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Iran Tips Hand Ahead Of Istanbul Conference On Iraq

What does Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki have to offer? (epa) November 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian officials have hinted that they will arrive at a conference of Iraqi and neighboring foreign ministers with a proposal that they say could help resolve Iraq's "political, security, and economic problems."

Tehran has also signaled its intent to try to make the case to attendees in Istanbul that Iran shares common cause with its neighbors and that U.S. involvement has had a destabilizing effect on the region.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Reza Baqeri reportedly said on arriving for the early portion of the conference today that Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki will present a "a very important plan for Iraq and the Iraqi people" at the November 3 talks.

Even as Tehran levels criticism at Washington over events in the region, reports suggested that Mottaki told his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, that his country was willing to renew bilateral talks with U.S. officials on Iraq.

The two sides have already held two such rounds of talks earlier this year, although no breakthroughs were reported and public rhetoric has remained defiant on both sides.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested on November 1 that Tehran has given Baghdad "assurances" that it will stop any flow of weapons from Iran into Iraq. "It is my understanding that they have provided such assurances," Gates told a Pentagon news conference. "I don't know whether to believe them. I'll wait and see."

In recent interviews given in Turkey to CNN Turk and local media, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini has blamed the United States for ongoing regional violence and instability . He deplored a previous vote in the U.S. Congress perceived in Iran as supporting a federal structure for Iraq.

Finding Common Cause

The Iraq conference comes against a backdrop of tension between Iraq and Turkey over Kurdish guerrilla activities near their shared border in addition to the persistent tensions between Iran and the United States.

Baqeri said today that Turkey and Iran should work together to combat Kurdish rebels. He added that such cooperation might include military operations.

Foreign Minister Mottaki had reportedly stressed in a meeting with Zebari on October 30 that their countries -- along with Turkey -- should work together to combat terrorism.

Iraqi officials have reportedly asked for Iranian help in defusing tension over Kurdish guerrillas and signs of a possible Turkish incursion into Iraq to combat the terrorist threat.

In his meeting with Zebari, Mottaki sought to contrast Iran's efforts with those of the United States, which Iranian officials have long accused of supporting militant opponents from the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a militant left-wing group with roots in Iraq.

"It does not matter what the terrorist groups are called; they can be the PJAK [Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, ethnic-Kurdish guerrillas with links to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK], the PKK, or the 'hypocrites,'" Mottaki said, the last a reference to the MKO. Both the PJAK and the MKO have waged armed resistance to the Iranian government.

Mottaki said that "those who support terrorists" are "in reality targeting the brotherly relations and cooperation of regional states."

The Istanbul conference should be attended by the foreign ministers of Iraq and its neighbors, and those of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Group of Eight (G8) states, as well as the UN secretary-general. The last such meeting was in Baghdad on September 9.

(with material from agency reports)

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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