Iraq Ready for New Iran-US Talks

A05046426.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iraq is prepared to restart talks with the United States and Iran, and is checking with both sides to see if a fresh round can be scheduled, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on Sunday.

The United States and Iran, which have not had diplomatic ties for almost three decades, held three rounds of talks last year on ways to help end violence in Iraq.

Tehran has always described a US withdrawal from Iraq as the only way to restore peace and security in its war-ravaged neighbor.

A fourth set of ambassador-level talks has been repeatedly postponed by Iran. Officials in Tehran say that they would attend the fourth round only when they see results of the previous round of talks in practice.

The talks are one of the few forums in which officials from the arch-foes have direct contact.

“We are ready to resume these talks provided that both sides will agree to that. Recently the Iranians have made some statements that they are willing to resume these talks, and we will go back to the United States, to the Americans, to see if they have this interest,” he said.

“If conditions are suitable the Iraqi government would be delighted to resume these talks,” the minister told a security conference in Geneva.

Zebari told journalists on Saturday that Iraq and United States have agreed on a draft security pact with “aspirational dates” for US forces to leave Iraq’s cities by summer 2009, and for the Iraqi forces to take over in 2011.

But even in a best-case, he said a small number of US forces could stay on beyond 2011 in a transitional role.

“Whatever happens I think you won’t fix a date or draw a line where all the forces will withdraw. There will be a need for some forces, for some training, for coordination as a residual force,” Zebari said.

The foreign minister said in his remarks on Sunday that the Iraqi parliament would either ratify or reject the status of forces deal, but did not specify exactly when this would occur.

“We now have a single text that must be subject to a political decision for the Iraqi government to accept,” he said.

The United States plans to pull 8,000 troops out of Iraq by February, leaving a force of 138,000 there.

The US is in talks with Iraqi officials to get them to sign a provocative security agreement which secures long-term US presence in Iraq.

It also gives the occupation forces a free rein to stage military operations wherever and whenever they deem necessary, without consulting the Iraqi government.

Tehran is concerned that the yet-not-concluded security deal could lead to establishment of permanent US bases in the neighboring country.

The proposed pact is also facing widespread opposition among Iraqi politicians.

Many fear Washington has plans to keep permanent bases, despite a denial of any such plan written into the proposal. Iraqis say the drafts submitted by the Americans thus far would infringe on Iraq’s sovereignty by giving US forces too much freedom to operate.

The security pact also faces strong criticism from members of al-Maliki’s own coalition. Two Iraqi officials familiar with the negotiations have warned that a deal is unlikely to be reached before the end of President Bush’s term in January unless Washington backs off some demands seen as giving American forces too much freedom to operate in Iraq and infringing on Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraq’s parliament must approve the deal, and the two officials said opposition in the legislature was so widespread that it stood no chance of winning approval without significant changes in the US position. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.

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