iraq burns 88.
(photo credit: )
Iran said it is willing to help Washington calm Iraq's escalating sectarian violence if the US drops its "bullying" policy toward Tehran, but denied organizing a summit with the leaders of Iraq and Syria to discuss the troubles in its neighboring country.
Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is "ready to help" the United States, saying the Americans are "trapped in a quagmire" in Iraq.
"The Iranian nation is ready to help you to get out of the quagmire - on condition that you resume behaving in a just manner and avoid bullying and invading," he said Sunday while addressing members of the Basij paramilitary group, which is affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
The White House, which is under pressure at home and abroad to approach Iran and Syria for help with Iraq, played down Ahmadinejad's offer.
"The Iranians have made comments similar to this in the past. There's nothing new there," State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said in Washington.
Engaging with Iraq's neighbors is believed to be one of the recommendations by a panel on Iraq led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini, meanwhile, denied reports of a summit involving Iraq and Syria, saying it was never on Iran's agenda.
"Such a summit needs certain preliminaries," he said, but did not give details.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was scheduled to visit Tehran on Saturday, but had to postpone his trip because Baghdad's airport was closed in a security clampdown after an upsurge in violence. Syria never said whether President Bashar Assad had intended to go.
Hosseini confirmed Iran had invited Assad for an official visit and said Talabani would visit at some point.
Iran is believed to back Iraqi Shiite militias blamed for sectarian attacks that have killed thousands this year. Iran has repeatedly denied the charges.
Had the summit been held, it would have preceded President George W. Bush's scheduled meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday.
Vice President Dick Cheney was in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and another one of Iraq's neighbors, over the weekend.
The unusual succession of trips appeared to reflect US determination to rally allies at a time when Washington is considering changing its Iraq policy.
But one of the major sources of tension between Tehran and Washington _ Iran's nuclear program _ appears at a standstill. The US alleges Iran is secretly developing atomic weapons, while Tehran claims its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
Iran has repeatedly refused to suspend uranium enrichment, defying an Aug. 31 deadline set by the UN Security Council, and has said it will not halt the process as a precondition to negotiations over its nuclear program.
Hosseini on Sunday promised improved cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if the UN nuclear watchdog, rather than the Security Council, takes charge of Iran's nuclear dossier. Iran has made similar promises in the past.
"If the case is returned to the agency itself, it would be possible to review current ambiguities better than before," Hosseini said. "The agency is the best and the most qualified body for the case."
The IAEA officially turned over Iran's dossier to the Security Council last February after Iran failed to answer key questions about its nuclear activities.
Last week, the IAEA rejected Iran's request for assistance building a heavy-water nuclear reactor because of the dispute.
"It is part of the agency's duties to help member countries. None of our activities have been illegal. Inspectors can inspect them," Hosseini said.
The Security Council, meanwhile, is deadlocked over how to sanction Iran for ignoring demands to stop uranium enrichment. Russia and China, both trade partners with Iran, have called for a diplomatic resolution rather than punitive measures, which Washington is urging.