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Iraqi president to visit Tehran for weekend talks

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Nov 21: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will visit Tehran this weekend for a long-planned bilateral summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his spokesman said.

Spokesman Kameran Qaradaghi denied reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might also be present at the talks on Saturday and Sunday.

''This is a two-way bilateral summit. There was no invitation for a three-way summit. This was never an issue,'' he said. ''This invitation by the Iranian president is not new.'' He said the talks would be wide-ranging.

Talabani's visit follows one by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in September, when he won a pledge of support for his new government, which is battling a three-year-old Sunni insurgency and raging sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

US and Iraqi officials have accused Iran of supporting insurgents and Shi'ite militias blamed for much of the communal bloodshed that has raised the spectre of civil war.

The weekend summit comes amid increased talk of diplomatic efforts to involve Iraq's neighbours Syria and Iran in finding a solution to Iraq's crisis.

In the first visit by a Syrian minister since the US-led invasion in 1993, Syria's foreign minister held talks in Baghdad yesterday with Iraqi leaders. He pledged to cooperate with Baghdad in stabilising the country.

In Damascus a Syrian official with knowledge of the president's schedule, asked whether Assad would join Talabani and Ahmadinejad in Tehran, said: ''There are no plans for such a (tripartite) summit.'' In Washington, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey voiced US scepticism that any meeting between Iran, Syria and Iraq could help to reduce the violence and said similar meetings in the past had not resulted in that happening.

''In those contacts, we have seen public statements from the Iranian government, expressing their desire to reduce the violence and to respond positively to the situation in Iraq,'' Casey told reporters in Washington.

''As I've said, unfortunately, those positive statements -- and this applies to the case of Syria as well -- have not been backed up by actual, concrete steps,'' he said.


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