Iran won't necessarily meet U.S. officials if it attends Iraq conference, Iranian official says
The Associated PressPublished: March 4, 2007

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran's potential participation in the upcoming regional conference in Baghdad would not necessarily include direct talks with the United States, an Iranian official said on Monday.

"Meeting with Americans on the sidelines of the Baghdad conference is not on the agenda of Iran, for the time being," said Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, in his weekly news briefing.

Hosseini's comments come less than a week before many of Iraq's neighbors, including Syria, will gather along with U.S. and British representatives to discuss the Iraqi security crisis on March 10 in Baghdad. Hosseini said Iranian officials are still deciding whether to attend, but would do so if they believed the conference would improve the security situation in Iraq.

A U.S. State Department last week refused to confirm or deny that any interaction with Iran would take place at the gathering.

Hosseini mentioned that Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, had discussed the issue with his Saudi counterpart on Saturday. "The result, if Iran attends the conference or not, will be announced in the near future," he said.

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As Iranian officials have done in the past, Hosseini claimed the U.S. has reached out to Iran to hold discussions on Iraq. "Recently, the United States has proposed negotiations with Iran through different channels over the Iraq issue," he said.

He promised to review these proposals, but U.S. officials have made no claims of exploring direct negotiations with Iran.

When asked on Wednesday about the prospects for U.S.-Iranian contact at the upcoming conference, the U.S. State Department spokesman refused to confirm or deny that any interaction would occur.

Iran has said in past months that it is willing to meet with the United States to discuss how to calm the violence in Iraq, but tensions have increased dramatically between the two countries recently.

Bush has stepped up accusations that Iran is backing Shiite militants in Iraq, a number of Iranians in Iraq have been seized by U.S. forces and the American military presence in the Gulf has been strengthened.

At the same time, Washington has led a push for stronger sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies. The United Nations has demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment before any negotiations over its nuclear program can be held, a condition Tehran has rejected.

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