(photo credit: AP)
Iran will attend the international conference on Iraq that will be held in Baghdad on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday.
The conference of Iraq's neighbors and the Big Five of the UN Security Council will be the first public encounter between US and Iranian envoys since late 2004.
"We hope the conference will result in sending a clear message that the countries of the region are standing alongside the government and nation of Iraq," Mottaki told a news conference.
Mottaki said the Iranian delegation to the conference would be lead by the deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, Abbas Araghchi.
On Monday, Mottaki said his government was finalizing its decision on whether to attend the conference. He indicated that Iran was in favor of participating but it did have reservations.
"With the aim of helping the government and people of Iraq, an Iranian delegation will attend the Baghdad conference," Mottaki said Wednesday in the first unequivocal commitment to the event.
The Iraqi government invited countries to the conference last week. The United States quickly said it would attend, making a diplomatic shift after months of refusing to talk to Iran about calming the conflict in Iraq.
Mottaki said Monday that his government did have "some concerns" about the conference. He did not spell these out, but it is thought Iran fears that both the US and Iraqi delegations might accuse Iran of supporting Shiite armed groups in Iraq.
The United States has recently hardened its line on Iran, both diplomatically and militarily.
President George W. Bush has stepped up accusations that Iran is backing Shiite militants in Iraq. The US military has detained a number of Iranians in Iraq and strengthened its naval presence in the Gulf.
Washington is also leading a push for stronger sanctions against Iran over its defiance of UN Security Council demands that it stop enriching uranium, a process that provides material for nuclear reactors or atomic warheads.