that Washington is "concerned about unhelpful Iranian activities in Iraq. These concerns are well known and we have talked about them". The communique follows news that Iran and the US signalled they were ready to make their first substantive and direct contact in nearly three years by talking about the future of Iraq. But the US closed the door on broadening the scope of the discussions to include Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme, insisting it would leave that issue to the UN Security Council. US State Sec Condoleezza Rice, reaffirmed that the Security Council is "the appropriate venue" to discuss Iran's nuclear program, rather than Baghdad. "This isn't a negotiation of some kind", Ms Rice said about any possible dialogue Washington's ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad may have with Tehran, "We've found it useful to exchange information and to talk, and if we do, it will be about Iraq". Khalilzad, had offered talks with Iran some months ago. Iran's acceptance on Mar 16 came as the US administration released its first National Security Strategy since 2002. The "Bush doctrine" upheld the principle of pre-emptive military action in spite of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The lengthy document accused Iran of interfering in Iraq and identified Tehran as possibly the most serious nuclear proliferation challenge to the US. Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser, said international pressure on Iran was having an impact. "We are, I think, beginning to get indications that the Iranians are finally beginning to listen", he said. "And there is beginning to be a debate within the leadership, and I would hope a debate between the leadership and their people about whether the course they are on is the right course for the good of their country". Diplomats pointed out, however, that the US sorely needed Iran's help in getting Iraq's factions to form a government of national unity and avoid sectarian warfare. They also noted that the US had run into serious resistance on the UN Security Council from Russia to a draft presidential statement calling on Iran to renew its suspension of uranium enrichment activities. Talks are to continue next week. The announcement that Iran was ready for talks on Iraq came from Ali Larijani, Iran's top security official. He said he was responding to Mar 15 call for "dialogue" between Tehran and Washington from Abd Al Aziz Hakim, leader of the SCIRI and a long-term ally of Tehran. The timing of Larijani's remarks fuelled speculation in Tehran that the Islamic republic's leadership had opted to try to avoid confrontation. "The important thing is how to get out of the crisis with the Security Council, especially with the recent radicalisation of the US position towards talking of 'regime change'", a senior Iranian official commented. A second official recently told the FT that on taking office last summer Larijani had set up a team to study talks with the US. It was led by his brother Mohammad-Javad Larijani, a former deputy FM who has advocated the eventual "normalisation" of relations with the US. "Larijani has taken the first step toward a deal with the US but it may have come too late", the second official said.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Mar 18, 2006
Previous Article:ARAB-US RELATIONS - Mar 16 - Rice Steps Up Rhetoric Against 'Troubled State' Iran.
Next Article:IRAQ - Mar 12 - At Least 40 Die In Shiite 'Safe Zone' In Baghdad.

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