Iran's potential participation in the upcoming regional conference in Baghdad would not necessarily include direct talks with the United States, an Iranian official said on Monday. "Meeting with Americans on the sidelines of the Baghdad conference is not on the agenda of Iran, for the time being," said Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, in his weekly news briefing. Hosseini's comments come less than a week before many of Iraq's neighbors, including Syria, will gather along with US and British representatives to discuss the Iraqi security crisis on March 10 in Baghdad.
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Hosseini said Iranian officials are still deciding whether to attend, but would do so if they believed the conference would improve the security situation in Iraq.
A US State Department last week refused to confirm or deny that any interaction with Iran would take place at the gathering.
Hosseini mentioned that Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, had discussed the issue with his Saudi counterpart on Saturday. "The result, if Iran attends the conference or not, will be announced in the near future," he said.
As Iranian officials have done in the past, Hosseini claimed the US has reached out to Iran to hold discussions on Iraq. "Recently, the United States has proposed negotiations with Iran through different channels over the Iraq issue," he said.
He promised to review these proposals, but US officials have made no claims of exploring direct negotiations with Iran.
Iran has said in past months that it is willing to meet with the United States to discuss how to calm the violence in Iraq, but tensions have increased dramatically between the two countries recently.
Bush has stepped up accusations that Iran is backing Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq, a number of Iranians in Iraq have been seized by US forces and the American military presence in the Gulf has been strengthened.
At the same time, Washington has led a push for stronger sanctions against Teheran over its nuclear program.