Roundup: archfoe Iran, U.S. say willing to hold talks over Iraq issue

Spokespersons from both Iran and the U.S. said on Sunday the two nations were willing to talk to each other over the Iraqi issue, 10 days after they held ambassador- level talks in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Lea Anne McBride, spokeswoman for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, on Sunday said the U.S. was willing to hold talks with Iran over the Iraqi issue.

McBride, who was accompanying Cheney on a brief visit to Egypt, told reporters after arriving in the Egyptian capital Cairo that the U.S. has the "willingness to have that conversation limited to Iraq issues, at the ambassador level."

She stressed that the U.S. willingness to hold talks with Iran over the Iraq issue was not a new stance.

McBride's comment came several hours after Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Iran has agreed to hold talks with the United States on Iraq.

"Following consultations between Iranian and Iraqi officials, Tehran has agreed to hold negotiations with Washington," Hosseini was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying at his weekly press conference.

The talks aim to "relieve pains and suffering of the Iraqi people, support and strengthen the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and stabilize security and peace in that country," Hosseini said.

The spokesman said the talks will be held in Iraq, but added that "Date of the meeting and level of the negotiating team will be determined by the end of the current week."

On May 4, Iran and the United States held a bilateral meeting at the ambassador level on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraqi security at Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh.

The U.S.-Iranian meeting was revealed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who told a press conference following the Iraqi security meeting that it took place at the ambassador level, not at a ministerial level.

The meeting was attended by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, with the presence of U.S. State Department's Iraq coordinator David Satterfield, according to reports.

Before the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, the Bush administration has refused to talk directly to Iran over the Iraqi issue.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran since April 1980, five months after Iranian students seized the American embassy in Teheran and held 52 Americans as hostages for 444 days.

Yet relations between the two arch rivals have become ever strained in the last several years, fueled by disputes over Iran's controversial nuclear program and the Iraqi issue.

The U.S. has been accusing Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian nuclear program. The Bush administration also accuses Iran of helping to destabilize Iraq by allowing weapons and foreign fighters to cross its border into Iraqi territories.

Both U.S. accusations have been denied by Shiite-dominated Iran, which is believed to have deep influence in Iraq's Shiite communities.

Source: Xinhua

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