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Blasts Near Iraq's Foreign Ministry As U.S. Official Visits

John Negroponte
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Two blasts struck outside Iraq's Foreign Ministry as visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte prepared to hold a press conference in the Green Zone compound nearby, Reuters reporters at the scene said.

Police said two mortars had struck in the area, wounding five civilians. One Reuters reporter said vehicles were ablaze. Another said there were two columns of smoke visible.

The Foreign Ministry building is adjacent to the fortified Green Zone government and diplomatic compound, where journalists were assembled for a news conference by Negroponte and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

The news conference began as scheduled shortly after, and Negroponte said progress in security in Iraq was "striking."

Militants have fired rockets or mortar rounds at the Green Zone during visits by senior U.S. officials in the past. Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has been in the country for several days and has held meetings with senior Iraqi officials.

Washington and Baghdad have been in intense negotiations on a new agreement to allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.

Both sides say the deal is close, although Negroponte said he was not involved in the talks.