Iran, US agree to talks on Iraq

A senior Iranian official said yesterday that Iran would enter into direct talks with the United States about Iraq, opening the way for the two countries to hold their first face-to-face discussion about Iran's western neighbor since shortly after the US-led invasion in 2003.

''In the days to come we are going to designate people who are going to carry out these talks," Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said in an interview. ''The important thing for us is an established government in Iraq and that security is restored."

The White House welcomed the Iranian participation, which was backed by the US ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, and urged by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shi'ite Muslim leader in Iraq with close ties to Tehran.

Stephen Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser, said Khalilzad had been authorized to talk to the Iranians about their interference in Iraq. Hadley added that Iranian activity in Iraq ''is giving comfort and, in some case, equipment to terrorists that are killing Iraqis and killing coalition forces. And that is what we have made very clear is unacceptable."

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, emphasized that the talks would be limited to the situation in Iraq and would not touch on Iran's controversial nuclear program. ''The nuclear issue is being discussed at the United Nations among diplomats of the Security Council," McClellan said, reports Boston Globe.

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