Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iran Says Ready to Talk with Washington on Iraq

Iran is willing to open a dialogue with the United States on Iraq, a senior official said on Thursday. "We accept this proposal and we will appoint a negotiating team for talks soon," Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran Supreme National Security Council, told reporters in response to a call by Iraqi Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim for Iran to start talks with Washington on Iraq.

Iranian officials had previously said Tehran was not interested in discussions before U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq. READ MORE

Iran has repeatedly been accused by the United States of allowing weapons and insurgents to cross its borders into Iraq, which is gripped by sectarian violence that has raised fears of a civil war. Tehran denies the U.S. allegations.

Hakim, a leader in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) who developed close ties with Iran when he opposed Saddam Hussein during years in exile there, called on Iran to open talks with the United States.

"We want the wise Iranian leadership to open a clear dialogue with America regarding Iraq and reach an understanding on disputed issues in Iraq, a dialogue for the benefit of the Iraqi people," he told a gathering of his supporters in comments televised on a Shi'ite television channel.

Hakim's comments come as the United States leads diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The Sunday Times newspaper said journalists in Tehran had been shown a letter by a senior Iranian intelligence agent that was purportedly from U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and which invited Iran to send representatives to talks in Iraq.

The newspaper said the letter was written in Farsi, which the Afghan-born ambassador speaks. Khalilzad told CNN there had been no meetings between Iranian and U.S. officials.

Khalilzad denied seeking Iran's help to calm violence in Iraq and said there were concerns about the Islamic Republic's alleged links with militias in Iraq.

Earlier, the U.S. embassy denied such a letter existed.

Arab Sunnis resent those relations and accuse Tehran of shaping the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government's policies.