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    Rice: Possible Iran talks to be limited to Iraq

2006-03-18 07:16

Any possible dialogue between American diplomats and Iranian officials on stabilizing Iraq will not cover Teheran's nuclear ambitions, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.

Speaking in Sydney, Rice said talks with Teheran on Iraq's slide towards civil war "might be useful," but when asked if the discussions also could cover Iran's nuclear programme, she said no.

"Those talks are limited to questions concerning the country at issue, so in this case it would be limited to questions concerning Iraq," she said.

Iran offered on Thursday to enter into talks with the United States aimed at stabilizing Iraq, the first time the Islamic republic has agreed to negotiate with the superpower that it calls the "Great Satan."

Teheran's offer appeared to reflect the desire of at least some top Iranian officials to relieve Western pressure over Teheran's nuclear programme in return for help on Iraq.

The White House said the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is already authorized to talk with Iran about Iraq, but that Iran's nuclear ambitions would not be discussed.

The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, also told reporters that any talks between the United States and Iran would be limited to Iraqi issues.

Larijani, who is also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said Khalilzad had repeatedly invited Iran for talks on Iraq.

"This isn't a negotiation of some kind. We've found it useful to exchange information and to talk, and if we do it will be about Iraq," Rice said, but she did not specify when the talks will take place.

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the 1979 seizure of the US Embassy in Teheran. US diplomats were held hostage for more than a year.

US President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of its government, has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs and of sending weapons and men to help insurgents in Iraq.

Rice also kept up pressure on Teheran to ensure its nuclear program fits the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iranians needed to meet "the demands of the international community that Iran pursue its civil nuclear power programme in a way that is consistent with its NPT obligations, in a way that is consistent with the world concerns about Iran's history of lying to the IAEA," she said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"It is now before the (UN) Security Council. That's the appropriate venue for it and I think that that's the place that this issue needs to be resolved," Rice added.

Rice later met with Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson in the southern city of Melbourne.

At Victoria Barracks, the army headquarters, she addressed about 100 Australian troops who have served alongside US personnel either in Iraq, Afghanistan or in disaster relief in the wake of the Asian Tsunami.

(China Daily 03/18/2006 page7)


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