Iranian officials on Friday urged U. S.-led coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq, just one day before an international conference on Iraq's security in Baghdad.
Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi said that "prompt withdrawal of occupiers" from Iraq would be a fundamental step toward establishment of tranquility in Iraq, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"Occupiers have a role in spreading insecurity and terror in Iraq to justify their illegitimate presence there," Shahroudi, who is on a visit to Jakarta, was quoted as telling Indonesian House of Representatives Speaker Agung Laksono.
The Iranian official made the remarks before representatives from Iraq's Arab neighbors as well as Iran, Turkey, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the Arab League are heading for Baghdad for the regional security meeting on Saturday.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chief of Iran's powerful Guardian Council, on Friday accused the United States and Britain of being responsible for growing deaths of Iraqi civilians, the Fars News Agency reported.
"We believe that the terrorists and those covered and backed by the U.S. and Britain are responsible for committing crimes and triggering differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq," Jannati was quoted as saying at a prayer sermon in Tehran.
He said that the security meeting was aimed at establishing a U. S.-favored administration in Iraq.
He said that the United States "plans to set up an administration in Iraq which is favored and monopolized by the Americans and by this the U.S. aims to make up for its failures in Iraq."
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki confirmed on Wednesday that Iran would participate in the conference scheduled for Saturday in Baghdad.
"We will send the Iranian delegation which will be led by deputy foreign minister in charge of legal and international affairs, Abbas Araghchi," Mottaki told a press conference, stressing that Iran's participation is to help the Iraqi government and people.
"We are looking forward that the result of the conference would show that countries in the region back the government and nation of Iraq," said the minister, adding "we hope that the result will be that an end to the presence of foreign forces in Iraq is nearing."
Araghchi said on Thursday that the conference would be a benchmark for testing the sincerity of U.S. policies in the war- torn country.
"The Baghdad meeting will be a test for assessing the U.S. policies and seeing whether the Americans are really after finding solutions or continuing their adventurism," the state television quoted Araghchi as saying.
"The previous meeting was held in Tehran and we proposed that the next one be held in Iraq," he said.
As both Iranian and U.S. officials are scheduled to participate in the Baghdad conference, there is a split within the U.S. administration about whether to talk to Iran, the New York Times reported Friday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tends to have dialogue with Iran while hard-liners, many in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, are opposed to the so-called "concession" to Iran.
Rice and a number of her top deputies, including David Satterfield, Rice's top adviser on Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, have concluded that recent U.S. moves to pressure Iran now allow the United States to negotiate with Tehran from a position of strength, an unidentified senior U.S. official was quoted as saying.
Those advocates of engagement argue that the recent ratcheting up of American rhetoric against Iran, a naval buildup in the Gulf region and arrests of Iranian officials in Iraq have now given American officials a better hand to play at the bargaining table.
"The United States is in a position now where I think we send a very strong message to the Iranians through the president's decision to send the carrier strike group into the gulf, through the fact that we've picked up some of their people who have been engaged in activities to harm our soldiers and the fact that we've been shutting down the international financial system to them," Rice said in an interview on Wednesday.
"I think we're in a much stronger position to go to a neighbor's meeting," Rice said of the Saturday conference on Iraq's security.
On Thursday, Satterfield said that "if we are approached over orange juice by the Syrians or the Iranians to discuss an Iraq- related issue that is germane to this topic -- stable, secure, peaceful, democratic Iraq -- we are not going to turn and walk away."
But hard-liners claimed that the United States should not be seen as making concession to Iran, and talking is a concession, the unidentified official said.
The United States has accused Iran of supporting Iraqi insurgents to fight against coalition forces since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, but Tehran has denied it and said that such an allegation was deliberate intervention in Iran-Iraq ties.