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US open to talks with Iran on stabilizing Iraq

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Mar 16 (Reuters) The White House said today that the United States is open to holding talks with Iran about stabilizing Iraq after the Islamic republic responded to prior offers from Washington for a dialogue.

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan noted that any such talks would be confined to the Iraq issue and would be on a separate track from efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran.

In November, President George W Bush authorized his ambassador in Iraq to have talks with Iran in what would be unusual contact between two long-standing foes who are locked in a standoff over Tehran's nuclear programs.

Iran initially rejected the US offer for talks.

But Iran changed its position today after Bush made his most explicit accusation this week that Iranian involvement in Iraq was destabilizing a country wracked by sectarian violence.

McClellan said US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad was authorized to speak with Iran about issues specifically relating to Iraq.

''The other issues are separate from this issue. The nuclear issue is being discussed at the United Nations among diplomats of the Security Council. That's a separate issue from this,'' he added.

''We previously have had discussions with Iran about issue relating to Afghanistan. But this is a very narrow mandate, dealing with issues specifically relating to Iraq,'' he said.

A State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the dialogue, said, ''Obviously we're open to meeting with Iranian officials to discuss Iraq-related issues. The arrangements for such a meeting will have to be worked out with our diplomatic mission in Iraq.'' REUTERS OM KP2209

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