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US and Iran plan fresh talks on Iraq

Mark Tran and agencies, Guardian Unlimited

Tuesday July 17, 2007


Iran and the US have agreed to hold a second round of talks about Iraq's security, to follow up on a landmark meeting held in May, American officials said today.

"We think that given the situation in Iraq and given Iran's continued behaviour that is leading to further instability in Iraq, that it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting," a US state department spokesman, Sean McCormack, told reporters.

He said no date had yet been arranged for the talks, which would be held in Baghdad.

The US has accused Iran of aiding Shia extremist groups in Iraq. In turn, Iran blamed the US-led invasion in 2003 for the sectarian violence between the majority Shias and the minority Sunnis.

"They need to stop supporting sectarian militias that are exacerbating sectarian tensions, they need to stop supporting EFP networks that pose a threat to our troops," Mr McCormack said, referring to explosively formed penetrators, devices crafted to penetrate tanks and armoured vehicles.

With growing public impatience over his "surge" strategy, the US president, George Bush, recently agreed that the US and Iran, which have had no diplomatic relations since 1979, should start talking about stabilising Iraq.

But as the state department announced the further talks, there were signs that the hawkish vice-president, Dick Cheney, is winning the debate over military action against Tehran.

The Guardian reported yesterday that the shift followed an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the past month.

The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the past six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

Mr Cheney, who has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran, is reportedly being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of White House, Pentagon and state department officials last month, Mr Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," a source told the Guardian.


:: Article nr. 34578 sent on 17-jul-2007 19:06 ECT

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