Iran says it's ready for talks with U.S. over Iraq

Iran said Thursday it was prepared to talk directly with the United States about Iraq, a major shift for a country that has long avoided negotiations with what it calls the "Great Satan."

The offer appears to reflect the desire by at least some top Iranian officials to relieve Western pressure over Tehran's nuclear program in return for help on Iraq, which is sliding ominously toward civil war.

The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, told reporters that any talks between the United States and Iran would be limited to Iraqi issues.

Larijani, who is also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, had repeatedly invited Iran for talks on Iraq.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Khalilzad was authorized to talk to the Iranians about Iraq just as the United States had talked to Iran about Afghanistan.

"This is a very narrow mandate dealing specifically with issues relating to Iraq," McClellan said, adding that it did not include U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

But any direct dialogue between Tehran and Washington  were it to happen could be the beginning of negotiations between the two old foes over Iran's nuclear program.

"This could be the beginning of a major breakthrough, ending more than two and a half decades of estrangement between Tehran and Washington," said Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a professor of international relations at Tehran's Imam Sadeq University.

A Washington analyst on Iran, Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the talks would not go further than Iraq, their atmosphere "will spill over into every other area of contention between the United States and Iran."

Washington accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons and is leading a campaign for U.N. Security Council action. Iran denies the charge, but would like to avoid any penalties from the Security Council, which is expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program this month.

The United States also accuses Iran of meddling in Iraqi politics and of sending weapons and men to support the insurgency, reports AP.


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