Iran welcomes new talks with US on Iraq

Mottaki: These talks held within framework of helping Iraqi stability and security and its people.

Iran is accepting an offer for continued talks with the United States on Iraqi security, with the state IRNA news agency saying Tuesday that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki welcomed a fourth round of discussions. In Iraq, a US embassy spokesman said the United States has agreed to new talks with Iran on Iraq but that details still have to be worked out. "Iran will give a positive response to this request," Mottaki was quoted as saying by IRNA, adding that the talks will be held "in the near future." Iran has earlier said it would consider a new round of talks with the US if requested by both the United States and Iraq. Tuesday's imminent acceptance comes against a background of US military reports that violence is down 55 percent in Iraq since a US-Iraqi security operation began this summer. "These talks ... are held within the framework of helping Iraqi stability and security and its people," IRNA also quoted Mottaki as saying. Iran has long been accused by Washington of training, arming and funding Shi'ite extremists inside Iraq to kill American troops. But in recent weeks, US officials have said Teheran appears to have halted the flow of arms across its border into Iraq. Iran has denied the arms-funneling accusations, insisting that it is doing its best to help stabilize its embattled western neighbor. Mottaki said Iran's consent for a fourth round of talks comes after Teheran received an official US request for talks through the Swiss Embassy, which looks after American interests in Iran. "The Swiss Embassy in Teheran has handed over to Iran a message from the US government for a new round of talks concerning Iraq," Mottaki said. In Baghdad, US Embassy spokesman Philip Reeker said the Americans are open to the trilateral talks but the invitations are usually issued by the Iraqis. "As we have indicated in the past, we are ready to participate in a new round of talks with Iran on security issues in Iraq. We have been asked by our Iraqi partners if we would participate and we have agreed," Reeker said Tuesday. "The Iraqi government is taking the lead on this matter. Details remain to be worked out." The Iraqi Foreign Ministry's press office said Tuesday that no date has been set. "There is an intention to hold such talks and there are preparations for them," the ministry said. "No date has been set but they will be held in the near future." Switzerland looks after US interests in Teheran in the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Teheran and Washington, which were severed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy takeover by militants in Teheran. The Revolution toppled the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and installed a hard-line Islamic government. US Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi have held three rounds of talks in Baghad since May on Iraqi but without much apparent headway. The first round in May broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze between Iran and the United States. Crocker and Qomi agreed during their July talks to set up a security subcommittee to carry forward talks on restoring stability in Iraq. The subcommittee met in August for the first time in Baghdad and agreed to meet again at a later date but no more information is available on the outcome of those talks. Iran has also accused the US of providing "support for veteran (militant) elements and giving terrorists a free hand in specific locations in Iraq." Teheran insists that it supports Nouri al-Maliki's government to establish security and bring stability to Iraq, an apparent reference to the political crisis surrounding the Shi'ite leader. Iran holds considerable sway in Iraq, where the majority of the population is also Shi'ite Muslim and where Shi'ite political parties have close ties to Teheran.