Iran touts own Iraq summit ahead of US

Updated: 2006-11-23 10:13

At the same time, the Bush administration is under increased pressure at home to open a dialogue with Iran and Syria to help calm Iraq. The Tehran summit may be an attempt by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to show that any dialogue over his country's role in Iraq will be on his terms.

Iraqi lawmakers revealed the Iranian invitations on Monday and said Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would attend. Participation of Syrian President Bashar Assad has not been confirmed, but Talabani's aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because of sensitive negotiations surrounding the meeting, said he would be there.

A day after the Iranian summit plans became known, the White House announced that Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would hold talks next week in Amman, Jordan.

White House staff traveling with Bush as he returned from an Asian trip said the meetings would take place next Wednesday and Thursday and focus "on current developments in Iraq, progress made to date in the deliberations of a high-level joint committee on transferring security responsibilities, and the role of the region in supporting Iraq."

Bush had hoped to be able to announce US troops withdrawals by now. Instead, in the war's fourth year, the administration is weighing whether to beef up American forces, which number more than 140,000. Bush said this week he has not decided on any troops buildup or cutback.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said the two leaders would talk about how to move forward "in a more effective and expeditious way." Hadley said the idea of a summit came up in the last week or so.

Dissatisfaction with the war was seen as a major factor in the Republican loss of Congress in midterm elections. Many Americans are frustrated by the relentless violence and the inability of Iraqi forces to take over security responsibilities from U.S. forces. More than 2,800 Americans have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

A blue ribbon panel on Iraq, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democrat Rep. Lee Hamilton, will soon release recommendations on US options in Iraq. The proposals are expected to include openings to Syrian and Iran in a bid to internationalize efforts to put an end to the sectarian conflict.

Ahmadinejad seems to have calculated that it would be best if he and Assad and Talabani tried to coordinate their positions before the United States knocks on the door.

Hadley told reporters Wednesday that Iraq would have a message for Iran and Syria.

"We think it is important that Iraq be speaking directly to these countries and making it clear to them that they need to play a positive role in seeking security, stability and democracy in Iraq," Hadley said.

Although Iran admits to only political and religious links with Iraqis, Washington believes that its government is deeply involved in training, funding and arming the two major Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

Predominantly Shi'ite Tehran has long-standing ties to Iraq's political leadership. Many Iraqi Shi'ites spent years in Iranian exile during Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime. One militia, the Badr Brigade, was trained in Iran by the Revolutionary Guard.

Syria, which restored diplomatic ties with Iraq this week after nearly a quarter century, is alleged to have done little to stop foreign fighters and al-Qaida recruits from crossing its border to join Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Many top members of Saddam's rule took refuge in Syria after his overthrow in 2003 and are believed to have used Syria to organize the flow of arms and funds to the insurgents.


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