Preperations begin for Iran-Iraq-Syria summit

Iran went ahead Wednesday with preparations for its weekend summit on Iraq, with conservative opinion-makers predicting that the meeting of the presidents of Iran, Syria and Iraq would undermine U.S. influence in the region. The summit has been seen in the West as an Iranian bid to upstage a possible US initiative to engage Iran and Syria in efforts to subdue the violence in Iraq. The three presidents will meet in Tehran on Saturday, four days before US President George W. Bush is due to see Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan for talks on security in Iraq and the transfer of authority from US forces to Iraqi troops. The speaker of Iran's parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday that the summit was designed to bring Iran, Syria and Iraq closer together. "We hope the summit will boost relations between the three countries," he said. But Iranian analyst Ahmad Bakhshayesh said the government had more specific aims. "Iran wants to increase its influence in Iraq," said Bakhshayesh, a professor of political science at Allameh University in Tehran, said in an interview. "It also wants to support the government in Iraq so it can stand on its own feet after the United States has withdrawn its forces."