Atul Aneja

U.S. officials likely to interact with Iranians

  • Syria accepts invitation to attend conference
  • Ministerial level meeting in the offing

    DUBAI: Iran is considering attending a proposed conference in Iraq, which could see Iranian and American officials interacting with each other for the first time in recent years.

    "We are reviewing the proposal," the head of Iran's National Security Council, Ali Larijani, was quoted as saying by the Iran state television website. "We support solving problems of Iraq by all means and we will attend the conference if it is expedient," he said. "We believe Iraq's security is related to all its neighbouring countries, and they have to help settle the situation." Mr. Larijani said that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had conveyed the invitation seeking Iran's participation at the conference to his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, during a telephone call. The meeting is likely to be held in mid-March. It envisages official-level talks among representatives from the five Security Council members, neighbouring countries including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, apart from Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

    Syria has already accepted the invitation and would be represented by Ahmed Arnous, an adviser to the Syrian Foreign Minister.

    American officials did not rule out the possibility of U.S. officials interacting with representatives from Iran and Syria during the course of the conference.

    On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was likely that the mid-March meeting would be followed up by a ministerial conference in April.

    The convening of the meeting is in line with the recommendation of the U.S. bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which has advocated opening a dialogue with Iran and Syria.

    Analysts, therefore, see the proposed conference as marking a significant shift in the U.S. approach, which has so far been focused on isolating Tehran and Damascus.