Iran: US has requested further talks

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July 18, 2007 18:24

Discussions intended to cover Iran, US overlapping interests in Iraq.

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Iran's foreign minister confirmed Wednesday that Teheran has received an official request for talks with the US and will hold a second round of meetings with the Americans on the situation in Iraq. "The US official request for holding the second round of talks with Iran on Iraq, was made to us," Iranian state television quoted Manouchehr Mottaki, as saying. Mottaki said the "talks will be held on the same level as the first round" in late May, when ambassadors from both countries met in Baghdad, the TV reported. The minister did not give a time for the talks. The comments by Mottaki, who has earlier said Iran looks "positively" at holding a second round, indicated that the United States made the request through the Swiss Embassy in Teheran, which looks after US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations. Iran's acceptance comes against a backdrop of further strained relations between the two adversaries. Teheran was poised to broadcast later Wednesday footage of two Iranian-American scholars held in detention in Teheran's notorious Evin prison and accused of undermining the country's state security. US officials, the employers and families of detainees Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh have condemned the detentions and warned that any alleged confessions have no legitimacy and were probably coerced in jail. On Tuesday, Iraq's ambassador in Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, said Washington and Teheran have agreed to meet and have set a date. But US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the meeting has not been scheduled yet. Another Iraqi official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public, said the session will be held on Saturday in Baghdad. Discussions between the US and Iranian ambassadors are supposed to cover only Iraq, where they have competing and overlapping interests. Iraq's fragile government has been pressing for another meeting between the two nations with the greatest influence over its future, and Iran has repeatedly signaled its willingness to sit down. Following the last meeting, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials said Iran had not scaled back what the United States alleges is a concerted effort to arm militants and harm US troops. Iraq had hoped to arrange a higher-level meeting between Rice and Mottaki, but the two exchanged only stiff pleasantries during a recent international conference on Iraq's security in Egypt. The United States broke off diplomatic ties with Iran after demonstrators stormed the US Embassy in Teheran in 1979 and held American hostages for 444 days. Iran denies the US allegations it is arming militias in Iraq, which like Iran has a majority Shiite Muslim population. Iraqis are mainly Arab, and Iranians are Persian. For its part, Iran objects to the US military detention of five Iranian men arrested in a raid in northern Iraq in January and whom the United States accuses of being intelligence agents. Along with Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, the US also objects to the detentions of two other Iranian-American scholars.


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