Iran's cleric leader urges Iraqi President to set deadline for US

Iran's supreme leader urged the Iraqi president yesterday to seek a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, saying the American presence harms the country. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, who is paying a three-day visit to Iran, a country the United States accuses of meddling in Iraq but that is closely allied to Iraq's new Shi'ite and Kurd-dominated leadership.

''The government and people of Iraq can with their voices seek a timetable for the exit of the occupiers," Khamenei told Talabani, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

''Certainly, in the end the Americans and British will be forced by bitter experience to leave Iraq."

Leaders from Iraq's divided Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities agreed in a conference in Cairo this week to call for a timetable for a US withdrawal, but gave no specific time frame and tied it to the training of Iraqi forces to carry on the fight against Sunni-led insurgents. The interior minister said he expected Iraqi forces to be capable of taking over security duties by the end of next year.

Khamenei denounced what he called US attempts to hurt warming Iranian-Iraqi ties with ''lies and slander" and urged Iraqis to resist American pressure on them to reduce relations with Iraq's neighbor.''Iraq and its neighbors will always be present in the region, while the US presence is temporary," he said.

The Shi'ite parties that dominate Iraq's government have been close allies of the Iranian government, where Shi'ites also hold sway, since many of the Iraqi leaders fled into exile there during Saddam Hussein's rule. Kurdish parties also built ties with Iran during that time.

On Monday, Talabani held talks with Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who proclaimed the two countries have ''one soul in two bodies."

Ahmadinejad said the United States, which has nearly 160,000 troops in Iraq in support of the government, wanted to block better ties between the Shi'ite Muslim-dominated nations.

In Cairo, Iraqi leaders at a reconciliation conference reached out to the Sunni Arab community by calling for a timetable for the withdrawal and saying the country's opposition had a ''legitimate right" of resistance.Washington reiterated yesterday that the United States would stay only as long as it takes to stabilize Iraq.

The communique condemned terrorism but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if they don't target innocent civilians or institutions that provide for the welfare of Iraqis.

The leaders agreed on ''calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces . . . control the borders and the security situation," and end terror attacks, reports the AP. I.L.

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