Iran-US Talks over Iraq Imminent

A02439169.jpgTEHRAN (FNA) – Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Tuesday said talks between Iran and the United States on the future of Iraq were expected “in the next few days.”

“We are trying to organize the fourth round of US-Iranian talks in Baghdad. The round is expected to start in the next few days,” Zebari was quoted as saying at a press conference during a visit to Moscow.

“We have an interest in the success of these negotiations because it would lower tensions between Iraq and other countries and will help improve the situation in and around Iraq,” Zebari said.

Zebari also said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would very likely visit Iraq at the beginning of next month.

Iran believes the withdrawal of US troops is the first step toward a restoration of security in the country.

Meantime, the United States confirmed a new round of talks with Iran on the future of war-ravaged Iraq, but said that the two sides have yet to agree on a date.

“We do not yet have an agreed-upon date, but I think we’re now trying to work on one that is mutually convenient and acceptable,” US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

McCormack said the meeting would not involve the countries’ ambassadors, but would likely be “at the working group” level.

“Nothing’s done until everything’s done, and we’ll let you know all the details of this, the date, location, and who’s going to be attending,” he said.

An Iranian official told FNA this weekend that Iran and the United States would launch a new round to talks on Iraq in the coming week in Baghdad.

Washington had requested a meeting with Tehran to discuss Iraq’s security but the talks, scheduled for December 18, were postponed, without a new date being set.

The gathering aims to explore ways of reducing violence in Iraq, and is expected to bring together diplomats, security experts and the military.

US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi previously met in Baghdad last May and July.

The two countries which broke off relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran are also at odds over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for civilian use but which Washington alleges to be a cover for the development of atomic weapons.

Despite a US intelligence report in December that said Iran is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, the United States has been leading an international push for further sanctions to halt Tehran’s uranium enrichment program.

Yet, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again insisted here in Tehran on Monday that his country had an inalienable right to nuclear energy and would “not back down an inch” in the international nuclear standoff.

Ahmadinejad once again declared that the Iranian nuclear dossier was “closed.”

Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted a recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and a similar report by the IAEA head in November which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities, Russia and China increased resistance to any further punitive measures by the Security Council.

Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needed to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it was building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East earlier this month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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