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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday said Iran would welcome talks with the United States on the sidelines a conference on Iraq's future in Egypt, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Speculation has swarmed over whether US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would meet with her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, during the conference, which begins Thursday.
"The Iranian nation welcomes honest dialogue" with the US, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying during a speech in the southern Iranian city of Sirjan, some 1,000 kilometers south of the capital, Teheran.
But the hard-line leader cautioned that if the US thinks it could "realize its aims by stopping Iran's controversial nuclear program through the dialogue, it made a mistake."
"But if they behave in an honest manner, the Iranian nation will behave honestly, too," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Earlier Wednesday, Mottaki said Teheran was still undecided whether to accept face-to-face talks with the United States during the two-day conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
"This case is under review, no final decision has been made yet in this regard," Mottaki said when asked if he would speak with Rice.
Iran on Sunday said it would join the US and other countries at the two-day conference on Iraq, to begin Thursday in Egypt. This raised hopes Teheran would help stabilize its violent neighbor and also that the gathering would provide for a rare encounter between high-level US and Iranian officials.
Rice has said she will not rule out sideline talks with Iranian and Syrian diplomats in Egypt, and an Egyptian official said Wednesday Rice would meet in Egypt with her Syrian counterpart. Lower-level US diplomats had brief face-to-face meetings with counterparts from Iran and Syria during a similar Iraq-themed conference in Baghdad in March.
But Iranian deputy foreign minister, Mahdi Mostafavi, earlier dismissed the possibility of Rice-Mottaki talks.
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told state television on Tuesday that his country has not received any official offer from Washington on holding direct talks.
"Nothing ... has been formally offered," he said. "Holding talks requires ground, opportunity and planning as well as aim."
Hosseini said Iran's attendance at the conference in Egypt is proceeding as planned and that Teheran is busy with "preparations for the meetings, discussions and the final statement of the conference."
The United States accuses Iran of providing weapons to Shiites' insurgents in Iraq, charges which Teheran denies. Iran, a Shiite Muslim country with close ties to Iraq's majority Shiite population, says it does not allow fighters to cross into Iraq, but it does not rule out that such people might cross the long border illegally.
US diplomatic ties with Iran were cut following the 1979 storming of the US Embassy in Teheran.
Although there have been intermittent diplomatic contacts, the Bush administration has resisted pressure to start direct talks with Iran to improve security in Iraq.
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