Iran says will soon hold new talks with U.S. on Iraq

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TEHRAN, Nov 20 (Reuters) Iran has agreed to hold a new round of talks soon with the United States on how to improve security in Iraq, Iran's foreign minister was quoted as saying today.

Ambassadors of the two old foes, deeply at odds over who is to blame for the violence in Iraq as well as over Tehran's disputed atomic ambitions, have held three meetings in Baghdad since May on Iraq but the last one was three months ago.

Washington accuses Iran of arming, funding and training Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Tehran blames the sectarian violence, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, on the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

But U.S. officials have recently appeared to soften their rhetoric about Iran's involvement in Iraq and some analysts say Iran also may be trying to reduce tension by restraining Shi'ite militias there and restricting arms crossing the border.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said Iran had received a US request for more talks via the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents .. interests in the country after Washington severed ties following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

''Iran is agreeing to this request in the framework of the policy of helping the Iraqi government and nation and (supporting) stability and security in this country,'' state radio quoted Mottaki as saying.

''These negotiations will be held in a near future,'' he said according to the ISNA news agency.

In Baghdad, a US embassy spokeswoman said US ambassador Ryan Crocker and other embassy officials had said several times that they also expected new talks soon.

This year's Iranian-US talks on Iraq's security situation eased a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost three decades, even though Tehran and Washington are embroiled in a deepening stand-off over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iraq's government spokesman last week said it was encouraged by signs of a thaw in ties between the two countries over Iraq but it wanted them to have a ''proper dialogue'' about the issue.

A fourth round would follow the US military's release this month of nine Iranian prisoners held in Iraq. The US military has also said that unofficial assurances from Iran that it would stop the flow of bombs into Iraq appeared to be holding.

US officials have also noted a decision by Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the feared Mehdi Army Shi'ite militia, to call a ceasefire. They say Sadr has close links with Iran.

With Shi'ite Muslims now in power in Baghdad, ties have strengthened between the two oil-producing states since 200 .

In the nuclear row, the United States accuses Tehran of seeking to build atom bombs, a charge it denies. Washington has refused to rule out military action, while saying it remains committed to a diplomatic solution.

REUTERS PD ND1512

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