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(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran said Sunday it is open to negotiations with the United States on Iraq but hinted it would continue to refuse to talk with Washington about its controversial nuclear program.
As the UN Security Council geared up for a protracted debate over sanctions, Iran also praised Russia's "softer" stance on Tehran's nuclear activities.
"Russians' stance is better than other ... countries. They have a softer policy. Since the beginning, their stance was different," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.
Hosseini said that Iran would consider talks with the US over regional issues, including Iraq, if Washington requested. He would not elaborate, and there was no immediate response from the United States on the offer.
"If there is any official request about regional issues, we are ready to review it," Hosseini told reporters.
However, he said Iran would not change its position regarding bilateral relations with the US, an apparent indication that Tehran would refuse to talk with the US about other issues such as uranium enrichment. The US has demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium as a precondition to talks about its disputed nuclear program.
Iran's statement on Sunday seemed to indicate that the government was once again willing to consider the idea of direct talks with the US over Iraq, which is veering ever closer to civil war. US officials have long accused Iran of interfering in neighboring Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also said that the White House believes Tehran has a role to play in stabilizing Iraq, whose government is Shi'ite Muslim like Iran's.
Some Western experts believe that Iran is genuinely worried about civil conflict in Iraq and its potential to spill over, although others say Iranian hardliners may have an interest in causing at least some turmoil.
Iranian leaders are believed to have close links to some Iraqi leaders and clerics.