US says plans new talks soon with Iran on Iraq

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ISTANBUL, Nov 3 (Reuters) US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker said today he expected to meet his Iranian counterparts most likely in the next few weeks to discuss Iraq.

''The (Iran-US) channel is not dead,'' Crocker told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in Istanbul.

''We would expect we would have another round in the not too distant future,'' he added.

Crocker said he expected the meeting with his Iranian counterpart, his fourth meeting this year, would take place in the next few weeks but he provided no exact date.

''My expectations are under control but I think it is worth pursuing,'' said Crocker.

The talks would focus strictly on what the United States sees as Iranian meddling in Iraq and would not touch on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has in recent months been downbeat about the value of talking to the Iranians, saying the previous talks had not yet shown any result.

''It's worth exercising a little bit of patience. We have not talked to the Iranians in a very long time,'' he said.

Crocker said that apparently at this meeting the Iranians proposed that coalition forces should be withdrawn from Iraq and a consortium of other states such as Iran and Syria should oversee Iraq's future development.

Asked to comment on this suggestion, Crocker said: ''It's not the kind of fantasy that is dignified by a reply.'' REUTERS AM MSJ RAI2144

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