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Iran says ready to talk with Washington on Iraq

Written by: Staff
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TEHRAN, Mar 16 (Reuters) Iran is willing to open a dialogue with the United States on Iraq, a senior official today said.

Iraqi Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim had urged Shi'ite Iran to help resolve disputed issues in Iraq, apparently referring to US accusations of meddling in the country, which is gripped by sectarian violence. Iran denies the charges.

''We will accept the proposal to help resolve the problems in Iraq and establish an independent government there as it was made by Mr. Hakim, a top Islamic leader in Iraq,'' said Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran Supreme National Security Council.

Three months after elections, negotiations on forming a power-sharing government in Iraq are deadlocked as the country slides towards civil war.

Larijani refused to comment on the time and level of talks.

Iranian officials had previously said Tehran was not interested in discussions before US troops pulled out of Iraq.

There was no immediate response from the United States, which is leading diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

''The negotiations will be only on resolving the problems in Iraq,'' Larijani told reporters.

Iran has repeatedly been accused by the United States of allowing weapons and insurgents to cross its borders into Iraq.

Tehran denies the allegations.

Hakim, a leader in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) who developed close ties with Iran when he opposed Saddam Hussein during years in exile there, called on Iran to open talks with the United States.

''We want the wise Iranian leadership to open a clear dialogue with America regarding Iraq and reach an understanding on disputed issues in Iraq, a dialogue for the benefit of the Iraqi people,'' he told a gathering of his supporters in comments televised on a Shi'ite television channel.

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper said journalists in Tehran had been shown a letter by a senior Iranian intelligence agent that was purportedly from US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and which invited Iran to send representatives to talks in Iraq.

The newspaper said the letter was written in Farsi, which the Afghan-born ambassador speaks. Khalilzad told CNN there had been no meetings between Iranian and US officials.

Khalilzad denied seeking Iran's help to calm violence in Iraq and said there were concerns about the Islamic Republic's alleged links with militias in Iraq.

Earlier, the US embassy denied such a letter existed.

Arab Sunnis resent those relations and accuse Tehran of shaping the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government's policies.

REUTERS SY BST1723

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